How I shop for toddler clothes

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Red jodpursMost of my son Tavi’s clothes are hand-me-downs, or come from our local Goodwill. I don’t wear much vintage myself, so I’ve never really been a “dig through the racks” kind of person — but when it comes to finding clothes for my son that are uber-cheap but non-offensive to my aesthetic, I’ve developed a rack-hunting technique.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Go to kids’ section, starting at the boys racks and working into the girl’s racks.
  2. Look for bright colors, mostly red, bright orange, true yellow, and grass green. Avoid pink (eliminating 90% of girl clothes), and dark shades of blue, brown/tan, and grey (eliminating 80% of boy clothes).
  3. Based on colors, start pulling things out to assess for text, sports, recognizable characters, or vehicles. Eliminate any items that include offending themes.
  4. Confirm item isn’t blatantly designed for a girl (ruffles, flowers, hearts, ribbons, little straps). If it’s not blatant, I don’t care — and Tavi certainly doesn’t.
  5. Confirm item is structurally sound and unstained
  6. Confirm item is at least one size too big
  7. Confirm item is less than $3

Using these methods, I’m developing a great stash of brightly colored, unbranded, gender-neutral stuff for Tavi to wear up until about age five. At that point, he’ll have his own opinions about his clothing, and he can help me dig through the racks to find shirts with dump trucks and spider men barfed all over them, or princess dresses, or whatever else he might like. Until then, he’s my brightly colored boy. (More on brightly colored boys next week … I’ve got a post brewing!)

Obviously, my tastes and techniques aren’t everyone’s — what methods do you use for finding cheap kid clothes that don’t offend your fashion sensibilities?

Comments on How I shop for toddler clothes

  1. I’ll be honest. My son developed his own opinions when he was about 2 1/2 years old. Yes. He wore a hockey jersey every day all last winter.
    Now my technique for shopping when he’s with me is to try and hide the things I really don’t like (for example, camo) and really highlight the things I do like. However, he has his own opinions/likes and I do respect that. He dresses himself every morning, which I encourage, and gives him the freedom to pick whatever he wants from the clothes he has (he’s really into sweat pants and “gym” shorts right now)
    Just another wonderful lesson of letting go. Courtesy of my son 🙂

  2. I’ve had to let my aesthetics slide a bit in dressing my 8 month old boy… hand-me-downs are too cost effective to ignore.

    I do however skip all text (“daddy’s happy i’m a boy!” VOMIT) and branded characters.

    I have a suitcase of things I found at thrift stores BEFORE he was born…hard finding the time to go digging these days, that we’ve been going through (all too rapidly, the supply is seriously dwindling)…

    That said, RIT dye has livened up some things (along with some of my sweaters).

    And I can’t wait until he fits into the bright blue corduroy jacket i found. I want it in my size.

    I’ve hit up the children’s consignment shops a few times. Hannah Anderson is usually out of my price range but at the shop’s its doable and solidly built with bright colors and often stripes, my favorite!

  3. 1. Find pants in right size without holes in the knees.
    2. Purchase.
    I swear that so many boys run holes in the knees of their pants that there are not many non-holed pants available at secondhand stores.
    I think their shirts multiply in the closet, so we always have more than enough shirts.

    On the other hand, I just took a cool pic for the ‘boys in bright colors’ group that I need to submit. My baby was wearing bright orange, blue, green, and black striped babylegs, an orange diaper, and a purple rock and roll shirt. It’s my favorite outfit so far! He needs more purple stuff (my fav color).

  4. Another note that’s more about colors than clothes. This year, I let the boys pick their own backgrounds for their school pictures and they both choose the tye-dyed rainbow background. B’s teacher said that when they got the pictures back, all his friends thought it was awesome that his picture looked really cool. I’m glad that we didn’t do the plain blue or grey.

