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Kids Play Clothes: Hacks, Ways To Save + Some Basics Our Kids Love

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I’m generally the parent I predicted I would be pre-kids (so far), with varying degrees of “surprisingly ok” or “still learning” in some areas. But one of the truly shocking developments, or digressions I should say, is how little I care about what they wear. Prior to having kids I verbally marveled at the stylish 3-year-old girl, wearing a peter pan collar under a french-style suspender romper, likely with a beret. I still do I guess. Sure, when they look pulled together and cute I love it and take many a photo – what mother doesn’t? But once they formed opinions contrary to mine about their wardrobe, it became a battle I stopped fighting regardless of how “creative” it looks – See Exhibit A and B below. (I obviously love how they express themselves no matter what, I promise).

Brian is good enough to do most of the clothes shopping (except special occasions) and HOT MARRIAGE TIP: If your cis male partner buys your 3-year-old daughter the unicorn and princess dresses that she wanted, you open your mouth only to say, “oh cute, thank you for doing that!” That’s right, ladies – you, like me, may have to mourn the death of the little french schoolgirl outfit you envisioned her in, cause it’s not happening (and it’s ok). If she loves it then Bite. That. Tongue. Now if you are super into fashion and how well your kid dresses brings you joy or pain, then you do you and maybe stop reading this post.

In short: we believe in play clothes, and nothing makes me happier then them getting messy and dirty (preferably outside). But we are ruining clothes faster than usual, or maybe just noticing it more. So it made me think about what we can do now that is more environmentally friendly (aka not just buying new replacements), but still practical for small kids that destroy clothes.

Our current situation has forced a lot of us to rethink every single purchase to ensure that what we are buying is truly what we need and what will get used for as long as possible (this is going to be a reoccurring theme this year, so get used to it). Regardless of your budget, the greenest thing you can do is buy used when possible, make them yourselves (ha), hand things down or trade, and then when buying new ensure that it’s what they will actually use and wear for as long as possible. Kids are hard on clothes (and they should be) and buying heirloom-quality doesn’t really make sense for play clothes or when they are so young and grow so fast. So I did what any mom would do – I asked my sisters and mom, impressive child bearers, with a large inventory of children and experience, for their tips (as well as mine). Here we go:

Let Practicality Drive The Ship

  1. It must be comfortable or our kids won’t wear it – I get it, I think we agree right now. Birdie only wants to wear dresses over cotton leggings, which doesn’t seem that “practical” but she refuses denim (same) opting for leggings instead. These are 5 for $29.99 and are consciously made (but I’m not sure exactly what that means in H&M terms). Birdie, of course, would much prefer the patterned ones.
  2. Easy on and easy off – This means not a lot of buttons, zippers, or laces. Those cute suspenders or rompers you love with the zipper up the back? They only work if they are a shorts version and don’t have buttons, laces or zippers in the back. Think hard before buying them for everyday clothes. When an “emergency” arises, you’ll be bummed your 2 1/2-year-old is in a lace-up one-piece (some of them are easy, just something to think about). If you are in a dressing room and they can’t get it on and off by themselves, skip it – why give yourself another job?
  3. A drop crotch is good – like mother like daughter – and it looks pretty darn cute, but be careful once you go drop crotch it’s hard to go back (trust me). I think they call them “harem” pants for children.
  4. Go affordable for play clothes – For play clothes (shouldn’t they all be play clothes?) buy used, affordable or swap with friends/neighbors and just splurge on the pretty/fancy stuff for your special occasions (1st day of school, Easter, Christmas, birthday, etc). And for those occasions or if you have a larger budget year-round then think about supporting a small business or an Etsy maker.
  5. Curate their play uniform (buy multiples) that you don’t have to think about – For instance, we know that these are Charlie’s favorite pants that are stretchy enough to run in, but are a level above sweats that look nice (and are lightweight). So we buy 3-4 of these a year and besides sweats and shorts, these are his only pants. My sister swears by these jeans for both her boys for years – so if you find something that works for you and them, stop shopping and buy multiples. Birdie loves this dress and it comes in many patterns and is $7.99) and these shorts.

