Updated on 03.12.13

How We Shop for Children’s Clothes

Trent Hamm

It’s the middle of spring. We’ve seen our first 90 degree day in central Iowa. That means, of course, that it’s time to take stock of our clothing. The winter stuff largely heads to storage, as we don’t need thick long-sleeved shirts at this point and our pants are mostly skirts and shorts without many pairs of jeans or other pants necessary.

With growing children, though, that means new summer clothes are needed. Here’s exactly how I shop for them, since it’s what I did on Tuesday afternoon, after visiting some yard sales the previous weekend and finding very little.

First Stop: Goodwill
My first stop was at a pair of local Goodwill stores, in Ames and Ankeny, IA.

I used Goodwill as my first stop as they often have the lowest prices around. However, the selection there is often atrocious, with a lot of items in poor shape with some gems mixed in. You have to really browse through the clothes there to find items that you’re looking for and the clothes are often disorganized.

This time around, I didn’t find anything like what I was looking for. The summer clothes had been picked over fairly well and I wasn’t satisfied with what was left. In the past, however, I have found some great items hidden away in the racks, but it wasn’t to be this time.

Second Stop: Consignment
My next stop was at a children’s clothing consignment shop, the place where most of our children’s clothes come from. I went to Duck Worth Wearing in Ames, Iowa.

A good clothing consignment shop will feature high-quality used clothing items that aren’t threadbare. The items are things that you’d generally have no problem wearing and the items are well-organized. It’s not all that different than shopping in a normal clothing store.

Well, there is one difference – the prices are very nice.

The rewards

I picked up the clothes you see above in my stop there. This amounted to multiple outfits for each child, a couple of wonderful dresses for my daughter, and all of the items in very good shape and well-made.

Total cost? Around $45, plus a $5 off coupon for any purchase the next time I’m in the store.

I have used other consignment shops in the area, but in terms of quality children’s clothing, Duck Worth Wearing provides the best clothes for the price.

This isn’t the end of our summer clothes buying, of course, but it’s a good start. We’ll keep looking at yard sales as they wear these items on nice days and we’re likely to return to that consignment shop in the future.

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  1. Sheri says:

    “Our pants are mostly skirts”!

    Our strategy is pretty similar, although we get some good hand-me-downs, and I shop the secondhand stores off-season to find the best selection. Right now, I am buying warm pajamas, jeans, sweatshirts, winter dresses, and outerwear.

  2. Jennifer Wear says:

    Do you yard sale? That is my primary method of buying kids clothes. I tend to buy at least a size or two up so I’m not stuck scrambling for stuff I need right now and then I fill in with Goodwill and consignment. I like to yard sale at newer developments because they tend to have more young children. I also LOVE Target clearance rack and have picked up many items for less than $2 each (a month ago I found kids jeans for $2.50 each!!!)

  3. Mary says:

    My boyfriend’s sister got all her baby/kids clothes from their aunt and uncle who had kids a few years back and, fortunately, were girls. Given to her for free. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

  4. Laundry Lady says:

    I love consignment sales when the prices properly reflect the quality of the clothes and are still cheaper than buying new. Sometimes I do better shopping at Kohl’s when I combine sales with coupons. (Especially when I get a 30% coupon). While my eco/frugal nature would rather reuse than buy new, if I’m going to spend the same amount of money, I’d rather buy new and hope I can pass the clothing on to future children or nieces and nephews.

  5. Groovy Mom says:

    I think Goodwills must vary from city to city, too. They even vary within the city. We have 3 here and one is better for books, one has better clothing, etc. I’ve been to different ones in other towns and have found variances.

    Another place I’ve started going is Savers. I stayed away from them for years for some reason, but find they are OK too. I haven’t done consignment though, because I always assumed the prices would be higher than I’d be willing to go. Maybe it’s worth a stop, though.

  6. Jessica says:

    I shop church rummage sales then head to thrift stores then head to consignment stores to fill in any gaps. And I accept hand me downs and look on freecycle too. When my kids are done, we donate the clothing or pass it along to friends.

  7. Teresa says:

    Personally, I think $45 for 12 pieces of children’s clothes is a little high, even with the $5 off coupon on your next purchase. Those little shorts & shirts can be found at any Wal-Mart for around $3.50 everyday and they are NEW. Not knocking shopping at thrift stores & consignment shops, but I like to save a lot more than that when I shop used clothing stores. I think using sales and shopping in the off season could actually save you more money. I know I recently picked up some long sleeved little boy shirts (6-7) and sweatpants for my son for $1 each at Wal-Mart.

