Note: none of the pictures loaded in the previously published version of this post, and a few still aren’t coming up. But now you can get a much better idea what I was talking about re: clothes! Apologies for the hiccup.
In the “What would you like to see me cover in a post?” section of my recent reader survey, someone wrote:
“Do you thrift your kid’s wardrobe? My wardrobe is almost entirely thrifted (except underwear and shoes- hard to fit). I’ve got an 18 month old and an almost 4 year old, who, aside from socks and underwear, dress entirely in hand me downs and stuff from Once Upon a Child [kids’ consignment store]. But we’ve now moved 40 minutes from the nearest Once Upon a Child, and I notice that I can’t just roll up to the Goodwill and quickly find a whole season’s worth of clothes, because the selection is strange and there’s zero organization. I would love to hear how you go about clothing your child.”
This question resonated with several of you who commented that you’d like to read about some strategies for thrifting children’s clothing and/or see an update on my kid’s current wardrobe. (You can find the last time I covered it – last winter – here.)
First up: strategies for finding clothing your kid/s in secondhand clothes
General strategies (all applicable to grown up thrifting as well!):
- Try to stick with one color palette so most/all of your stuff is mix and match. This palette may be pre-chosen or may develop out of the things you piece together in store. If you accidentally end up with an “outlier” that doesn’t play well with everything else, remember: jeans/jeggings go with everything. But:
- Don’t be afraid to get creative! YOU get to determine what “goes” together, so don’t restrict yourself to rules about certain colors or prints not going together – if you or your kid love it together, it’s fair game.
We aimed for legging-like solid-color pants this time around (see below) to keep legs warm and not clash too hard with her printed tops. We ended up with some heart print pants and some striped pants, though – which turned out to be fun to mix in with patterned tops. In a pinch I also ended up with slightly baggier pants that look a little funny paired with some of the bigger tops. But the essential I care about – that they not ride up so she doesn’t get cold – was covered by the elasticated ankle. Done!
- Also try to stick with a silhouette or two so that none of your finds become standalones that can only be worn with one other item. Button down shirts probably will look funny with sweatpants so stock up on jeans/chinos…skirts/dresses in cooler weather mean lots of tights…active kids who love skirts might go with leggings or leggings shorts underneath…you get the picture.
When my kid was tiny I stuck with onesies (with pants pulled up over them as necessary) since standalone shirts were prone to riding up on her wriggly body, then switched to shirt and pants/shorts when she was walking to make diapering easier.
- Know your kid’s measurements (at least by eyeball). Brands all have different sizing standards, so only your familiarity with your kid’s frame can tell you whether an item is likely to be too small/short/long/wide. This is especially handy for when your kid isn’t with you to try things on/there is no place to try things on/online shopping.
- Create a small (2-3 item) “fancy” capsule for special events – worship services, school performances, weddings/funerals, etc. This keeps special stuff clean(er) and gives you flexibility to do another silhouette (e.g. my kid rarely wears dresses in ordinary life but has 2-3 she likes to wear on special occasions).
- Decide your strategy for thrifting ahead.
Because I live in an area with multiple stellar Goodwills and have limited storage space (and even limited-er willpower), I try NOT to buy items that will fit my kid “someday.” I stumbled upon this strategy when I realized that I could not predict the rate at which my infant/toddler would grow and thus would only be guesstimating what size she needed for what length/weight of clothes.
Your mileage may vary – your kids grow more predictably, you have more storage space, you have fewer opportunities to thrift and thus stock up when you find good stuff, you have multiple kids coming along so even if it doesn’t fit kid A in winter it might fit kid B in winter…etc.
- If you have older kids, particularly ones who care about their clothing, have them help you identify which colors/silhouettes they like before you shop – or better yet, take them with you!
Tips specific to various secondhand contexts:
- Consignment stores: Our reader question mentioned Once Upon a Child
- Thrift stores
- Hand me downs
- Gifts – both retail and secondhand
And now, my kid’s current wardrobe.
You should know that my mom has saved a BUNCH of my/my sister’s baby clothes. You should also know that she has one grandchild (my kid), and that one of the ways she loves on her granddaughter is buying her clothes. This means we start off most seasons with some hand-me-downs and 3-4 new outfits and new pjs (see below for pics).
This means I end up with a sort of mini-capsule at the beginning of the season in a matching(ish) color palette that doesn’t make me want to keel over from pink overload (thanks Mom), to which I then thrifted mostly complementary clothes to get us to a serviceable wardrobe size. (My mom came thrifting with me over Thanksgiving to get in on the fun! Pics below.)
Here’s what my mom dug out of storage for us for winter –
My grandmother made these and I love dressing my child in them. Grandmother died before her great grandchild was born but it feels like she is hugging my little girl (and thus me) every time I pull her arms through the sleeves and zip or button her up. /tears/ Plus who else has a rad zip sweater that goes on backwards so your kid’s face is always framed by that sweet little hood that never falls down?
