Shopping for 'Tweens in Three Steps, and Betty's Capsule Wardrobe

Shopping for little kids has always been pretty straightforward and easy around here. New stuff, gifts, hand-me-downs, all work great. Especially since someone invented adjustable waistbands -- GENIUS. But then, sometime around nine or ten years old, things seem to get more complicated.

All things have fit my all little kids, well enough anyway. But then . . . 'tweens.

My 'tweens have a body type. Not everything fits right or is flattering. Sizes seem to vary drastically between brands, but the kids are still growing too fast to get a handle on which size they are at which store. And their sizes aren't changing as predictably as when they were younger. Sometimes they'll be able to wear something for a couple of years, sometimes they'll jump multiple sizes over one season. For that reason, it's a challenge to decide whether to invest in more quality pieces. I'm concerned about modesty and appropriateness more than when they were younger. They also have . . . preferences (dum dum DUM). I'd like to honor those, as much as possible, anyway.

It's a lot to consider.

The solution has come in three (relatively) easy steps:

1. Shop in person

I am a big, big fan of late night online shopping. I order most of my own clothes online, and most of them work, because I know what I like, and what looks good on me, and what size I wear at my favorite stores. For my younger kids, we get lots of hand me downs from family and friends, but when I need to supplement that, my mom or I will order things for them online.

That same approach hasn't been successful with my 'tweens.

I need to SEE the clothes in person. I need to be able to tell what that design is on the shirt, and what the fabric is and whatnot. And, more importantly, we need to . . .

2. Shop together

Again, this would not be my preference. But it's worked for us for many reasons.

It can be frustrating and disheartening to have a box of clothes arrive and have NONE of them fit properly or be appropriate. That's not my kid's fault. It just is what it is. But if we're at the store, we can grab another size or another style and still walk out of there with something with which we can both be happy. I think that's a better way to approach clothing without creating issues.

Once my kids get to a certain age, not all styles of clothing flatter them anymore. I want them to learn how to pick things for themselves that fit our family guidelines for price and modesty, are appropriate for their needs, and that look nice on them. Shopping together is a great way to accomplish all of those things.

It also helps us avoid surprises once we get the clothes home. Some things that look like they'll be too short, actually end up looking nice. And some things that look appropriate on the hanger turn out to be bafflingly low cut or see-though or some such nonsense.

3. Keep the wardrobe minimal

Especially since their sizes can still change quickly, and I can't count on necessarily being able to pass things along to the next sibling (because they don't all have the same body type), I mostly shop at mid-priced stores with only occasional purchases of nicer items for special occasions.

I limit clothes shopping (for myself AND the kids) to three times per year. We shop before school starts, before Christmas and before Easter. Crazy growth spurts notwithstanding, of course. Sometime they need new church pants or new shoes and it won't wait. But other than that, I get them set for a particular season, donate what doesn't fit or we don't need, then I don't let myself buy stuff we don't really need during the rest of the year.

The most effective way I've found to not spend too much on 'tween wardrobes is to not have much in the closet at once. My twelve year old son, Jack, has about 25 items in his wardrobe, including shoes. He's got 5 t-shirts, 2 long-sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt, a jacket, 2 school polos, 3 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of casual pants, 3 church shirts, 2 pairs of church pants, plus church shoes, casual shoes, sneakers, and sandals. We do laundry often enough that that's plenty.

My eleven year old daughter, Betty, needs a bit more variety than that. But not TOO much more. We just figured out her entire wardrobe for spring and summer this year, and it's 35 pieces.

Here's the whole shebang . . .

Since many of you have specifically asked about Betty's wardrobe, let's take a closer peek, shall we?

She is eleven years old, and wears a 14-16 in the girls' department, or a small or extra small in the women's department. We shop for her occasionally at modCloth and thredUP (but those are online only, so they break my rules steps) and mostly at Target and Old Navy. She also gets some hand me downs.

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  • Black and white ruffle sleeveless blouse was a hand me down from me. But here's something similar.
  • Gray ruffle top from thredUP.
  • Ruffle-front three-quarter sleeve button up was mine, too.
  • Coral and white sleeveless blouse, color knit top, and pink three-quarter sleeve top, all from Target last season.
  • Two graphic t-shirts from Target last season.
  • Ribbon trim split neck tee was new this year, found here.
  • Sleeveless white eyelet button-up, from Old Navy.
  • Crochet overlay tank top new this year, found here.
  • Striped maxi skirt from last year, similar.
  • Button from chambray skirt, new, found here.
  • Purple knit skort from the American Girl store.
  • Higher-rise skinny jeans, similar.
  • Jean shorts, new, found here.
  • Embroidered demin capri pants, Target.
  • Overalls, new, from Old Navy.
  • Yellow long sleeve, Boden.
  • Teal three quarter sleeve, Old Navy.
  • Coral windbreaker, Old Navy.
  • Pink hoodie, Target.

  • High-low colorblock knit dress
  • Teal lace overlay dress, new, found here.
  • Royal blue with pink flamingos, new, found here.
  • Navy and teal chevron, new, found here. (It is CRAZY short on their model, but knee-length on Betty.)
  • Two school dresses, from Land's End.

Here are some of the outfits she can put together . . .

And the pieces she has will mix and match into plenty more.

A couple final notes: I have my girls wear camisoles under everything and bike shorts under all skirts and dresses. It allows them more flexibility in necklines and more freedom of movement when wearing skirts and dresses.

I don't have hard and fast "modesty" rules for my girls. For Mass we cover our shoulders and keep skirts close to the knee. Other than that, modesty, for us, is more an attitude (and a conversation) than a set of specific guidelines. I think modesty is more about how and why a young lady is wearing something, rather than exactly what she is wearing. So, we talk about dressing in a way that is appropriate to the activity and to our particular culture and time period, and about trying to find clothes that are flattering to and appropriate for our particular body types. But we also talk about not dressing or behaving in a way that tries to get attention for how we look on the outside rather than who we are on the inside. My hope is that this approach will be more useful to my girls in the long term than a tape measure would be.

Related reading:

Kids and Modesty or, How I Got My Kids to Quit Getting Naked in the Yard

And more about Betty:

The Bookish Little Mama

So 'tween mamas, I hope that helps a bit. And if you can't get enough of the capsule wardrobe thing, you're in luck. Because I'm planning to share MY spring/summer third trimester/postpartum/nursing capsule this week too. So don't touch that dial.