  8. lurker carl says:

    Beware the cheap Wal-Mart branded clothes, the tag says “Faded Glory.” Some don’t hold up well, elastic is shot and seams unravel after a few washings. Other items wear like iron. There isn’t a good way, in the store, to tell the good from the bad.

    Perform an easy quality check, save the tags and receipts then run them through several washings before you put them in storage for 6 months. That way you’re not stuck with a load of shoddy merchandise and forced to pay top dollar for replacements.

  9. Katie says:

    Personally, I think $45 for 12 pieces of children’s clothes is a little high, even with the $5 off coupon on your next purchase. Those little shorts & shirts can be found at any Wal-Mart for around $3.50 everyday and they are NEW.

    Trent averaged $3.75/item of clothing. They’re used but the starting quality was almost certainly higher than Wal Mart so they’ll probably last the same amount of time as new clothes from there (if not longer). And at least a couple were dresses which count as a “complete outfit” so are perhaps “higher value” for the money. This seems like a weird thing to criticize.

  10. Andrew says:

    Now it’s time for me to be a professional scold: if you buy used clothing just be sure to wash it well before wearing it–you don’t want to deal with the consequences of insect infestations (particularly bedbugs!)

  11. bb says:

    Just buy the new ones at $5 each at Macy’s during sales.

  12. Amanda says:

    I can almost always get our kids clothing dirt cheap at department stores or Old Navy during the clearance sales and with coupons. For awhile there, I got a lof of JcPennys coupons and was getting about 4-5 pieces of clothing for about $1-2. I have always been somewhat appalled at how high prices were at consignment stores because of that. Similarly, Old Navy clearance sales usually are 2-3 a piece if you wait till the end of the season.

  13. Cheryl says:

    I try to buy clothes for next year at the end of the season when they are on sale. Ross Dress for Less has good deals in the clearance aisle.

  14. Carrie says:

    I’ve revving up for yard sale season. I’ve been sorting through the clothes I already have, clearing out those that I no longer wish to keep (mostly for lack of space – something’s got to go), and getting a sense of where the gaps are in our clothes line up for the next year or so. Definitely worthwhile to think ahead a season to get things on sale/clearance.

    I am also a fan of my local consignment shops. When I shop the sales, I can usually get my items for less than $3 each, typically great condition items from stores like gymboree and baby gap, which is not to far above the poorer condition clothes at yard sales around here.

  15. janeowens says:

    I agree that Trent didn’t get a great deal- I think Target clothes are great, and have never had problems with them falling apart. They are typically on sale for $3.99. Plus, if you buy a size up at the end of the season, you pay $1-2. I also find great deals at Dillards when they have their big sales ever 6 weeks or so. The Children’s Place has really cheap stuff all the time as well.

    Garage sales usually have great prices, so I do think you get pretty good bang for your buck there.

  16. Alice says:

    I really like this post. I worked at an adult & children’s consignment store in high-school, and was always struck by how mint-condition a ton of the children’s clothing was. I’d rather be the second customer to buy that barely-used stuff than support low-wage abusive employers like Walmart, every time.

  17. Andrea says:

    @#16, Alice: Sorry, I just have to put in my 2 cents about working at Walmart. I worked at Sam’s Club (a subsidiary of Walmart) throughout college, and I would not call the company a “low-wage abusive employer.” When I started there as a cashier with no retail experience, my pay started at $2 over minimum wage and rose steadily. I was promoted within 3 months and worked higher level positions for the rest of the time there (several years), all with paid holidays, vacation time, access to various health care plans, options to buy Walmart stock with a 15% match, and many other benefits. Now don’t get me wrong, I worked a lot of nights, weekends and holidays, it was no bed of roses, perhaps a few of the managers liked to go on power trips, and while I worked there I was happy I was studying a career that would get me out of retail, but I simply would not work for any other retail company. During this same time, one of my best friends worked for Shopko (maybe it’s just a Midwestern store, but similar to a Kmart or a small Target) and the only raise she ever got was because the company was forced to due to a raise in minimum wage, all while I was consistently paid between $9 and $10 an hour at Sam’s (which I would say is pretty good for the work). And I certainly wasn’t “abused” at Walmart – in my experience, the company works really hard to do well by its employees (even with programs that will refund you if you get your GED, quit smoking, etc). And if I was ever in the position where I lost my job unexpectedly or it made sense to make a career at a retail store, I would reapply to Sam’s in a minute.
    Sorry that was completely off topic, and I know not everyone who works for the company has the same experiences I had. I also know it’s a huge retail giant that everyone loves to hate, and it definitely has its faults in many ways (although it does a lot of good too, like for example, did you know that Walmart was the largest single contributor to Hurricane Katrina relief effort?). But please don’t trash how the company treats its employees without first hand experience. I will be forever thankful for having a well-paying job there to get me through my college years.

