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Dressing a tween on a budget

By on June 28, 2012
tween wardrobe


Dear Sara:

Next year, my daughter will be in middle school, and I expect that buying clothing for her is going to be a challenge, thanks to unpredictable growth spurts, skipping sizes and changing body shape. It seems pointless to buy a size ahead off the clearance racks, as I have no idea if the clothes will ever be worn. I’ve also heard that once all the elementary schools in town come together in one place for middle school, my daughter will meet a lot of other girls with different tastes in clothing, giving her new ideas as to what she will want to wear and making it even more difficult for me to buy ahead. We received a lot of hand-me-downs from a girl who is a year older than my daughter, but most of the clothing was passed down because the girl refused to wear it. I am used to shopping ahead and saving money; how do I shop frugally for a middle-schooler? — J. Moffitt, forums

Dear J. Moffitt:

While I understand a lot of girls are trendy and quite fashionable in the way they dress for school, many girls still wear basics, such as jeans, graphic or plain T-shirts and hoodies. There are many brands that are popular amongst teens, but sports teams and school spirit wear work out just fine at that age, too. My girls are active in sports and wear their team’s sportswear or some type of athletic wear most of the time. I can buy ahead because most of their pants have elastic waistbands and the shirts aren’t fitted. I like that I know it adheres to their school dress code 100 percent, and they’re less conscious of their changing bodies when wearing what they’re most comfortable in, too.

I would purchase basics and accessorize with interchangeable items, such as belts, shoes, bags, hair accessories, etc. You can still find name-brand clothing and accessories at thrift stores or other secondhand sources, such as consignment stores, clothes swaps, eBay, through family and friends, and on sale throughout the year. Start off with a basic list of what she might need (after taking an inventory) for back-to-school, and fill in any gaps after school has started.

While you certainly shouldn’t cater to every whim, understand that kids do want to fit in and/or create their own style, and they’ll see or start trends after school starts. Waiting to buy more will allow you to hit the fall and winter sales, which are easier on your budget, and your daughter can perhaps get something she really likes instead of being saddled with an entire wardrobe of good intentions bought during the summer. Kids can pay for any extras with their own money or put them on a wish list for the holidays.

The capsule wardrobe method, which uses a few basic clothing items to create an extensive, mix-and-match wardrobe, can work for kids, too. You can read more about it here: It can also be fun to find outfits your daughter likes in stores, online or in catalogs and create cheaper alternatives that give the same look for less.

Many kids that age seem to be more concerned with the latest technology than the newest fashion, so you might find clothing trends are the least of your concerns. My girls are all about new sports equipment and gear. I do understand girls (and boys for that matter) who want to dress like their peers and thus be accepted by them, but confident children can wear basics and classics and not feel like some sort of social outcast. Trends pass quickly. In our family, we take the same approach to clothing that we do with popsicles: You get what you get and you don’t have a fit! My girls know they can ask for or request certain clothing brands, but that doesn’t mean they’ll get them. They know they can trust me to buy them clothes with their interests in mind, too. Clothes are bought as needed, not as wanted (it is my money, after all), and not simply because it’s back-to-school time.
Somehow, they’ve survived.

photo by Rubbermaid products

One Comment

  1. Christine

    7/1/2012 at 12:19 am

    After a very difficult time as a fat kid with the bullies in elementary school (and honestly my own family) and always being the fat kid who dressed funny, I insisted on a ‘new approach’ with my parent. Kids are cruel. I spent a whole semester of almost daily ‘When’s the flood?” comments after my mother hemmed all my jeans then washed them resulting in shrinking. I guess I’ll say it again. Kids are cruel.

    I understand this worries you. Please raise your daughter to understand some people don’t like themselves so they don’t like anyone else. They only feel good picking on another person to make the victim feel as bad about themselves as the bully feels about herself. Middle school was my opportunity to identify these people and no longer speak to these folks. I also avoided the high school activities to which they gravitated. It’s just not worth it. There are a lot of nice people and focus on these friendships instead of being in the ‘popular’ crowds.

    Find your town’s local clothing gems. Consignments, clearance racks, designer reject stores (TJMaxx, Ross, Marshalls, NBC) and thrift stores in nicer areas. You can dress a teen on a budget. If the outfit is priced right, flattering, appropriate and comfortable and on trend, what more can you ask?

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