Reduce your battles

  1. Narrow down a curated list that YOU like. Going shopping with Birdie for the first time was one of the most fun (but INSANE) 2 hours of my life. She had never been and her enthusiasm for EVERY SINGLE sparkle, pink, princess-anything was so contagious. So many “ooooh mamamamama!!!!!” I don’t want to label my children (yet) but I’d bet 100% she’s enneagram 7. Anyway, I learned that day what I knew in every other way – limit the options, curate the choice.
  2. Let them choose. Every kid is different, but we have found that our kids actually wear the stuff that they pick out – they feel ownership over it and autonomy. I totally get it.
  3. Have less, wear more often, reduce the daily mess. Options make us all go nuts (I’m realizing this so much about myself being up here, saving so much time with so much less to choose from in every way). Our kids pick out their own clothes and the method in which they do this is to dump out at least 1/2 their entire drawer each time. But with just one drawer each, it’s manageable.
  4. Limit shoes. We have maybe 3 pairs per kid – their everyday sneakers, natives or summer sandals, taller boots for hiking and up here we don’t have any nice shoes but I think most people would want to have at least one pair that isn’t totally disgusting. Nothing with laces, too many straps, everything has to be easy for them to get on and off and nothing too fashiony that might be uncomfortable (I’m always shocked when kids wear heels. It’s like ladies put off that torture, you have decades of it down the road).

** If you want to know what Natives are it’s what 3 of the 4 of us are wearing (ha! me, too!) in the below photos (Brian has some, too). They are basically cooler versions of crocs and totally waterproof and so comfortable/easy to get on).

How To Buy Once And Save on basics

  1. Size up at least one size (can even do two for pajamas). Sounds obvious but just don’t forget. Every store is different, too.
  2. Separate school clothes, church clothes and play clothes (making play clothes hand me downs) so that the nice can stay nice and you can care less about the play clothes.
  3. Buy pants with button waist control.
  4. Make hand me downs feel fresh by adding patches, embroidery, or even a tutu on the bottom of a T-shirt. Birdie is psyched to have anything from her older girlfriends, but NOT from Charlie. We found these patches in bulk from Etsy and thought it would be fun to let them choose, to help shake things up.
  5. By basics in bulk, then give them options, and then offer ideas like embroidery or patches.
  6. Go for busy patterns, dark colors, OR bright white (so you can bleach, but I’ve never personally done this). Sounds obvious but every time I’ve let Birdie choose something light pink it gets obviously stained quickly. Gotta hide those stains.
  7. Socks in bulk. The fact that some idiot/genius decided that packs of kids socks should not all be the same is insane to me. I want to buy 12 pairs of socks, per year that are identical, to make our lives easier. I’m ready to just buy only these for both our kids. If anyone knows a source that I can find matching socks in bulk that are cuter (all the same stripe) please let me know.
  8. If you can buy matching pajamas then handing them down is easier. Our Christmas pajamas (below) are the only ones that Birdie will wear of Charlie’s because I think she thinks they are hers (we love this brand’s pajamas, in general, a lot). Good note for next year. I know if we forced her to wear more of his clothes we’d eventually win, but see point #2 about battles.

More tips?

Obviously I’d love any other tips you guys have. It seems like the perfect time to do clothing swap or trade of hand me downs by just dropping them off at each other’s door. But if you are like us and kinda stuck somewhere not near friends, here is our strategy: buy in bulk for affordability, then buy used for anything that might feel more special (or shoes) that we’d want more high quality. In our experience, our kids grow out or stain clothes before they rip them. We researched the best used kids clothing sites and if you have the time and resources shopping from them keeps them surviving: Thredup, Kidizen, Etsy, Toycycle

In general, we are big “play clothes” people for our kids and are very not precious – as demonstrated in the above photo for literally a national lifestyle magazine in 2018 (Real Simple). I’m not saying it’s cool to be messy or not care, I think it’s just from being raised in the woods of Oregon with lots of kids – it simply wasn’t what was valued and that was passed on.

Lastly, here are some sustainable/ local brands we love and want to support:

Pact kids (30% off through Sunday), Mabo, Chaboukie, Omami Mini, Pepper, Ultra Violet

Now, what are your strategies for buying clothes for kids who seem to be constantly growing and spilling?? Any and all tips are welcome. xx

Fin Mark

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Julie S

My strategy is thrift stores basically, with a few sales and cheap basics added in! My girls are 3 years apart so hand me downs work perfectly. Thankfully I currently have enough clothing for my kiddos since the thrift stores are closed. Two years ago I moved from the suburbs to the sortof-country (2 wild acres) and was soon calling my friend with 4 kids and large acreage, desperately wondering how to keep their clothes in ok shape! That was when I discovered that one pair of nice shoes and couple nicer outfits for going to town or church was all I had to worry about. They can wear out their play clothes at home, but I do ask for no rips or stains when we leave the property!