  18. Kathryn says:

    I think this is a great post for pointing out all the frugal shopping options for kids’ clothes. It sounds, however, like you don’t plan very far ahead for your kids’ clothing. I think you could save even more money by thinking ahead and grabbing the odd gem at thrift stores throughout the year; of course, that requires regular trips to the thrift store, and you may not prefer to spend your time that way.

  19. Pamela says:

    Rummage sales are great places to find clothes at a low cost. My mom often buys clothes for her grandchildren for $1 or less per item and she finds some very nice stuff. My niece is almost three and most of her clothes were either given to my sister as hand-me-downs from friends or were bought for $1 or less at rummage sales.

  20. rosa rugosa says:

    I don’t have kids, so I’m not sure why I’m even reading this, but Andrea, I was really interested in what you had to say about Sam’s/Walmart as an employer. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  21. Kate says:

    #17 Andrea: I would say that you were lucky. Several friends of my children have worked at Wal-Mart, as have relatives, and it was not the kind of experience that you had. Perhaps it is the area of the country…who can say.

  22. kristine says:

    Freecycle is always my first option for clothing- I will cruise at the start of a season to see of anyone posts our sizes. What I do not use I freecycle onward, or donate if no takers.

    I was lucky- I did not have to buy a stitch of clothing for either child until they were about 10 years old. Their father was one of 14 kids, and they have (currently) 41 first cousins.

    I am surprised churches do not have a clothing bank or library where parishoners can leave or take clothing as their kids grow.
    Or that the teachers do not share clothing with each other. Maybe organizing a clothing swap is a good idea!

    Most of my clothes growing up came out of a hefty- I got one dress at the start of every school year, and a birthday outfit when I turned 13. After that- I became a social target as I wore obviously used clothing- just wasn’t done. But with the styles now being ripped grunge and shabby chic- you’d never know the difference!

  23. tentaculistic says:

    Good post. I noticed that thrift stores in rich neighborhoods have nicer (and less picked-over) stuff than in poor neighborhoods. Totally makes sense, but worth considering – that extra drive may have some real dividends.

  24. deRuiter says:

    Yes, you can get cheap stuff at Wal-Mart, Target and Sam’s. As a Wal-Mart and Target stock holder I applaud all of you who love to buy new things from “new thing” stores. I prefer getting good quality items at yard sales, house sales, thrift and consignment stores because I do not want to support China and the Chinese sweatshop and prison labor. I’m concerned about America’s negative balance of trade, and the environment. Purchasing fine quality gently used has a postive effect on the environment, purchasing new “Made In China” goods shipped across the world has a negative effect on the environment. I get better quality buying really fine used clothing. If the clothing doesn’t fit perfectly I take the things to the local tailor, and pay him to make the firt perfect. American money is better off circulating in America. #23 is correct, shop better neighborhoods, and thrift and resale shops which cater to the upper class buyer who wears his / her clothes gently a few times or even only once. Look expensively dressed for pennies on the dollar.

  25. Heather says:

    My favorite part of the cold weather to warm weather shift is cutoffs! My son always wears the knees of his jeans out over the winter. When the weather warms, I sort through and find the best candidates for making shorts and usually can get 3 to 5 pairs of shorts for the summer to supplement what I find from other sources.

  26. jennifer says:

    I personally LOVE Duckworth Wearing! I consign a lot of stuff there and make pretty good money.

    As for Goodwill, the store in Boone is fantastic. I find Gap, Gymboree, Children’s Place, etc for $1.99 or less. I’ve never had good luck in Ames or Ankeny.

  27. cc says:

    geez, now i feel awful and guilty. my parents took me to consignment shops and i screamed and cried, i’m wincing to this day over my behavior. i got a lot of hand-me-downs from my siblings so i was not interested in OTHER people’s used clothing, much less my brother & sisters’.
    to this day i HATE hand-me-downs. i have 2 pieces of used clothing and that’s it- everything is has to be new, i don’t care how cheap it is. ick ick ick.
    for a while my ex’s mom would give me her old clothing, which was so far out of my comfort range it was unbelievable. it all went straight to goodwill.

  28. kristine says:

    deRuiter- excellent point. When occasionally forced to buy new (can’t find suitable used), Hubby and I try to buy American when possible, but it is often hard to find made in the USA products. Then hubby will look at all the possibilities, and we will choose the item made in the country with the least oppressive worker treatment if we can afford it. Hubby reads up on such things, so we are not operating in the dark.