Here’s what my mom gave us (new) for winter:
polka dot top
The light purple leggings (in the pic with the red sweater) and jeggings ended up going home with a friend by accident when I threw them into a load of her clothes she was washing at our house (bah, broken washing machines). We’ll get them back this weekend!
It’s been about a month since those pants stowed away in our friend’s laundry. At the beginning we got along alright without ’em because it was still warm (thank you Atlanta summers extending into November). But in anticipation of cooler weather, this kerfluffle quickly got me out and thrifting for some new (to us) pants – plus a few extra shirts, because a pink short-sleeved T Rex on the Golden Gate bridge shirt can only be worn under a red cardigan so many times.
Here’s what I thrifted, round 1:
Navy & white striped sweatpant-style pants:
Jeggings (SO many jeggings to choose from) – basically the same as above leggings.
Floral baseball top – *I* would wear this in a big person size. Great mix of chic + sporty:
Heart stripe top:
Yes this is all pink, but the election had just happened and I felt like sending a message to the world about LOVE. Also, it’s a 5T (my kid wears a 2T) but looked smallish. It fits in the body and I cuff the sleeves – remember, it pays to know your kid’s frame!
REI purple puffy coat:
(The hat, shoes, and jeggings are also thrifted)
I KNOW. This thing looks brand spankin’ new and was $6. Perfect for colder days here and for our annual wintry trek to the wilds of New England. I picked up purple mittens at the grocery store and we have hand-me-down hats; I will ask my mother-in-law to keep an eye out for a secondhand snowsuit and we’ll be all set. Take THAT, Winter!
Her other thrifted winter shoes are these:
If you’re counting, we’re now at 3 pairs of pants (soon to be back up to 5) and 5 long sleeved tops. This is juuuuuuust enough to get us through a week of daycare plus 1 weekend day of “I don’t care that my kid is wearing a shirt that already has paint on it.” In other words, since I am lazy and try to only do laundry on the weekends, this is not quite enough.
Enter my mother, come to town for Thanksgiving, and game for a trip to Goodwill!
What we thrifted, Round 2:
My kid loves dinos and I love claiming non-traditionally “girl” colors and motifs for my kid via her clothing. I don’t think she cares yet.
Sorry the pic isn’t better – it says something about Glitter EVERYWHERE. Too twee? I was on the fence about the message but I love the sports jersey look and the color scheme. It crosses traditionally “boy” colors/design with a traditionally “girl” love of glitter in a way that means any gender could wear it. Because really, what little kid doesn’t love something designed to be strewn everywhere with glorious abandon so that your parent can’t ever get it out of your hair/off the floor/combed out of the cat?
Then I broke my own rule and let my mom thrift two shortsleeve shirts that will (theoretically) work for my kid next summer: a lion-with-sunglasses top (fun and cute), and a tow truck top (she loves tow trucks and looks great in blue). My mom is a bad influence.
This month my mom sent us this for Christmas, which we have used as our church/holiday party outfit ad nauseum:
So that completes my kid’s current capsule.
The orange shirt is an outlier, colorwise, but goes just fine with jeggings and can work with the stripe pants and the heart pants (first time out she wore it with the hearts). The purple pants are also a bit of a color outlier but still go (to my eyes) with the polka dot top, the teal top, the heart top, and in a pinch, the blue/pink stripe top.
TIP: save (or buy) a pair of pants or two that you’ve thought about donating – too worn/too baggy/too short – and take ’em to daycare/preschool/babysitter in case of potty training accidents.
How do you all thrift for the little people in your life? Scroll down to comment!
PS My sister sent this yesterday for Christmas, so now we have another shirt. Thanks Seester!
4 thoughts on “Thrifting for Kids”
My kids’ clothing mainly comes from hand-me downs or thrifting. I have 5 and 3 year old girls. There is usually a much smaller selection of kids clothes in a given size than adult clothing, but over time I can put together a pretty decent wardrobe. I often have a hard time finding basics like black leggings in good condition when thrifting so I’ll just pick those up in the store. My 3 year old gets the 5 year olds hand me downs plus I thrift her something ‘new’ – it’s hard to resist something cute at the thrift store.
Emmy, thanks for sharing! I agree, it’s hard to resist cute stuff when you know it’s $2 and like new. I don’t have much storage space so that helps me limit myself :)
I’ve found things like jeggings in superabundance at the thrift store because everybody donates them, but I can see why they might be the most worn out of a kid’s wardrobe…so maybe I just got lucky!
Thank you! What a stinkin cute set for your little one. That seahorse would be coveted and fought over around here. I’ve had much better luck at the Goodwill lately- my 4 year old had a growth spurt, and I was able to fill in his winter stuff, plus a few tops for next summer for the little one and the BEST pair of jeans I’ve ever owned, for all of $16. I’ve got one Rubbermaid bin to hold on to stuff/buy ahead, and it’s working well.
Kara, thanks! The seahorse was a handmade creation, I think by an Etsy store – if I can find the business card I’ll post in case you want to put it on someone’s wish list :)
Nice scores! How do you fit all your stuff into a Rubbermaid?? I have one child and a footlocker is already full, and I feel like I toss/donate stuff ALL the time! Tips??