Thursday, May 28, 2015

How to Dress Children in Designer Clothes for Less

Guest Post by Lesley Colvin

[My dear friend Lesley Colvin (also my photography teacher) has three adorable children that *always* look like they fell out of a high-end French baby model magazine.  Gideon has clearly fallen for it, and so have I.

Yet Lesley never spends as much as it looks.  Not nearly.  So I asked her to spill her secrets here, and I'm delighted by what she has written:]

There are few pleasures I enjoy more than buying clothing for my children. I was never much into dolls when I was a girl, but now that I have three little dollies running around, it's one of my favorite hobbies.  I have very simple taste, and love classic children's clothing.  I particularly love 1950's children's wear, and you'll see my girls in knee-highs and Mary Janes, and my son in newsboy caps and button up shirts.    I feel like I'm a bit different because I don't have "play clothes" for my children.  We dress up when we go out as a family, we dress up on vacation, we like to look our best and I love how sweet my little darlings look (even when they don't act very sweet).  I don't dress my children well because I care what others think about me, I dress them well because of the way it makes me feel as a mother.  That, and life's too short to waste a day on an ugly outfit.  

My justification for buying lovely, traditional, high quality clothing is purely selfish.  I love the way it looks!  As a mother of three under-seven-years-old, I tend to lose patience quickly with children who look motley, have crazy hair, and smell like they've been running wild in an enchanted wood for three days straight.  

Too, I'm a photographer, and the photographic style I aim for is classic and timeless.  The same is true for my taste in children's clothing.  I tend to purchase clothing items that photograph well and put the emphasis on my children.  When I look at them in life and in photos, I want to see their beautiful faces, not their clothing.  

We were still students when Ella was born, and we were so grateful for the kind and generous friends and family members who basically clothed our baby girl for the first year of her life.  But there's truly no faster way to figure out your own style than to have people dress your child for you.  

Even when I could afford to be a bit more discerning, I quickly realized that the simple, versatile clothing designs I loved were also the most expensive. If I wanted to escape the world of clothing stamped with "Mommy's Little Cutie" and made of materials that only look decent until you wash them twice, I needed to figure out a way to afford the look and quality I wanted, so I often buy second hand or via eBay (see more below), and the only full-price purchases I tend to make are for essential, shoes, and accessories.
High quality clothing is luxurious, yes, but also practical.  With most inexpensive brands, I know that a newborn blowout or a dripping chocolate ice cream means death for that cheap fabric, whereas I relax and let kids be kids when I know the stain will wash out of a Crewcuts tee with a little Oxyclean. 

Did I just say that I'm more relaxed when my kids wear more expensive clothes?  Well, yes I did.   It's not a matter of buying the top brand, it's a matter of buying top quality garments that survive looking beautiful until they're outgrown. I try to consider clothing purchases investments, either to stand the test of time to pass to another child, or to resell when my child has outgrown it.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but even for school clothes and days at the playground, I dress my children in brands I know I can trust. When it comes to clothing, you get what you pay for, and high quality clothing holds up better through washing and stain removal, wears longer, and is far more comfortable.

The look I aspire for:  Traditional, simple, classic.  I prefer muted tones and choose neutral schemes that can be easily mixed and matched with other pieces.  I save pops of color for hair bows, shoes, and other accessories like old-fashioned bonnets for my daughters and flatcaps for my son.  I stay away from brand logos and clothing with wording or popular cartoon character designs. I'm picky about what we bring into our closets,  but I always let my children help choose clothing that features their favorite colors, and that's enough for them for now!  

Although I love classic pj's for all ages, nighttime is probably the only time you'll see one of my kids sporting Elsa or Lightning McQueen.  For girls, I buy a lot of dresses because they are no fuss and don't take a lot of accessorizing. You will rarely see my girls in trousers, as there's nothing sweeter than little girls in dresses!  For my son, I tend to choose solid-colored tees, and he wears a lot of easy-care button-up shirts with chinos or shorts in the summer with a flatcap. 


