5 Ways to be Awesome at Buying Used Children’s Clothes (Or Your Own)

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DSC_2562Guys, I’m just going to be really honest. I’m way more persnickety about children’s clothes than is befitting of someone in our income bracket. I like for my children to be dressed, at all possible, in wool, linen, and organic cotton items of navy, white, black, gray, and red, that are handmade in France. However, I also have approximately a $0 budget for clothes for myself and the children, and while I occasionally exceed that budget by a bit, I can say that I have bought fewer than 5 brand new items for each of my children since they’ve been born (they’re 2.5 and 4.5 right now), other than some socks and, as Will has gotten older and shoes are harder to find, a couple of pairs of shoes. Everything else has been hand-me downs, or thrift/consignment finds, with a few things bought used on eBay or ThredUp. I’m not saying that to brag at all, because it would be quite possible to spend a ton of money only buying secondhand things, but just that it IS possible to dress children decently without buying a ton of new things.

Probably, if you’re reading this post at all, you already are interested in buying secondhand clothes. Other than the quite obvious reason that you can save enormous amounts of money (even if you are buying the cheapest new clothes available– sometimes I look at the prices of kids’ clothes at Target and I CANNOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH THEY COST!!!!!!!!), there’s also the insane human and environmental impact of the clothing industry. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but everyone has seen this movie, right? Every time we buy some new clothing item, that’s a ton of pesticides poured on the cotton it’s made from that lead to health problems for the cotton farmers, toxic dyes that pour into rivers and streams, not just poisoning any little river creatures, but also the human beings who have to drink that water, and heavens to betsy if anyone is purchasing new clothes made out of fleece or polyester!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It shouldn’t be legal to sell that shit. Please, please, please, if you want to buy everything else brand new, at least do not buy new clothes made out of fleece or any other synthetic material. Buying used will literally save you thousands of dollars if you do it well, and it’s a just and humane way to shop if you can’t afford to buy all your children’s clothes from places like this.

Ahem. Now that no one except my parents are still reading, if I’m that lucky, I’ll continue.

(And, also just before I dig in, I will say that for some people it makes sense to buy more things new than used– one friend of mine has 3 children, all girls, so if she buys good quality, new items, she knows they will get used by all three girls. Since we have a boy and a girl, it’s harder to justify buying new. So I’m not saying that everyone needs to do exactly what I do. This is just what works for us, for this season. I think it’ll get a bit trickier as the kids get older, too. But for now, it works.)

(Below, Petit Bateau rain coat I found at our consignment store. It was $20, but it’s a size 6-7, which means we can roll up the sleeves for Will this year, and then he can use it for the next year or two, before Margaret then uses it for another year or two. So I think we’ll get at least 4 years out of it. Maybe 5.)

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So, for anyone who’s interested, here’s how we do it:

1. Beg and Borrow. Well, we mostly haven’t had to beg, but we’ve been offered bags upon bags of hand-me-downs from friends and cousins. (If people hadn’t offered, I would have asked. I have absurd hopes and dreams for how I want my children dressed, and zero pride.) Only keep what you like/need (see #2) and pass on the next to another friend, or (if the person who gave the clothes to you doesn’t need them back) take the rest to a children’s consignment store if there’s one in your area and use the cash or store credit to buy something that you like or need a bit more. (Or give the cash back to the friend who gave you the clothes! It’s hard to keep track, but I try to give $ back when I can!)

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2. Only keep/buy what you REALLY need and like. The fewer clothes you believe that you need, the fewer clothes you can own, and therefore, the fewer you will buy, and the more money you will save. Voila. Just because it’s a good brand or a jaunty little red canvas raincoat that was made in France and only costs $15 at the consignment store, doesn’t mean you have to buy it.  Same thing with hand-me-downs. You don’t have to keep them all just because someone gave them to you! Each of my kids gets 1 dresser drawer for clothes, for pjs, underwear, socks, shirts, pants, etc. Outerwear goes elsewhere, but everything else: one drawer. So we have room for 4-6 shirts, 4-6 pairs of pants, etc. I could (and probably will) write a whole other post about a minimalist wardrobe for kids, but I will just say that I prefer to buy basic colors– blue, gray, white, black, red. If you read any book published in the 1950s or earlier, you’ll see children dressed mostly in those colors. I do have some pink and flowery things for Margaret, but mostly I want my kids to look like characters in Robert McClosky books (like this less known but EXCELLENT one).  The other reason for this is that when I stick to buying basic colors, I can pass them down from Will to Margaret. Red pants, black pants, yellow raincoat, breton striped shirt, wool sweater: they work for both genders. Bright green Ninja Turtles raincoat/bike helmet, rain books, tennis shoes, t-shirt, not so much. Ditto with anything hot pink and princess-y. (If we ever have a third). Although maybe what you REALLY like is different: brighter colors, etc. You do you. But know what you like (or your kid likes) the best, and let go of the rest. Kids don’t need that many clothes. (Especially if you make them take their shirts off when they eat messy food, if they’re younger than 3 or so).

(Below, organic cotton dress, $3.95.)

