I may be biased, but I like to read fluff more than Wall Streetspeak over my Sunday morning coffee. I think some of the best investment research appears not in the business pages of the newspaper, but in the style section.

For example, on the next-to-the-last page of last Sunday's Washington Post style section was an article about baby boomers pining for retro-styled sneakers.

You see, I have a thing for shoes. Not just mine, either. I notice what other people are wearing, too. Years ago, I noted that high-top Chucks (Converse Chuck Taylors, for those unfamiliar with the lingo) were becoming the casual shoes of choice for many of my graying pals from college. I snickered a bit back in the late 1990s when skate punks started sporting suede multi-colored Vans (NASDAQ:VANS) that reminded me of my awkward junior high school days. Then my co-workers started wearing them, and department store shoe parlors started featuring higher-end bowling-shoe designs by the more grownup Kenneth Cole (NYSE: KCP).

Now, I haven't run through the financials, but it doesn't take an investment whiz to spot the potential winners in this trend: Reebok (NYSE:RBK), Vans, and my old high school tennis team favorites, K-Swiss (NASDAQ:KSWS). Sadly Converse is not publicly traded, Adidas is a German company, and Nike (NYSE:NKE) has alley-ooped the retro craze.

Now the Post tells me that I was indeed onto something. Thank you to AP reporter Hope Yen for doing the Googling to find data confirming my hunch:

  • Retro-style sneakers have experienced double-digit sales growth since 2000.
  • The category leapt ahead 11.4% last year, compared to a 2% decline for other styles.
  • Boomers now account for nearly 30% of the $15.7 billion in annual sneaker sales, second only to the 13-24 age group.

Bag of honor
When's the last time you looked in the style section of your newspaper for a hot stock tip? Have you ever even cracked the pages of In Style magazine, for that matter? You might want to sneak a peek after reading the following tale.

When the local mall's Coach (NYSE:COH) store unveiled a slick, hip-happening renovation, it was clear that someone was stirring up this staid old brand. My suspicions were punctuated when I spotted Hollywood starlets featured in the pages of In Style magazine proudly carrying the bags that had been dowdy wardrobe mainstays more than two decades ago for moms and Midwestern sorority girls.

I was onto something.

My colleague LouAnn Lofton did some investment reconnaissance and, after digging through the financials, discovered a company in the midst of a major makeover. Coach is up 400% since the end of 2000.

Yes, you read that right. Four hundred percent.

LouAnn saw it coming. I saw it coming. Had either of us done anything about it, we could be sporting new Coach handbags stuffed with $50-something stock certificates purchased at the bargain basement price of around $17. (To add insult to injury, showcased on page 133 of this month's In Style is Coach's $148 woven straw logo beach mat with water-resistant backing. Shareholders can thank me later for the additional plug.)

The point is, behind every great investor is a Mrs. Peter Lynch who comes home from the supermarket with a plastic egg filled with pantyhose. Carolyn Lynch mentions in passing to her husband how Hanes' L'eggs hose fit so well and don't snag as easily as the department-store brand stockings.

We all know what happened to that stock after Peter Lynch -- acting on his brilliant wife's investment research -- recommended Hanes (which traded on the NYSE at the time) to Fidelity's portfolio managers. It became a "sixbagger," that's what happened.

Six of one is not necessarily a half dozen of another
Sorry guys, Carolyn is still betrothed to Mr. Lynch, as far as I know. But that doesn't mean that you don't have access to your own private research analyst.

When I started at the Fool, my job was to concentrate on personal finance matters. But I was also drawn to the drama at the local malls. I learned that Anthropologie, my favorite store of all time, was owned by Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ:URBN). I didn't invest in Urban Outfitters, but I sure as heck talked a lot about it to my colleagues, especially around my birthday (to no avail).

One day, a co-worker and Fool analyst (a male, for what it's worth) asked me what I thought of Urban's competition - Coldwater Creek (NASDAQ:CWTR).

Excuse me? Those of us who get the catalogs and have been to the stores know that buyers for Coldwater Creek and Anthropologie are not hobnobbing at the same New York fashion shows. Coldwater's buyers go for gauzy, practical basics while Anthropologie's lucky corporate shoppers (sigh) look for items that appeal to sophisticated, figure-conscious trendsetters. "Coldwater Creek is not Urban's competition," I explained. My co-Fool listened and more appropriately began comparing Coldwater Creek's business to its real competitors -- Chico's (NYSE:CHS) and Talbots (NYSE:TLB).

Never mind the Gap
I'm not surprised that the retail analysts from Merrill Lynch didn't phone me up to ask about Gap's (NYSE:GPS) short-term prospects with customers. I wonder what they were thinking as they watched the company go through two years of double-digit dives starting in 2000.

I had an inkling it was headed for trouble during that time without even heading over to Hoovers.com. All I did was look in the store windows. I remember commenting to a friend that it looked like a vat of oatmeal-colored dye had exploded on Gap's spring clothing line. Blah.

Then came the company's whiplash reaction to its monochromatic mistake, and we got blaring neon-colored capri pants to outfit us for the Glamour "Fashion Don't" photographer. These trendy "don'ts" -- all of them -- ended up crammed on the round sale racks at the back of the store at deep, deep discount.

Dog days are here
I've cultivated other areas of research interest over the years. When I adopted a dog, suddenly I had pet supply/accessory opinions for anyone interested in investing in the sector.

Pet stores started rivaling the local Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) in size, I noticed. No wonder. In 1996, American pet owners spent $22.7 billion on their small companions, and by 2005 research firm Business Communications estimates that the market will total $33.5 billion.

I wouldn't be surprised if that turned out to be true. I base my hunch on the growing number of doggy happy hours I see local businesses organizing, and how often there is press coverage at these gatherings. Have you noticed how many movies and TV shows have introduced dog sidekicks that steal the show? I have. Heck, Bruiser the Chihuahua starring in Legally Blonde 2 has his own fashion line by a local pet accessories manufacturer, Fox & Hounds Ltd.

If you're looking for the perfect pooch gift, you can choose from a Lucite Gucci (NYSE:GUC) dog bed, premium leather dog collars (yes, from Coach), or low-end dog toys for stocking stuffers (where else, but the Gap's younger sibling, Old Navy). If you're looking for a good place to start your pet supplier stock research, all you have to do is ask me or that lady across the street who owns seven bijon frises.

Oh, and for anyone who would have bothered to inquire, there was no way I was going to purchase my Poesy's food online. Sorry about that, Pets.com.

The researcher under your roof
When you look for great investments, why not start by asking the analysts with whom you live or work? Tap into the investment knowledge in your social circle. Even if your babysitter doesn't have "Teen/Tween" retail researcher on her resume, she can certainly tick off the brands of the clothes she's wearing and what company makes that new lip gloss in her Coach knapsack and the skateboard the cool kids covet.

We're not just pretty faces who happen to be really good at fast math when calculating 33% of the lowest marked price plus an additional 15% discount taken at the register (with coupon).

Pull up a chair and take some notes, or maybe even join your kids or your wife for a shopping trip to the mall or online. You can learn a lot if you pay attention. Bill Mann (TMF Otter) would have never discovered his first pick for the inaugural issue of Tom Gardner's Motley Fool Hidden Gems had he not noticed that his wife's shopping habits had changed dramatically since they had kids. He owes this company's success to his lovely wife Judy.

So ask. Notice. Do a little digging. Consider life a research mission. In no time, you'll be identifying those hidden gems that may have been your private analyst's favorite all along.

Dayana Yochim owns no stocks mentioned in this article. But she does own some retro shoes manufactured by a few of them. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.