  29. Tanya says:

    In our area we now have consignment sale events. I know of at least three different businesses that have a sale twice a year. Consignors set their own price, print tags and attach. They take the items to the location in the middle of the week for the three or four day sale and then pick up unsold items on Sunday evening or can donate to a charity that picks up at the end of the sale. Typically make 75-85% of the sold price. The selection is usually enormous and get absolutely great deals. Check out Super Kids Resale or Just Between Friends. You can get together with friends and start your area resale event.

  30. SLCCOM says:

    You clearly don’t live in Colorado, Trent! We need to keep one winter outfit out during the summer and one summer outfit out during the winter here.

  31. Kathy Robinson says:

    Trent, what are your plans once your kids are older? It’s difficult if not impossible to sway a teen from buying clothes at the hot, trendy (and expensive)stores, and long before the teen years they have strong preferences, favorite colors, etc., and clothing can become a battleground. My parents bought basics but anything beyond that, we had to buy ourselves. But no thrifting or garage sales! My parents had had enough of that when they were growing up, were ashamed of it. It will be interesting to see if your kids embrace your thriftiness when grown, or if they reject it totally as my parents did.

  32. Vivianne says:

    Even if your tweens or teens are not picky, the available clothing once you hit about size 8-10 greatly diminishes as by that point kids are wearing out rather than outgrowing. For my now size 12 slim I have to buy new (land’s end) if I want long pants that won’t fall off his hips and reach his ankles. He wears through the knees in a year; there are plenty of hand me down shorts but long pants are getting more tricky.

  33. kristine says:

    @ lurker carl- Faded Glory is not the store label for Walmart.

    Ok- I went to Pratt for Design, started the fashion industry with Gitano, morphed into fash advertising, and ended up as a Creative director, and eventually advertised for a major publisher and book clubs. (After that I painted with much success, and became a teacher- there-life story!)

    But I am the one responsible for Faded Glory. With the arrogance of youth, while interviewing for a job via headhunter, I told them their logo redesigns sucked, and I could do better. Bon Jour Jeans bought the rights to the name Faded Glory from a 70s jean company in 1992. In 1993, while pregnant- I was the Corporate Art Director, designed the revised logo, and the branding campaign from the ground up- which featured Luke Perry at the time. I stlll have my samples of the various dry runs. 1400 Bway, overlooking the fashion district. Sweet gig.

    The initial target, was…Target. but this was before Target’s revamp, and Walmart was bigger. Used to have the Faded Glory Store within a Store. Faded Glory is owned by the Dayan brothers, and is not a private label for Walmart. If a client is big enough, they can license the brand exclusively for a period of time. Walmart is big enough to make everyone rich, so there it stays. But Faded Glory is not owned or operated by Walmart.

    And the products are not made by Faded Glory either- the name is licensed out to various manufacturers, with strict logo usage guidelines. The company Faded Glory merely handles the advertising, branding, and licensee usage, and approves and markets to stores all products on which the logo appears. They are experts in branding and selling, not clothes. This is how most major labels work, even most high-end.

  34. Kathy Robinson says:

    @#33 Kristine: I remember Faded Glory years before Walmart itself, and Walmart’s version. It was a hot label when I was a teen (early ’70s). I enjoyed reading your post a lot, most of us don’t have any idea how the clothing industry ‘works’. It was plain to me though, when Walmart first started carrying Faded Glory, that these jeans had nothing to do with the ones I remembered besides the name. I’ve noticed a lot of old quality clothing brands (ex: Catalina) became cheap knockoffs of themselves to be placed in Walmart.

  35. Kathleen says:

    I guess there’s something wrong with me: buying used clothing for myself or my family gives me the creeps. Just can’t do it.
    Never have shopped at Walmart. Never will. Glad someone had a good work experience there. Don’t like the way they initially have low prices, until they drive out the competition, establish a monopoly, and then raise their prices. No thank you.

  36. Nate says:

    I’m all for Goodwill and Consignment shops. However, I find they tend to be only as good as the people who donate or put their clothes in them. Where I grew up the consignment shop was full of faded, stained, and cheap clothing hardly even worth buying. If I could have found good quality brands like Levis or nearly new clothes I’d have been happy to shop there.
    I have since found that big cities can be the best places to shop at Goodwill or second hand places.

  37. Ashley says:

    I love yard sales and church rummage sales. That’s where I get most of my kids’ clothes. I’ve also found good stuff on Craigslist (I post ads inquiring about yard sale leftovers and several times, I have gotten really good deals on quality items.)

