September 19, 2013

How to Get More Life Out of your Kids' Clothes

Some people call me cheap.  I prefer the term frugal.  I'm especially frugal when it comes to kids' clothes.  From the moment I was initiated into the Motherhood Club, it was clear to me that I'd never feel good about spending the big bucks on clothes that were sure to get ruined in no time flat.  

I'll never forget the day that I dressed newborn baby Hannah Jane up in an adorable little toile print onesie, imported from France, that my mom had bought for her from an exclusive little boutique months before she was due.  We were going to pick my dad up from the airport where he would meet his granddaughter for the very first time and she needed to look perfect!  I topped the outfit with an obnoxious little lace headband and she was the picture of baby girl perfection.  Minutes before his arrival, I heard a massive rumbling in her diaper and pretty soon, the whole back of her outfit was bright yellow.  I ran to the bathroom to change her diaper and try and configure a blanket around her to mask the major mishap before my dad showed up, and by the time I changed her and sat her up, there was even poop on her headband.  Everything was ruined.  The expensive little baby outfit never did look quite the same and I vowed never to be the mom buying expensive clothes for babies.  

Years later, toddler boys took over my world and the stains of poopy diapers were nothing compared to the stains of rambunctious boyhood!  Again, I vowed to stop caring about brands and what colors were in that season for boys.  I quickly came up with a list of dos and don'ts for buying and caring for kids' clothes that would stretch every buck without making them look like vagabonds. 

Buy oversized!

This little dress went from ankle length, to knee length, to adorable summer shirt over the course of 3 years.
This all started when Hannah Jane was a toddler, and this tip works great for girls who love dresses!  I buy dresses a couple of years ahead in size, when they can be long dresses, and then let them shorten all the way to the knee before we donate them.  Those whirly, twirly, full bottomed sun dresses are great for this strategy.  Some of her favorite dresses, Hannah Jane even wears over jeans as frilly shirts long after they're above the knee.  When I divulge this little tip to moms of dressy girls, they always say, "Why didn't I think of that?"  

We do it with nightgowns too.  I bought Hannah Jane a silk nightgown with cherries all over it that was a size 7 when she was 4.  Because she's small for her age, she's worn it every summer and this summer, at age 9, she finally outgrew it.  Now, her my-size Barbie wears it to bed.  5 years out of one night gown!    When it started to get tight in the shoulders, she was so, so sad.  

This down vest is 3 sizes bigger than Haven's "perfect fit" size, but he loves it!
For the boys, this tip mostly works for shirts and vests.  I've always bought their shirts big, and not thought much of it, but a couple of summers ago we were visiting the kids' god parents in Oregon and their teenage daughter had a guy friend over long boarding where we were all hanging out.  This cool teenager complimented Haven on his super long shirt and said, "That's how I wear 'em.  Very cool."  Haven was so proud.  The cool, tall, skater boy liked his style.  Ever since, we've called their giant shirts Skater Shirts.  Thanks to that fortuitous comment from a stranger, the boys choose giant shirts for themselves and I don't even have to push for it anymore.  If you can keep 'em clean enough, you can get a good 2 or three years out of tops just by letting them be baggy for a while and wearing them until they're actually outgrown.

Choose Dark Colors and Washable Fabrics

This pic was taken 2 years ago, and note the universal Navy Blue.  May they never outgrow that color!
I mentioned in my post on school uniforms what a blessing navy blue polos are.  There's almost nothing that will stain a navy polo, so as a mom of messy little dudes, they're my dream shirts.  And they're cheap!  I love unstainable colors for kids, but admittedly, dark blue isn't exactly an exuberant color, so I usually pair it with bright colored plaid bottoms.  For whatever reason, it's the shirt that always catches the stains, and the worst that ever happens to the bottoms is a dirty rear.  

Also, some synthetic fibers are virtually stain-proof.  The cream colored sweater in the top photo was Hunter's for 2 year and now Haven is on year 2 in it.  At a birthday party, Hunter spilled red fruit punch down the front of it and I was just sure that was the end of that sweater.  But to my surprise, it just rinsed right out.  The synthetic fibers in it are just a dream!  The 5 year nightgown was some silk-like ultra-durable fabric too.  You can usually tell just by the feel of the fibers between your fingers if they're going to be resistant.  There's almost a squeaky sound, like nails on a chalk board, when you over agitate the cloth that says, "Spills are going to just run right off me!"  