C Allen

As my daughter got older and we would go to a store for school clothes, I learned to ask, “Do you like this as much/better than what you have, or is it just the best thing in this store? We can go to another store.” (if that was in the plan.)
Otherwise, she was just relating it to the choices there, and some new things would not get worn. 😳

Kim B

Brilliant!!

Jen

With five kiddos in tow (oldest is ten, youngest is a baby) the main way we try to be sustainable is to buy clothing that will last multiple children. In my experience, Gap clothing lasts through so much. We literally have some infant items that have been passed from cousin to cousin and back again and look great after being through who knows how many washes and enduring spit up, blow outs etc. I’m sure they’re are more sustainable companies, but this is one who at least appears to be making improvements with sustainable cotton etc, and it is one whose quality is dependable. We donate to family, friends, local charities when we’re done and love that that many items will be able to get lots more use even after us. They have great sales so you can get Target prices but a bit higher quality. We also love Mini Boden and Hanna Andersson. Those are pricier but last and last as well.

Miriam

Have to second this. I’m on the second of two with public school uniforms, and the difference In quality b/w Lands End and Target is just insane. The key thing about quality clothing is just how much better dirt and stains wash out. If you (and the earth can afford to replace the shirt after a month or two, go with the discount brand. If you haven’t sprung for at least minimal quality (Lands End, Gap) race to do so now. If you can find high quality European clothes here, it makes such a difference in the longevity. Case in point: the White Moyoral dress that has survived multiple chocolate ice cream outings, vs the Old Navy shirt that barely lasted two washes before stains.

Sara

Agree with these brands!

kiki

Seconding this! Mini Boden and Hanna Andersson are the BEST for kids clothes. Hanna has regular sales (and and true Factory Outlet in Oregon…if you happen to be up this way) and Boden goes on sale at Nordstrom seasonally. I too am pulled by the lure of the $3 t-shirt from Old Navy, but my 6yo trashes that stuff SO FAST, while the higher quality stuff lasts until he grows out of it! Also! We’ve been really happy with Abercrombie Kids for boys stuff…very similar to Gap quality, but better sweats and hoodies!

Lynn

Hot tip! Socks don’t have to match.

Molly H

So had to laugh at the goggles!!! In the third grade, I got the bright idea to secretly wear a thin, rhinestone hair band on photo day. Was gifted to me by a hoity toity great aunt from LA. Appropriate in another venue. So not for an 8 year old wearing a kelly green wool uniform at a U.S. Catholic school run by Irish nuns. Not sure why it never dawned on me this wouldn’t come out at some point. My mother refused to send out my school picture that year. The nuns damned me to eternal hell for lying I had permission to wear it. Yay to you as a mom for going along with the goggles! I treasure my photo today. Like your son, my grin is ear to ear!

Julie

We’re part of a “baby girls” clothing chain at our church. It’s been REALLY great to not have to buy too much (and then pass it on to the next family-assuming it’s not completely demolished ;)), but interestingly there have been at least a solid decade of a ton of baby girls, so lately it has swung the other way (an overabundance of choices and items to sort!). But in general, this has helped a group of families at our church buy only what we love/need with plenty of options for the day to day stuff. (And an automatic declutter system too. :)).

We have a local Buy Nothing group on facebook (actually multiple groups, split up by Brooklyn neighborhoods), and they have chapters all over the country/world. The idea is for people to give and receive items, services, etc for free, and they have a heavy emphasis on gratitude. It’s nice because you’re sharing items with people hyper-locally, and you know it’s going to someone who actually will use it. Kids clothing and toys are probably the most listed items, at least in my neighborhood, but I’ve also listed random stuff like curtain rods, window screens, and bags for laundry delicates, which ended up being taken. Ours is currently shut down because, you know, PANDEMIC, but it’s a really nice way to reduce waste and interact a little more with your neighbors. Obviously I’m in a really densely populated city, so I’m not sure how it works in other areas, but I’ve really appreciated our group as a way to pass on kid stuff as my daughter grows out of it. And then randomly you’re looking for a piece for your Halloween costume and one of your neighbors comes through!

