My days are numbered.
Right now, I have an 8 year old and a 6 year old who, although they occasionally have opinions (the horror!), pretty much let me pick all of their clothes. I lay them out, they put them on. I lay them out, they put them on. With the exception of the occasional tag-related rebellion, this pattern has continued most of their lives, but times they are a changin’. Just the other day, I caught Lola looking at a catalog and marking things that she liked. And Eva is insisting that she wants a long dress for an upcoming daddy daughter dance, and found a picture of an utterly atrocious flower girl dress for inspiration.
Similarly challenged? Fortunately, I’m here to help. All this week, I will be focused on Back to School shopping for kids’ clothes. You’ll find a detailed breakdown of a complete back to school wardrobe for your grade-school-aged son or daughter, complete with resources/prices, plus my top picks from your favorite stores, the best backpacks, lunchboxes, and other gear, and everything else you need for the most stylish fall ever. (Consider this Pinterest board your shopping list). And it all starts with establishing a new set of ground rules. Forget everything you ever thought you knew. Here, the 7 New Rules of Back to School Shopping.
1. Assess What You Have
Before you ever venture into the first store, you need to take stock of what you have and what you need. The more thorough and detailed you are in this step, the more successful (and budget-friendly) your shopping trip will be. Take out all of your child’s clothing, and assess each piece, and determine whether the item fits, a process that is not always as simple as it sounds. I have two very different daughters, so I use two very different approaches for this. For Eva, I find a pair of pants that I know fits her, and use it to measure all of the other pants in her closet. This spares me the hassle of having her try on all of her clothes. My more fashion-oriented daughter, Lola, tries on all of the questionable items and parades around the room, fashion-show style. Do whatever works to make this easy and painless. (Keeping on top of outgrown clothes makes this process easier. I keep a basket in the hall closet outside my girls’ rooms. Whenever Eva, my youngest, puts on something that doesn’t fit, it goes in the basket, and when it’s full, I sort them items and get them out of the house).
Once you know what you are keeping, sort clothes into categories: jeans, pants, tops, dresses, etc., and make notes (or use your phone to document) everything your child owns. I know this may seem like overkill, but you will thank me when you are trying to remember whether your daughter already has a pair of blue shorts. Trust me, it’s easy to forget when you’re in the store, with your child, trying to get through a list. Also take pictures of anything that you need to find a match for. Also, set aside any items that need alterations.
2. Out With the Old
Determine which items you are no longer going to keep. These might include anything that doesn’t fit, or that your child never wears or dislikes. Sort all unwanted items into three piles:
- Donate: Local thrift stores, churches, and shelters are all good places to donate unwanted items.
- Sell: Find a local consignment store that specializes in children’s clothing, or try one of the online consignment sites. I have personally used ThredUp, and it’s so simple. They send you a postage paid bag, you send them your stuff, and you get paid for them. Other great online consignment stores include FlipSize and MoxieJean, or, you can try selling the items yourself on Ebay.
- Hand Down: Give the items to a younger sibling, cousin or friend.
3. Do Your Homework
Pre-shopping can save you a whole lot of hassle when you get to the store. Look through catalogs, online, and in the Sunday paper and make a note of the stores that have the items you are looking for, at the best prices. By planning ahead, you can take advantage of end of summer sales or your store rewards. Use your online research to create a shopping list, and review it with your child, if necessary. Decide which stores you are going to go to, and when. If your schedule permits, pick a day during the week, when stores are less crazy, or go for a few hours in the late afternoon or after dinner. Many states have a tax free weekend for back to school shopping, so if you’re brave, take advantage of this by going shopping at that time, but be prepared for bigger crowds and longer lines. For the dates of your state’s tax free shopping weekend, click here. Finally, make note of your school’s dress code. This was one of many challenges when my kids went from the uniforms of a private school to a public school last year. Among the rules: no spaghetti straps, tops need to be two inches wide at the shoulders, and shorts need to reach mid-thigh. (The shorts, especially, are a challenge, since many retailers insist on making shorts that are inappropriately short. Bermudas work, when you can find them, or try this season’s new midi-shorts. Measure an existing pair of shorts to make sure the length will meet your school’s guidelines).
4. Shop without Dropping
I have found that moms fall into two general categories when it comes to back to school clothes shopping. The first group tries to get it all done in one trip, while the second breaks it up, buying items as they go along. Both approaches have their advantages. A one-trip shopping spree may make you more focused and organized, but it’s also easy to get overwhelmed. Buying things as you go keeps you flexible and better able to take advantage of sales, but you may not be as focused and may end up buying too much. Whichever approach you choose, consider taking one shopping trip without your kids. Use this trip to stock up on the basics that may not require your child’s input. Plain tees, jeans, shorts, socks and underwear are all good items to pick up during this trip. I find it easier to focus and buy just what I need when I am alone. A great time to schedule this is after dinner or after bedtime (if you child goes to bed early enough). It’s amazing what a mom can accomplish in only a couple of hours without the kids. Then, when your child goes along on the next trip, you can focus on buying items that will interest them, such as trendy tops, pretty dresses or cook kicks.
5. Splurge on the Bounce
Try to make room in your budget for the item that your child spots and simply has to have, if it’s within reason. It will go a long way towards making them feel happy and confident that first day of school. If every kid in your son’s class will be wearing the hot sneakers of the season, then cut back on something else and buy him those sneakers. Lola recently fell in love with a printed dress that didn’t exactly suit my taste, but I bought it for her, and every time she wears it (three times so far – she puts it on the moment it is clean), she has a little extra bounce in her step. That bounce is priceless. (The exception, of course, is if the item is inappropriately mature, revealing, or in some other way compromises your values).
6. Hold Something Back
Sure, you want a special outfit for the first day of school, but you don’t have to have your child’s entire first month of ensembles planned in advance. Plan for a couple of weeks of outfits, and then hit the stores again in September, when many retailers have their biggest markdowns. If you can reserve a little of your budget for these sales, y0u’ll be glad you did. Also, inevitably, a few weeks into school, your child will come home with a new must-have item in mind, and, if you decide to buy it, you’ll be happy you put some of your budget aside. Finally, as tempting as it may be to cut all of the tags off of the new clothes as soon as you get them home, wait until your child is going to wear them to cut them off. This allows you to return an item that is not being worn, later. Kids do change their minds. Crazy, I know, but true.
7. Keep It Simple
It is possible to overthink. And to overbuy. I am speaking from experience. After several days of speeding through our school-morning routines only to come to a screeching halt at the back door, I decided to simplify. Both of my girls had way too many pairs of shoes to choose from, and the process of picking the right pair (and deciding, every time they put them on, whether they still fit) was creating a bottleneck, so I streamlined their selection, putting sandals, dressy shoes, and other distractions out of sight and making sure they only had a few suitable pairs to choose from. (And, at night, when I put out their outfits, we also select a pair of shoes and socks for the next day). I also streamlined the process of socks, and now, with few exceptions, I am going to plain white or black “footie” socks for use with everything except athletic shoes. Ditto with hair accessories, which had taken over my life. This rule refers more to organization than to shopping, but it’s been so invaluable to me that I had to include it.
Now that we’ve laid some ground rules, check back this week, as I illustrate how to create a complete back to school wardrobe for your grade-school aged son or daughter