  5. Baby’s grandma works at the return counter of a big department store. She sees a lot of really awesome deals when the store isn’t selling that particular item anymore. We get brand-new and often brand-name whole outfits for less than a dollar! So I guess my clothing method is “almost free and brand-new, heck yes!”

  6. Well my kiddo is only almost 3 months old sooo.. I admit, I LOVE to shop. But, I keep an eye out for sales, I buy from consignment shops and from other mommies online. I almost automatically buy anything black because it’s hard to find black baby stuff. Then I look at red, purple and gray as well as blues. I try not to buy much pink because everybody gives her pink stuff already. Personally I hate yellow and orange, so until she’s old enough to choose for herself, I’m not buying it lol. But I admit I am a sucker for headbands and baby legs because I love a good accessory.. But again, I like to get them cheap. Ebay is a great resource! It’s funny that I was such a tomboy growing up but now I love this stuff. But if she ever tells me she wants to stop wearing hair doodads and dress in jeans and tee shirts, that’s okay with me 🙂 oh, and I stay away from character stuff too, but her grandparents have bought a few things.

  7. I do also buy some pink/girly stuff for my daughter, as I do like some of it, but I just don’t want her to get to a stage where she thinks she’s ‘not supposed’ to have things that aren’t pink/have diggers/Spiderman on them because she’s a girl.

  8. Has anyone else noticed the dearth of boy clothing in sizes larger than 2T in second hand stores? I used to shop almost exclusively at Once Upon a Child, but I stopped about a year and a half ago when I had to pick through racks of duds to find cute stuff.

    I don’t mind blue/grey/black/tan so much, but I don’t like sports-themed items or items with licensed characters. Fortunately Target has cute shirts with aliens or monsters or STAR WARS on them. (DH is a HUGE star wars fan)

    • I was talking to a friend with an 8-year-old son about this yesterday — her theory is that after the toddler years, little boys just wear their clothes until they’re in tatters, so there’s not as much stuff that gets donated to thrift stores.

  9. I buy virtually nothing for my children to wear; my in-laws love to shop and love a deal, so when they travel to the US they hit the outlet malls hard, where the clearance racks are insanely cheap! So, yes, sometimes the clothes are ugly as sin, and other times they don’t get worn because they’re the wrong size for the season, but that’s okay. My husband and I aren’t that preoccupied with appearance, anyway.

  10. I love the bright colours, but I have to admit I love my little boys in grey. I think it sets off their eyes. I also love brown with orange/red. We get a lot of hand me downs. I get rid of obnoxious slogans, but everything else pretty much stays. WE are suckers for certain character stuff

  11. When I go to the local thrift store I go down the whole boys section and just start taking things off the rack that are bright, good quality and could be possibly be used for a girl (if our second child turns out to be a girl). Then I go through my pile and look for stains or other issues. Finally I look at the price tag. If it is less than $3 I get it. My son is only 4 months old but I have all of the clothes we need for the next 3 years. It’s funny, I thought i was the only one with such a system!

  12. Besides hand-me-downs, we had luck with Craig’s list. We got two bags of 1 yr old boys clothing free. FREE! There are folks who want it out of their house and don’t have anyone to give it to. You don’t get to “shop” for items, but when they are free, you don’t mind setting aside anything offensive or not to your taste.

  13. I shop in the same way for my boy!!! but I actually sneak in accents of pink, like stripes or polka dots occasionally, he is 18 months, so at this stage he really doesn’t mind, and I also don’t mind a bit of black too.

  14. This is VERY similar to what we do with our daughter. She just turned two. We’re a little less picky about gender neutral, though. I don’t care of it’s “boy” clothes or “girl” clothes, because, really, they never put dinosaurs on “girl” clothes, and she LOVES dinosaurs :p She’s getting to where she’s developing an opinion regarding her wardrobe, and while sometimes that preference is a huge froofy dress, it may also be a t-shirt with a dinosaur playing electric guitar and plaid shorts. I plan on approaching it the same way if we ever have a boy.

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