Sahaja

Another vote for buy nothing groups on FB. Especially for kids toys too. But I’ve def given clothes away through those groups.

Rusty

Yes! My nephew and his wife belong to one here in Australia and they have given and received SO much… gas heater, kids toys, clothes, furniture, you name it. Other young friends starting out furnished their first home through BUY NOTHING and got the most stunning MCM finds, worth quite a bit, for zero! Effectively, with more substantial stuff, the owners choose who to give it to.
Such a great thing for Mother Earth too.

Rachel

Yup. LOVE buy nothing. I get most of my kids’ toys off there (and the toy library) and send them off to their new home when we are done. I’ve never bought a bike or a puzzle or a dress up or a matchbox for my kids, we just get off the community. Another tip is to try and find friends with similar taste you can hand up or down to. I get a steady stream of cute shorts and jackets from my bestie and have another friend who gets all my baby clothes as my son out grows them and we just drop off randomly as they are ready. But best tip is LINE DRY IF YOU CAN. Obviously for some people due to where they live or their laundry situation it’s not possible but if you have space and sun line dry your clothes. It makes them last so, so, so much longer than the dryer. Oh and finally my son loves dress ups….so make sure you have a well stocked dress up box (ours is also 100% Buy Nothing). Kids care way less about what they wear when they have a tutu, or helmet or cat ears… Read more »

Carrollyn

I have 4 littles. Three boys and a girl. We love basics from H&M and Target. I have also found that mixing in just a couple of sweet sweaters or other more “special” pieces in from Zara makes me really happy. Also, I watch their online clearance for amazing sales!

Gitty

Hah my list is the same as yours. Target, h&m, the cheap stuff on Zara (tee shirts for 5.90). Target pants are especially great. And also primary on sale is amazing!

Arachna

Primary has great play clothes and tries to be ethical so it’s where we get most of those. I’ve found even two Lira of shoes to be sufficient but most them don’t survive till a second child and definitely not third. Tea collection for some nicer but still play dresses and things.

Lia

Agree with Primary! We have gotten a lot of clothes from them lately and they have held up well and are classic and cute. I like the puffer jackets, hoodies, cardigans, and leggings. We also got a pair of their jeans and I think they will be good (they haven’t been worn yet – too warm).

Sara

We love Natives for our kids (2 & 4)! I’ve debated getting them for myself but have been curious how they are??

I also wanted to second two things you said. One, I don’t typically take my kids shopping because it’s so overwhelming! Also two, light pink, especially in pants or shorts, are the worst! I’m not sure how anyone keeps those (or white) clean on a toddler/preschooler.

Lia

I bought the Target knock-off Natives last year because my husband thought it was nuts to pay so much for plastic shoes. They were fine, but looked terrible after about a day and they seemed to have more slippery soles.

This year I got the Target version again for my twin three year olds and either they changed the fit or my kids’ feet are completely differently shaped. It was such a pain to get them on and off. So after a month of struggling to shove their feet in (and they were the correct size…I tried multiple pairs), I broke down and bought the Natives. They fit all three kids so much better and are adorable and the kids can get them on themselves.

Pre-Natives we always went with Keens in the summer and loved those, but now my oldest won’t wear them and my son’s reeked last year – he has the stinkiest feet!!!! They washed fine and are GREAT shoes so I so recommend those. They take the place of sneakers or hiking shoes for us in the summer.

Sahaja

I am also on the buy basics from H&M train. They are also cute. The patterned T shirts plus the same sweatpants in navy,grey, black, brown makes a ton of outfits. (My son is 19 months). We were lucky to get a ton of hand me downs, but also we keep # of clothes down for each size.

Also, second about Gap children clothing lasting. We have a gap outlet near us which helps, too. But you’d be surprised at the sales they have. I have friends who also swear by Primary. I’d also be careful what one buys from Zulily bc the quality can be hit or miss, depending on the brand.

Sara

Thanks for these tips! And PTL for your sense of humor!

Three kids here and have to say the clothing thing is the one that gets me the most. The constant shuffling reorganizing storing for the next kid etc.