Put your money where it matters most: I'm as thrifty as the next mom, but when it comes to essentials, I'm willing to pay full price for a high-quality item I know I will need and use daily, like shoes, coats, hats, rain boots, and undergarments.  For everything else, I love a good sale, and have no problem buying a new item from last season off eBay.   My friend Leann taught me that when I buy high quality clothing that I love, I will ultimately buy less because I'm buying deliberately, not making a purchase just because a piece is on sale.  I didn't believe her at first, but when I buy specific items that I know I need and will use, I save money.  When I buy items in advance on sale, I find that I either forget about the clothes and buy more, or my sizes/season are off so I can't even use what I purchased!  I try to only buy what I need for now and forget about the rest. That being said, my mom taught me to buy items on sale or second hand so that I would never feel guilty about a full-price splurge.  It has proven to be very sound advice! 

For essentials my favorite brand is Crewcuts  The quality is consistently fantastic, and particularly for kids knits,  JCrew has the best tees, hands-down.  They wash and wear beautifully and my children wear them for years until they outgrow them, and they still look beautiful.  Petit Bateau and Gap are our favorites for underwear and undershirts.  We like Zara and Gap for jeans and shorts.  Along with Crewcuts 30-50% off sales (there's one on now for an additional 30-50% off sale prices!), I love La Coqueta for gorgeous, traditional childrens clothing.  Nearly everything is machine-washable, which is really important to me. I adore specialty lines like Mabo Kids, and Oliver Baby, but find that stalking their sales is the only way I can afford their gorgeous line of children's clothing.  If you have the option, shop in-store rather than online.  You'll be able to touch and feel the fabrics and see the colors in person.  This saves me from the "I'll just buy it all and then return what doesn't work" trap. 

Buy Dresses and Party Clothes Used:  I love to exploit the fact that most moms only dress their babes up for church or major holidays or events, and then sell those gorgeous, practically new frocks for pennies on the dollar on eBay.  Or better yet, donate them to my local charity shop. This way, I can pick up beautiful, high-quality clothing for under £10, and then if they fall in a muddy puddle I'm not going to cry!

eBay:  This is where I find the majority of my girl's second-hand dresses, and this is also the only way I can dream of affording expensive brands.  You can find gorgeous vintage pieces, and some of my favorite pieces baby Kate has worn in her first two years are vintage finds via eBay.  If you want high quality dresses, search for these brands and I'll swear by their high standards:  Sarah Louise, Jacadi, Gocco, Rachel Riley, I Love Gorgeous.  Brands like Caramel Baby and Child, Marie Chantal, and Bonpoint are expensive even second-hand, but sometimes you get lucky (note these brands are often dry clean-only).  If you simply must buy an item that is too big for you child at the time, be sure that the item can be worn in more than one season, just in case the timing isn't perfect.
Charity Shop/Consignment Store:  If you're lucky to live in an area with amazing second hand stores, charity shops are a gold mine for children's clothing.  I pop by my local charity shops several times a week!  New items come in daily, and I find the most amazing clothes for my children at prices that I can't even believe.  When we lived in NYC, quality thrift stores were hard to come by, but there were many consignment shops I loved, like Clementine Consignment in the West Village.  Sometimes they even list pieces online!

Shoes and accessories:

Leather shoes:  We love simple, functional leather shoes around here.  Mary Janes for girls, desert boots or velcro shoes for boys.  Leather looks great and can be polished.  High quality leather shoes can be worn with just about anything.  In colder months each child has one pair of dress shoes and one pair of play shoes, both made from high quality leather that can be polished or cleaned.  The school-aged children also have trainers they can choose to wear at school. During the summer, my children have either a pair of leather Avarcas or leather Salt Water Sandals. They can be worn for play and for dressing up, and Salt Waters are even waterproof.  Both are beautifully crafted, and if you choose gender-neutral colors, they can be passed from child to child. Favorite brands include La CoquetaStride Rite, Livie and Luca (the simple designs), and Naturino.

