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. 

1 comment:

  1. sometimes we forget how hard this can all be for a small child. Thanks for this insightful post.

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