I recently found two brands for quality clothes that have fantastic sales: tea and Hanna anderson. My 5 year old son seems to be ripping holes in every pair of pants (Yay for good hard playing *and* iron on patches!) so I’ve stocked up in his next size in double knee versions from tea and Hanna. I use these mixed with old navy target and thrift stores.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to get away from fast fashion for the kids since they go through it so fast and you have a bunch of suggestions that will help!

Rusty

I’m wondering what happened to the ad bar on the bottom of the page … Is everything okay??

Today’s pics show Charlie’s eyesso much and … they are the same as yours, Emily!! Twinkle eyes! 🙂

Kaley

When my kids were in the little, grow quickly, kid stage (they’re now 10, almost 8 and almost 5 now), I would purchase most of the clothes from Gap or Old Navy using sales and credit card points. If the clothes couldn’t be passed down (boy-girl-boy is our order), then I would sell the clothes on eBay, which used to have a really great return on my investment. Then I would funnel that cash into a new wardrobe. I also do a “capsule” wardrobe and basically only buy enough for 2 weeks without laundry, which also cuts down on cost. Every summer, I would purchase around 5-10 white t-shirts for each kid and about 5 pairs of cheap shorts (thrift stores, Target on clearance, Facebook, etc) and we would tie-dye shirts for the summer. And that’s pretty much all they would wear outside. They still looked cute for spontaneous pictures (who am I kidding, they’re always cute!!!), but I didn’t care if the tie-dye shirts got ripped or stained. Now, they are old enough to understand which clothes are for nice occasions and which are for play. I still do the capsule wardrobe, and I also only buy new clothes… Read more »

Liz

I have 2 boys – 5 and almost 2. I have plenty of failings as a parent but I totally rock the clothing part! I aim for clothes that are comfortable but stylish and can ideally be handed down, sold at the children’s consignment store, or gifted. I feel like the winning formula for us is: used when possible but only buy quality brands, Target for jeans and shorts, H&M for tops and bottoms (stylish, affordable and hold up better than other fast fashion brands), and Hanna Anderson for pajamas, tee shirts, and zip up sweatshirts. I always wait for Hanna to do 30-50% off so the price ends up being close to H&M but it washes SO WELL. Stains are more likely to come out of higher quality cotton, so in the end I spend less and throw very little clothing away. I can often find shoes at consignment stores but have no problem buying more expensive shoes that I know will be worn and not fall apart so I stick to Nike, Keens, and Native. We get Columbia Sportswear coats and snow gear at a super high discount (50-70% off) through an employee hook up.

Alex

My girls love to dress themselves too in a mishmash of pink, rainbows, unicorns, etc. I tried to get my 3 year old to wear a dress with a Peter pan color that had been gifted to her, she promptly went into her closet and cried because “She looked like a grandma” and came out in a dress, tutu, leggings and knee high socks.

I’ve just learned to let them dress how they want (as long as seasonally appropriate), have less options and treat all of their clothes (even the expensive ones) as play clothes because otherwise they never get used. Because every day should include play.

A.B.

You can find FB groups dedicated to resale of certain brands, such as Boden Kids and Hanna. So you can get good quality and reuse (and sell yourself). Just look for specific brands as a local group. H&M, though they make stylish clothes and offer discounts for donating used clothing, has a terrible, terrible footprint.

Alexandra Rose

We sometimes buy the cutest used clothes from Poshmark!

Katie

Agree with all of this, we also like primary.com for great gender neutral basics, and my biggest hot tip is REPAIR! We live on a farm and kids are always outside crawling and climbing, so most of our clothes have been torn at one point or another. Sewing doesn’t have to be pretty, and honestly the kids like the repaired stuff better if I recycle some of their favorite fabric or colors into the repair. Especially in these times, my sewing machine (vintage Singer 301 is best for darning repairs imho) is one of my favorite tools.

Sarah Bergeron-Laliberté

I have two daughters, two years apart, so I am always careful to buy clothes that are durable enough to pass at least between the two. I am a Canadian living in Switzerland and my go to brand is a Canadian amazing family owned company called Souris Mini. They make original, high quality, super confortable clothes for kids that are so cute and are always the first outfits your kids are going to go to when they dress themselves. Their bathing suits are amazing and their snowsuits are just wow. I have handed the clothes down to many friends and they just stay beautiful. Plus they have matching socks for all collection. Love them
https://www.sourismini.com/
Thanks for your amazing content, always a treat to read you guys!

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