Accessories for Girls:  

Leggings and tights for girls:  find a brand you trust. We love La Coqueta tights that are made of cotton, nylon, and elasthane.  They don't pill and even the most frightful muddy puddle stains seem to come out magically.
Fancy socks for girls:  I love knee highs and fancy open-work socks for little girls.  La Coqueta carries them both, and the quality is impeccable.
Bonnets and hats:  Oliver Baby has the best cashmere hats and snoods, as well as baby bonnets for summer.  La Coqueta has a gorgeous line of baby bonnets for year-long wear, and gorgeous woolen knits for winter.  

Accessories for boys: 
Hats:  For my son, I choose newsboy caps rather than baseball caps, as they dress even the most casual outfit.  Until recently, Gymboree in the US made the best hats, but they changed their design and they're not as snug as they used to be (read, a light wind blows them right off!). I've recently found Village Hats and  Finn's Flat Caps that have a basic selection of caps, and my son will be getting one of these gorgeous wool  Tweedies flat caps for Christmas.  Here's hoping Barbour will launch a line of tweed flat caps for children as well. 
Socks, braces, belts:  It's hard to beat the quality of La Coqueta, and the price is right for these quality accessories. 

Jackets and Winter coats:  I consider this my priority number one, because this is what I see them in the most when we are out and about.   In the winter, my children have one puffer coat and one wool dress coat each, and I try to choose neutral, versatile colors for both that will match any of their outfits.  Dress coats aren't allowed at school (I learned this the hard way)! Look for wool blends with high wool content, as they are warmer and wear better over time.  I find that my children over 2 can get at least two winters out of one coat, so it's always easier to make an investment knowing that.  Wool coats also have a great resale value and they are quite easy to find in excellent condition used.  Why? Because people don't use them daily, just for special occasions. Crewcuts and Gap always have great wool blends, and brands like Zara and  LL Bean often have quality wool coats as well.  For puffers, we always splurge for down fill, as it's far warmer and makes all the different for city kids who are out in the elements. Crewcuts is my favorite brand for stylish puffers coats. 

In the spring and summer, I love trench coats and solid-colored raincoats and wellington boots.  Zara and Gap and Crewcuts always carry great spring outerwear, our favorite rain coat brands are Petit Bateau and Hatley (via eBay, of course!), and high quality wellies like Hunter are a must for kids.  They are pricey, but the inexpensive ones crack with extensive use, and if you're a city kid, they'll get extensive use.  In my experience, rain boots last at least two years unless your child has a major growth spurt. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Working a Balance

The perennial question of my life has always been how and when to transition to motherhood.  By the time I was 13 or 14, I had ambitions to get an Ivy League degree, become a constitutional lawyer, start a non-profit, and help write constitutions--oh, and have 10 children. (As you do.)

Yet those ambitions were also agonising.  I believed my greatest call would (hopefully) be as a mother. The leader of my faith as a teen taught in an age of feminism that women with families should be in the home. I believed my career dreams would either be mutually exclusive to motherhood, or very difficult - and perhaps doctrinally wrong- to realise together.

Then I researched the sociology and my faith's doctrine on motherhood and the law as a first year law student.  I conducted dozens of interviews and read just as many books and articles about motherhood, mothers who worked in and outside of the law, and doctrinal approaches to both.  The product can be found here, a bible-study-like lesson (yes, I am not a named author, but neither are the law clerks who write judicial opinions).  

The things I learned have guided my thoughts and choices regarding being the type of mother and professional I am.  Highlights include the following:

* The Family Proclamation (1997), "By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation."

* President James E. Faust, "Message to Our Granddaughters", Devotional Address, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, Feb. 12, 1985, "In the book of Ecclesiastes, it says, 'To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,' (Eccl. 3:1)...It seems that the new roles of women have not decreased their responsibilities because while the new roles are challenging, the old roles of wife and mother are in the soul and cry out to be satisfied.  Fortunately, women do not have to track a career like a man does.  She may fit more than one career into the various seasons of life.  She cannot sing all the verses of her song at the same time."