    I don’t shop at consignment stores unless it’s for my oldest boy. It is very difficult to find boys clothes above sizes 7-8 in the area where I live (except for junk or dressy stuff that never gets worn). However, the prices are a bit high for my liking but still better than paying retail.

    Another poster suggested hunting the clearance racks. I do this at Walmart, Target and JCPenney’s about once a month. This month, I found a nice sweatsuit for $1 at Walmart and pair of jean shorts and polo shirt at Target for $6. (for my 1 year old… Nothing good for the oldest, unfortunately.) I don’t buy Faded Glory stuff from Walmart though because I have had negative experiences with them in the past.

    Another suggestion that I have is to hit Mom2Mom sales and Mothers of Multiples or Mothers of Twins sales. I’m fortunate to live in an area where all three groups are active and have seasonal sales. I’ve found awesome deals at MoT sales and when my older kids were younger, I rarely went to other yard sales because I was able to stock up at MoT sales.

    One last tip that I’d like to share is watching out for half price days at your local thrift stores and Salvation Armys. I’ve gotten killer deals on half price days and my local SA runs specials on kids clothes from time to time that are comparable to yard sale prices.

    And for those who happen to live close to a military base, keep your eyes and ears open for the dates and times of base-wide garage sales. These are like the holy grails of garage sales, no joke. You can literally outfit your kids with an entire wardrobe for the next year or two if you hit the right sales. You can also get electronics and furniture for very reasonable prices and kitchenware for next to nothing.

  38. LeahGG says:

    I just got 18 items at Children’s Place for around $100. I shopped online, matched up the outfits, chose exactly the pants length for my son, the skorts for my daughter (my husband had been dressing her in shorts and skirts together, which makes extra laundry and more difficulty in going to the bathroom), etc. It took me about an hour to put together 2 kids’ summer wardrobes (will be filled in with some hand-me-downs, I admit) The local consignment shop has pretty much nothing I like. There aren’t garage sales where I live. I don’t have a car, so I can’t drive around to multiple stores. I could probably come up with a cheaper way to get clothes for my kids, but the amount of effort involved would negate the money saved.

  39. mary Scott, RPh,CGP says:

    Good post, especially since garage sales are starting up due to better weather. It’s true that it can be hard to find teen or larger child sizes at consignment stores. I had good luck at Children’s Place and Target/JC Penney clearance when my daughter was smaller. She is 11 now and can’t fit into the skinny fashions available now. She did find 3 tank tops/T shirts at a garage sale Saturday and told me afterwards they were priced at 25 cents each, but she only had a quarter and a 5 dollar bill. The woman said she could have all 3 for the quarter! Made me proud!

  40. Liz says:

    I tend to do rummage sales and shop off season. I have also gotten a lot of hand me downs from friends and family and was lucky enough to have two friends borrow me their stuff for my 4th child. Also wanted to point out that you can get t-shirts in a variety of different colors at hobby lobby for 1.50 a piece when they are half off. If you want your kids can decorate them, get iron on transfers or just leave them plain. Oh and kohls jumping beans are usually really cheap costing $4.00 a piece and then with extra 30% off only costing $2.80! Just a thought. Just make sure your not buying too much which is sometimes the case. I was clothes on a regular basis so we don’t need a lot. I’m in the process of trying to declutte the house before the kids are off on summer vaca so that we can have fun and relax and not worry so much about cleaning up stuff. 3-4 pairs of shorts, a handful of t-shirts are all one really needs. A pair of tennis shoes and sandals. Right now my 7 year old twins have about 25 long sleeve shirts. Too many if you ask me but in a variety of different sizes. Also I buy big esp with dresses because your little one isn’t going to care if its baggy and my daughter will only wear skirts or dresses all year long. She is 5 and I have clothes ranging in size from 3T-8 in her closet. I would also rec hanging all of their clothes because then you can really see what they have and don’t. And know your kids. Mine all pick out their clothes and like I said my daughter won’t wear jeans so I don’t buy them for her. Thought she does have 2-3 pairs in size 5, 6 because of hand me downs/ previous years rummaging.

  41. Amy K says:

    I have had success buying maternity and regular clothes for myself on eBay. I’ve gotten enough baby shower gifts and hand me downs I haven’t looked for kids clothes yet, but probably will when she is in 18mo clothes.

    I have looked into ThredUp, a clothing swap that I think has a similar business model to PaperBackSwap. I haven’t used it yet but they say ~15 items fit in a box and a box is $16 shipped so it could be a very good deal assuming there really are that many items, you can use them all, and they’re in a condition you’re happy with.

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