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3. Know the good brands/buy natural fibers. Boden, Hanna Andersson, Crewcuts, Petit Bateau, Garnet Hill. I also like Circo and Gap, Etc (see #3a.).  Know them, but don’t buy them new.  (Also: cotton, linen, wool, silk. They hold up better, look better, feel better. Check the materials before you buy.) So for example: I used to babysit for a family who got a catalogue for Serena and Lily, and I would drool over everything as I turned page after beautiful page during the babe’s nap. Haven’t thought of that brand in years, but today I checked to see if the consignment store had any crib sheets (because we just switched Margaret into the crib, and the only sheets we have have seen 2 years of wear from an older brother, so I thought it might be nice if she could have a sheet of her own, you know, and right there in the bin of crib sheets was a Serena and Lily sheet! For $3! So I bought it. Photo below. I never in 5 million years have considered buying it new (I just looked them up and they’re $38), but because I vaguely knew that brand, and knew that it should be excellent quality, I grabbed that sheet and didn’t need to look at the rest). Anyway, if you are, like me, an insufferable snob about quality, know which brands hold up and look good. Keep your eyes open for those things and skip the rest. Even if it means you leave empty handed sometimes. Also, if you really must buy fleece, buy it secondhand, but really, fleece and everything else made out of plastic belongs in whatever subterranean depository our government has for nuclear waste. It is that bad, and it shouldn’t be legal to sell. (We have some secondhand fleece jackets, etc., one of which is a vintage red coat with a pointy hat that I love, but really, just please, please never buy anything new made out of fleece. It needs simply to go out of production.)

3a. Ok, this is related to #3, but very important! Nice brands are all well and good, but if you’re always worrying about something getting spilled or feeling more nervous about the clothes than you really should, maybe reevaluate a bit? I bought Margaret a white linen dress at the consignment store when she was under 1, and it was so, so, so darling, but I couldn’t bear to have her wear it because food! And crawling in the dirt! etc! Also, I was trying to look up pictures of my kids dressed all adorably in their second-hand ensembles for this post, but in pretty much all of our pictures someone is wearing a costume or a bike helmet or is half buried in the sandbox or has ice cream dripping down her arms, etc. Which is as it should be. We never quite attain the Robert Mccluskey simplicity or Breton charm of my ideals. And we’ve had enough bloody noses, stomach bugs, and strawberry/blueberry/raspberry juice stains to know that white frilly clothes are not our friend.

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4. Know where to shop. We have 2 different kids’ consignment stores in Ithaca, one which only sells up to 3T, but the other, Mama Goose, sells all ages, plus maternity, shoes, toys, books, coats, etc. (Mama Goose is an exceptional store, and the only reason I’ve been able to buy so many pretentious clothing items at such good prices! I don’t know what I would do if I lived somewhere else!) I shop less often at the Salvation Army here, but I’ve found a few good things there! There’s also eBay, ThredUp (use this link for $10 off!) and Poshmark. I haven’t bought anything from the latter of those, and maybe 3-4 things total from each of the former. With ThredUp you can search by brand or type of clothing you’re looking for, with filters for size, color, etc. I bought some really cute Crewcut shorts and a Makie sweatshirt for Margaret from ThredUp two summers ago (the shorts in size 2T so she wore them when she was 1 and 2). Last year I thought I would go crazy if I didn’t buy something from the summer Boden catalogue for her, and instead I looked on eBay for used Boden things, and I found a pair of the cutest ever strawberry print shorts for maybe $6. Which is, admittedly, expensive for used shorts. And, per #5 (see below), I bought their size 3-4, so they were too big for last summer, but hopefully they will be the every day shorts for this year, once it warms up, which, of course, will be about 5,000,000 years from now. (Per #2, I’d rather have one pair of shorts for her that I LOVE than 8 pairs that are only so-so.)

5. Buy a few sizes up (but not too many sizes up). If you buy a size 6 raincoat, your almost 5 year old can wear it for 2 years, see? (And I actually promise you that your child will survive. We’ve done that also for winter coats, and it works quite well.) Or if you find a cute, 3T swimsuit last summer that consists of matching swim shirt and shorts, and fits your then 2 year old as long as you take a little tuck in the shorts, she can wear the same suit last summer and then this coming summer. I’ve found that some brands fit on the small side. So my 4 year old wears a Breton striped shirt (Boden) that says it’s a 6-7. The sleeves are a little long, so we roll them up. Today I found a little size 6-7 striped t shirt for Will. I’ll either have him wear it this summer or wait a year. So you can buy early and have a child wear something an extra year, or buy early and save it, if it’s a really good find, for when they’re old enough to wear it. As long as you’re not stockpiling too many clothes, this saves a lot of money in the long run. (See below– size 4-5 denim skirt WITH TINY POLKA DOTS! Couldn’t resist. So we’re tucking it away until next year.)

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Now I know that the only person left reading is my mom (which is fitting, because she is the one who taught me the joys of the thrift store) but I will just say that most of these principles apply for buying second-hand clothes for yourself. Except for buying sizes ahead of where you currently are, one can hope. Buy less, buy good, buy simple. And do your mending.

(And I’d love to know where other people shop for kids’ clothes! Anyone else buy used? Make their kids wear coats 2 or 3 sizes too big? Any favorite secondhand finds?)

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2 thoughts on “5 Ways to be Awesome at Buying Used Children’s Clothes (Or Your Own)”

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