* Elder Bruce C. Hafen, "Principles and Preferences", Clothed with Charity (1997), "Our very confidence in the correctness of the Church's positions on numerous lifestyle issues leads some of us to become opinionated and judgmental about other people's choices....At that point, we may wrongly assume that our personal perspective is also the Lord's perspective and that our preferences reflect his principles.

"I have learned from a variety of Latter-day Saint women that this tendency to judge other people's choices can become emotional and ugly among LDS women.  A woman who writes for a Church-owned publication reports that no matter what feature stories her publication runs on LDS women, she receives angry mail from women readers who disapprove of the messages they think are hidden in the stories.  Stories about women doing professional work may prompt the complaint that such features undermine the Church's counsel that a woman's first priority is her family.  Stories about women doing domestic work provoke the response that such features improperly exclude all LDS women from higher education and meaningful careers.  According to this woman, the people who are hardest on LDS women are other LDS women.

"Even when we eliminate differences of preference, personality, and circumstances so that we're talking only about principles, all situations will not yield the same results because of the natural and often unavoidable paradox of competing true principles.

"How essential it is for us to 'let' people govern themselves and be themselves in circumstances in which they apply competing principles and consider appropriate matters of preference."

*President Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 13:61"We have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed.  We believe that women are useful, not only to sweep house, wash dishes, make beds, raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physics, or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and all this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large.  In following these things they but answer the design of their creation.  These, and many more things of equal utility are incorporated in our religion, and we believe and try to practice them."

OK, one more quote!

* President Gordon B. Hinkley, "A Prophet's Counsel and a Prayer for Youth," Ensign, Jan. 2001, at 2, "You need all the education you can get....Qualify yourselves to do the work of the world.  That world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field."

Based on my studies, I learned that no woman who worked full time and managed a family was thrilled with how she mothered or attended to her career.  I became convinced that for me, seasons, ala Justice O'Connor (who took an eight year break to raise her boys) and advocated by President Faust, was the way to go.  I figured life is long, and babies are only babies for a very short period.  Yes, I could pursue a career full-throttle while single, but there would be a time after babies grew when a bit more time would free for other things.

Now that the babies are here, I have learned that season can apply on a macro and micro level. 

I'm in the intensive motherhood season of life, but I take daily breaks, or mini-seasons, to work.  Some mothers sleep or do yoga, paint or blog  (I'm not really *that* serious).  I work.  

Working a little bit every day helps me appreciate the time with my kids more, and spending time with the kiddos playing hard helps me appreciate the little time I have to work.  Because I have taught my babies to sleep, sometimes I have been able to work without childcare.

It means there are big and small sacrifices I am making in my career right now.  My doctorate is on pause for 8-10 years. I can't live in Libya or Tunis like other internationals working on Libya.  I didn't go to Beirut when Esther was four weeks old to meet with the Libyan constitution drafting assembly.  I have to pace myself, and don't produce as much as quickly as I have - my weekly to-dos could have been accomplished in a day or two back in the single days.  And working for myself--a choice I made to give me maximum motherhood flexibility--means no one pays me to find clients, do the accounting, recruit and manage good interns or other staff, or pay my overtime when good work requires it.  

On the small scale, my "work clothes" are often fairly casual, have stains on them, and are usually  washable.  I work from home or in the local library, so I'm still on call if things go even mildly bad.  Many a Skype call has been taken with a baby on my lap, and I have even breastfed (with a cover) in a business meeting.  I do warn people ahead of time, but don't apologise for incorporating my children into my work.  They come first.

On work trips, such as my weekend trip to Oxford, the kiddos (and some childcare) go with me.  I loved having Gideon in Libya with me as a three month old, and this last weekend in Oxford was made magical by having the kids there.  I made extra time to let it be so, and still got the work done.

