My daughter is four years old. Knowing that, you’d think her closet would be full of size 4 clothing (that is, if you know anything about children’s clothing sizes, which – for the first few years at least – tend to correspond directly with a child’s age). But, in fact, it’s quite the opposite; you won’t find a single size 4 dress, skirt, or shirt hanging in her wardrobe.
The reason isn’t because she’s an overly tall or chubby preschooler. Rather, it’s a conscious move on my part to try and maximize the longevity of her clothes while reducing their impact on our family budget.
Skipping clothing sizes is a major way I save money on my kids’ clothes. A few years ago, I realized there wasn’t that big of a difference between a size 2T and a size 3T; similarly, there wasn’t a dramatic difference between a 3T and a 4T, either. And an idea started to formulate in my mind…
What if I simply didn’t buy clothes in certain sizes? I thought to myself. What if I skipped a size instead?
As the idea started to solidify in my head, I came up with this strategy, which I’ve perfected over the years:

  • Length is a non-issue when it comes to buying girls’ dresses and skirts. If you buy a size bigger, they’re simply a little longer, a little more modest. As your child grows, the hemline will creep up, but you can alleviate any issues by adding a pair of leggings underneath. I’ve been able to turn some of my daughter’s old dresses into really cute tunic-style tops once they’re too sort to be worn on their own
  • Buying pants a size up works, as long as you look for pants with a adjustable waistband. Gymboree and A Children’s Place are great at adding this feature for both boys and girls clothing, but even bargain brands you’ll find at Walmart and Target do as well. My daughter’s currently wearing a size 5 pair of jeans with the waistband on the tightest setting, which I’ll let out as she grows
  • Learn to sew. Those aforementioned jeans? I took the hem up – without cutting the fabric – so she wouldn’t trip over them. I’ll be able to quickly drop the hem back down later on. I do the same with shorts, too
  • Buying shirts big may make them a little loose, but that’s ok with me. Both my kids actually enjoy looser clothing – it’s more comfortable and easier to play in. If the shirt’s too long, just tuck it in (great for boys), or pair it with skinny jeans or leggings for girls

My strategy goes even deeper. Because of it, I’ve changed not only the sizes I buy, but the styles of clothes as well. I no longer buy clothing with lots of blingy adornment – much to the dismay of my fashion-conscious preschooler – because they don’t tend to wear well. I put a premium on classic clothing for my kids, including timeless styles and colors, just as I do for my own wardrobe.
I’ve also changed the way I take care of my kids’ clothes. After they got out of the baby stage – and I no longer felt compelled to buy Dreft (a note to future parents – it’s a scam; I swear, it works no better than most hypo-allergenic laundry detergents) – I tended to buy super-cheap detergent. These products, however, seemed to wear down their clothes more quickly than I’d have liked to see. So I started buying the higher-end stuff (Tide Free & Clear is my current favorite), which is gentler on our clothes. As a result, they last longer without fading or weakening the fabric.
Currently, my daughter’s wardrobe consists of new size 5s and old size 3s, although you’d never realize it. By taking care of the old clothes, they’re still in good shape. By being conscious of the styles of the clothes and by pairing them appropriately, she doesn’t look like she’s wearing bags, nor does she look like she stepped out of an episode of The Jersey Shore with too-tight tops and too-short skirts. Next year, when she’s five, all those size 5s will fit perfectly; then, when she’s six, I’ll start buying size 7s for her to wear for the next two years.

Reader, do you have any tricks to limit children’s clothing costs?

Libby Balke
Libby Balke