Steer clear of officially stain resistant clothes for kids, though.  I'm a fan of fibers that are naturally stain resistant, but I will not put my kids in Gortex or anything that was chemically treated to be stain resistant, which is usually the case when an item of clothing boasts being stain resistant on a sticker or tag.  From what I've read, it appears that the main component in what they spray on clothes and carpets to make them stain resistant is the same stuff that they put on Teflon pans and that has been linked to serious health problems (not to mention the killing of many a beloved family bird).  The claim is that it's safe, but I don't think I want to mess with that stuff.

Buy Second Hand

I bet you assume this is just because it's cheaper, but it's not!  Second hand clothes are a better buy because they're truly preshrunk.  My mother in law is notorious for buying the kids way too big outfits (and I mean WAY TOO BIG) because she had a historically hot dryer for a lot of years that miniaturized many an article of clothing, and she wants to make sure that when things shrink, they still fit.  Most modern kids clothes claim to be preshrunk, and it's true that today's clothes don't shrink like the clothes of the 80's, but there's still some shrinkage even in preshrunk items.  When you buy used, you can be sure the item is at the size it's going to remain forever more.  

When you shop second hand, you'll see a shirt that is marked a size 7 that would barely fit your 4 year old.  How would you feel if you had been the one to pay $30 for that shirt for your 7 year old?  But it will look great on my 4 year old and I know that it will fit him for a while.  Plus, I'm only paying 3 bucks.  I'm telling you, second hand is superior for oh, so many reasons.

Layer, layer, layer!

This is the sweater that survived red fruit punch because it is awesomely synthetic.  This is year 2 of Haven wearing it, and admittedly, the sleeves are looking a little short.  In fact, I tried to get him to part with it, but he loves it so very much that he made quite the fuss to keep it.  What to do?  Throw an oversized flannel under it and flip up the cuffs.  Now he's all hip and layered like an Old Navy mannequin, and you'd never know how short the sweater sleeves are.  Those cuffs buy you an extra 2 inches if you play your cards right. And honestly, what could be more adorable? 

Haven, in case you can't tell, is my little ham, and he cares deeply about his clothes.  It's almost alarming.  He's got an epic hat collection, he routinely wears sunglasses and belts and jewelry just because he thinks they're awesome, and when he loves a shirt, he's going to fight to keep it for as long as is humanly possible.  This little layering trick has dried many a tear stained cheek for my little Mr. Fashion.  

Look for the Kid-Tough Guarantees

Sears and ShopKo both have a program so that you can return any article of clothing that has a hole in it, or a broken zipper, or any damage done by a too-rough kiddo and get a replacement item of the same size.  Those are the 2 stores in my area that I know offer the deal, but there are probably other stores that do it too.  You just have to ask.  They normally don't have giant signs and promotions for this deal, but they do honor it.  Even if I buy an item on clearance and with a coupon, so, say I pay $4 for a pair of kid pants, and then they wear a hole right thought the knee.  I take them back to the store and they find me a pair of pants in that size and brand, as close to the original pair as they still sell and I get them for free, even if the replacement pair isn't on sale and costs way more than the original deal I snagged.

They do this no matter how long you've had them, too!  If you have siblings, they'll still honor it.  So I can buy for Hunter, and if they've got a hole by the time Haven needs them, ShopKo will give me new ones for Haven.

We also love this for Hannah Jane because she has a prosthetic foot and the top of her prosthetic ALWAYS wears holes in her pants.  They'll give us as many new pairs as it takes to get her into the next size.  So if you've got a kid with adaptive equipment that destroys their clothes, Sears and ShopKo, baby!  All the way!

Well, there ya have it!  If you wash things as soon as they're dirty so that you'll still want to wear them after 3 years, these tricks will help you get the most wear out of each kid's clothing dollar spent.  Do you have tricks I don't know about yet?  I'd love to hear them!

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