Stayed with my dear friend, Mary Cox, while in Oxford.  The kids loved her!

Worcester College has amazing grounds and was very family-friendly

"Quack quack!"

G was mimicking a student practicing cricket

Excuse the dungaree/overall failure!

Worcester College has an orchard.  Amazing.

clinging to flowers for Mary

About how I feel about St. John's college.  They were *not* family-friendly.  

Port Meadow - the largest remaining common grounds in the UK

"Cow! I sit. Chair (patting the grass). Cow! Booo!" (his version of moo)

After close observation of his heifers, the bull came very close and acted as if he was going to charge with some vicious sniffing.  Gideon was scared, and I explained that the dad was being protective of the moms.  As we left, Gideon said, "daddy cow!"

Watching the ducks with Donna, our au pair.  Upon leaving this scene, he said, "Bye bye, quack quack!"

Our final luncheon destination, The Trout

Gideon was great at sleeping during lunch after our long walk (is it three miles from Oxford town centre to the Trout?) 

Small Wonders

* Gideon has gotten very good at saying "Thank you" whenever he receives anything.  He will often follow this up by saying "your welcome."  Hasn't quite gotten the exchange concept yet.
* Esther now has two bottom teeth!  She only had one rough morning but largely got through it all quite easily.  I unfortunately took away the binky/dummy right as she was teething, and didn't realise it!
* Gideon is a bit OCD.  He is obsessed with putting things back in their right place, throwing things away, closing doors, and doing things in their proper order.  If we put on his jacket and shoes by the front door, for instance, we have to trick him to go out back by going out the front door and around to the back rather than going out the back door.
* Gideon will pull something apart, say "e broken", then bring it to us, and say "fix it" if he cannot reverse engineer it.
* G has had a hard time sharing.  A week ago, I taught a very short lesson (as part of FHE) on sharing, including this rather lame Youtube video.  Later that day, Esther was reaching for Gideon's crackers in the bike, and G was protesting loudly.  I asked Gideon to remember what we had learned earlier that day about sharing, and asked him to be a big boy and share.  He gave Esther not only his cracker, but his food pouch.  I was a proud mamma.  He's been much better ever since.
* G will say "help" whenever he wants you to do something.  I picked him up from a play date with best friend Iori to discover that that's how he got Iori to do what he wanted, to.
* He was an absolute champ traveling this weekend.  Granted, he is now a veteran, but all of the changes he took in stride.
* He has started to pray now, and can repeat one or two words per phrase.  He often will be thankful for his girlfriend, Kate, pictured dancing with her below.
* Esther has become quite communicative, especially when it comes to food.  She can usually indicate with her eyes and facial expression what kind of food (bottle, food food, or breastmilk) she wants.  But if you take away her food, such as the chicken drum she was nearly choking on the other day, you will learn what an angel baby sounds like when they finally decide to cry.  Don't mess!
* She can also sit for a few minutes and I was called out of the shower one morning to see her kneeling for the first time, below.  This was a difficult shot - moving kids, low light, and (mostly) in a towel...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lazy Do-Nothing Days

makeup less cuddle in the jammies
I love a cheese commercial here about "lazy do-nothing days."  We've had a lot of those recently - staying here at home playing with the kiddos and enjoying our back garden/yard.

Other than our big church day today, we kept our weekend purposely simple: having Gideon's best friend over, reading or playing in the back garden, taking a walk in Primrose Hill, making Thai food and having an old friend over Friday night.  Last night, we had a very simple date night bike ride up Frognal (gorgeous!) to Sandy Heath - a woodsy part of Hampstead Heath.  Simple and wonderful, and cost us less than £10.  Lance and I re-confirmed that we want to live in the woods someday - perhaps soon.

my fav cheeky smile

Esther hung out on a blanket all the while, happy as a clam.


Somehow these amazing British gardeners always manage to have something blooming in the royal parks. 

Les, how's that boka?
Hampstead Heath bike riding