Finding children's clothes that last

Baby wearing pink outfit crawls on a blanket in a sunflower field

Babies grow. Fast. Then they somehow keep growing. That growth is the only way to get a tiny baby to one day grow to be a full sized human, but it can be painful to say goodbye to your favorite outfits constantly. 

So, how do you prepare for all of the clothes you'll need without breaking the bank? There are two strategies people tend to pick from, and I'd encourage you to consider a third strategy as well that you may not have known exists. Those three strategies are cheap new clothes, second hand clothes, and clothes designed to last multiple sizes. Wait, clothes can be designed to last multiple sizes? Yes! Let's start with the most common two methods first though.

Cheap clothes seem like the perfect solution, and they have a place in my closet too. They solve the immediate need of getting your kid clothes in the next size up while also being new, so you hope they'll last for your kids and potentially through being able to sell or donate them to someone else. Additionally, it seems like kids will stain or get holes in their clothes anyway, so why spend more money on them? 

The issue with the cheapest clothes can come in the fact that they aren't designed to last beyond one child. If you think about it, your adult clothes last you years. Even the cheapest of fast fashion adult clothes last most adults at least a year. Unfortunately babies are much tougher on clothes than adults are -- those same fast fashion materials that lasted a year for adults might only last a few washes for babies and toddlers before they become permanently stained or threads start to come loose! 

When you have a second child, or you want to give your friend some hand-me-downs, or you try to sell your baby clothes to get some of that money back, there's a good chance you won't be able to re-use or sell the cheap clothes because the clothes won't last long enough. If they do last past one child, they often don't survive storage to wait on another child or hand-me-downs. Additionally, because manufacturers know this, you almost never find designs in cheap children's clothes meant to help your child last in the clothes for longer than a few months at most. Which means you need to buy twice as many cheap clothes to last the same amount of time! 

Hand-me-downs are amazing if you have access to them. I was incredibly fortunate that my cousin sent me a huge box of hand-me-downs (thanks, Mary Kate!) that helped us immensely when we were unprepared for clothes the next size up. One of the things I quickly noticed was that her hand-me-downs lasted through her two children and now my child quite well, and most of the giant box had quality fabrics. How was this possible? Don't all fabrics stain the same with kids?

It turns out kids aren't destined to destroy their cheap clothes just as quickly as their slightly more expensive clothes. Manufacturers decide the thickness of the weave on the fabric and of course the design of their clothes. And manufacturers of cheap clothes don't want you to get hand-me-downs, they want you to buy as many of their clothes as possible.

Let's say you spend $4 for a short sleeved bodysuit, that bodysuit is likely stitched half as thick as if you spent $8. Looser weaves make it more likely that a stain will penetrate the fabric, making stain removal more difficult. Additionally, when the two fabrics wear down, stain, get washed, rub on the ground, or get scratched by those incredibly sharp nails your baby manages to always have, the thinner woven fabric is not only more likely to catch because there's slightly more space between each thread, it also has less threads available as backup to prevent that loss in strength from impacting the thread around it. So the cheaper fabric gets holes and stains much easier and more quickly than the slightly more expensive fabric.

When you try to buy second hand baby clothes you will see some cheap brands. However, compared to how often they're purchased, you see them a lot less frequently than you should compared to slightly more durable and expensive brands. Hand-me-down boxes are often similarly skewed to the fabrics and brands designed to be more durable. The cheapest clothes often don't last long enough to be handed down or sold.

In addition to the fabric, another big difference between the cheaper clothes and the clothes that last long enough to be sold or handed down is the presence of features that allow the clothes to be worn longer by any one child. A long time in baby-land might only be a few months, but if an outfit can last twice as long, it's a good sign of quality and thoughtful design. Also, it saves you money and time finding new clothes! So, what designs should you look for to find a baby or toddler clothing item last longer?

Some examples, in order of how much extra time they give the garment from most extra time to least:

  • Multiple rows of buttons, allowing child to grow while still fitting into the garment
  • Fold-over cuffs, allowing the clothes to fit snuggly when hands and/or feet don't reach the end and still fit when those same hands or feet stick out a ways past the end of the fabric. These can also save you the expense of buying mittens for a newborn.
  • Elastic necks allow baby to fit snugly in the outfit for nearly twice as long as a traditional neck design.
  • Long torso design - most frequently seen in overalls and rompers, it allows the item to be worn both when the torso is too long and when it fits comfortable, often first as (for example) long pants, then as capris.
  • Long shirts allow older babies and toddlers to fit in the shirt for longer. You can start by tucking the shirt in if it's flowy or letting it hang long if it's a tighter fit. Most children outgrow their outfits in the torso length before they outgrow the neck area, so this one can give you a lot of extra time.
  • Flowy shirt design allows for slightly longer wear. You do want to be careful to ensure really flowy designs are not worn during sleep or a sleep sack or something similar is worn on top of the garment during sleep.
  • 1/4 button or 1/4 zip allows for the item to last slightly longer if the top button is unbuttoned. Full buttons or zipper down the front of a sweater or jacket allow for wearing even longer as they can be worn when the garment won't close, though of course they won't be as warm.
  • Stretchy fabric. A small amount of spandex can sometimes mean an extra few weeks of wear!
  • Lap neck design allows the outfit to fit over the head for longer than a traditional neck design.
  • Elastic waists, wrists, and ankles. The most common method on the list, they allow clothes to fit when they're slightly too baggy, preventing the pants from falling down or the too-big arms from covering the hands.
  • Thicker woven fabrics in natural materials last longer than loosely woven and synthetic materials. Yes, natural materials are slightly more likely to get a stain on them than synthetic materials, though typically the stain requires only regular washing for removal instead of stain remover, which helps the fabric last longer.
  • Buttons instead of zippers. Yes, I know zippers are more convenient, however buttons often can start being worn when the child is slightly smaller when a zipper would still bunch up too much, and then buttons can fit for slightly longer when you would be risking pinching your child with a zipper. 

At The Cuddly Owl we know it's important that your children's clothes last as long as possible. That's why the vast majority of our clothes have at least two of the listed methods. We also have a special collection of Grow-With-Me clothes that are specially designed to fit your child for as long as possible.

Finding clothes that last for your child or children can not only save you the hassle of finding clothes at the last minute during a growth spurt, it can also save you a lot of money in the long run. Kids grow quickly, we're here to help make it a little bit more manageable!

The picture at the top of this post? That outfit lasted less than two weeks. It was new, cheap, adorable, and perfect for the photo shoot, but sadly it had none of the design features listed above. Less than two weeks after this photo was taken I couldn't get it over her head.

Picture by Annabelle Jordan Photography.