- Kids grow so quickly that buying them nice clothing often seems like an irrational way to spend money, but well-made kids' clothing won't wear out as quickly and can be handed down later.
- When shopping, consider every factor, including the season, school dress codes, a likely growth spurt, and of course, a child's own sense of style.
- The best places for higher-end children's clothes are Tea Collection, Gap, J.Crew, and Nordstrom.
- The best places for affordable children's clothes are Walmart, Target, Amazon, and JCPenney.
New parents will quickly discover that buying clothes for kids is a fraught affair: On one hand, you want them to look nice, but on the other, kids often outgrow their clothes within a single season, which means you'll have to spend more money to buy new clothes, while the old ones pile up.
So, how do you strike a balance? My solution is to split the wardrobe into two categories, with the dividing factor being the price. My kids each have a number of high-quality garments suited for holidays, fancy meals out, and other special occasions, coupled with cheap, disposable clothing for art sessions, playdates at the park, or pasta dinners with red sauce. It's no different than how most adults build their wardrobes, frankly.
Splitting between higher-end and budget-friendly retailers allows you to spend wisely, splurging on a few select items while filling in the wardrobe with lower-cost clothes. Of course, there's a trade-off: High-quality clothing lasts longer than cheaper threads and is unlikely to need replacement before it's outgrown, and vice-versa for lower-quality garb. And, finer garments also make better hand-me-downs, too.
With strategic shopping, your kids can look their best while keeping your budget in the comfort zone. Just plan ahead for the season, the events on the calendar, a school's dress guidelines, your kid's own sense of style, and, of course, any younger siblings or cousins who might extend the lifespan of nicer clothes.
Here are the best places to buy clothes for kids by age range:
- Best baby clothes: Tea Collection
- Best baby clothes on a budget: Walmart
- Best toddler clothes: Gap
- Best toddler clothes on a budget: Target
- Best kids' clothes: J.Crew
- Best kids' clothes on a budget: Amazon
- Best tween clothes: Nordstrom
- Best tween clothes on a budget: JCPenney
Prices and links are current as of 10/01/2020. Updated images to reflect fall 2020 offerings from stores.
Tea Collection baby clothes have gorgeous blends of colors and patterns on soft, quality fabric.
The kids' clothier Tea Collection has been around since 2002, which sells charming baby clothes that aren't obnoxiously loud. As for the quality of the fabric, stitching, snaps, and buttons, it's simply top-notch. I can see them having multiple lifespans as they are passed on to other kids after my baby daughter outgrows them.
A writer from ThePennywiseMama.com praised Tea Collection's "quality and style," saying the garments she tested were "well-made, durable, and soft" and noting how well they maintained their color, feel, and fit even after multiple washes.
But for quality, expect to pay higher price points — as much as $50 per garment on the high end, so Tea Collection isn't a place for a shopping spree.
Pros: Excellent quality, subtle styling, socially conscious business model
Cons: ExpensiveThe best baby clothes on a budget
Walmart offers deals like 12-packs of organic cotton onesies for less than $25.
If you're shopping for baby clothes and want to watch the budget, I recommend a familiar retailer: Walmart. While Walmart might not have a vast selection of high-fashion baby apparel, the company is hard to beat in terms of price.
You can get four-piece mix-and-match outfits for $12, 10 pairs of baby socks for less than $8, or 12 organic cotton onesies for a price that works out to less than $3 each. Their new Gerber line also includes a selection of gender-neutral pieces. Walmart's baby clothes aren't special, but for everyday life, the selection is more than fine.
One tip I've learned is to dress my baby in layers. There's no reason why anyone needs to buy expensive base layers, like onesies. Keep those on the cheap side — nobody will see them anyway — while splurging a little for the top layer.
Pros: Affordable enough that they're nearly disposable
Cons: The clothes are not built to lastThe best toddler clothes
Gap carries toddler clothing with cute designs that skew a bit trendier, thanks to the prints, patterns, and styles.
Gap's toddler clothes manage to strike a perfect balance between cute and stylish, which is a winning combination. The large selection looks like ones you'd find in the adult section, with the addition of paw-print leggings and penguin-patched jeggings. The toddler clothes here work so well because many of the items can be mixed and matched.
Gap also makes the online shopping experience easy, grouping toddler clothes by type, age and size, mix-and-match favorites, and other fun and helpful categories. As for price, the clothes are hardly a bargain, but they're as well made as adult garments. Do look for sales.
Pros: Lots of mix-and-match items, easy online shopping experience, good customer service
Cons: Many items are quite priceyThe best toddler clothes on a budget
You'll love Target's toddler clothes thanks to their charming designs and pleasantly low prices.
Target's toddler clothing selection is dominated by its Cat & Jack brand, which are both charming and very well priced. I've been dressing my son in Target clothes for years, and many of his favorite shirts and pants are from Cat & Jack.
Our standard approach is to find a pair of Cat & Jack pants he likes, then buy three pairs in different colors. We take the same approach with t-shirts as well, because why not get several colors of the same item and make dressing time less of a debate?
As cool as Cat & Jack clothes look, I find that Target's toddler clothing doesn't hold up well after weeks of washings, playground scuffs and scrapes, and the inevitable spills at the dinner table. However, the clothes are low in price, so it won't break the bank if you need to replace them. A pair of toddler pants costs about $12, while many shirts cost less than $10.
Pros: Good pricing, large catalog, charming styles
Cons: Clothes not durableThe best kids' clothes
At a certain age, kids will start to care about how they're dressed. If you're ready to spend a few bucks to make sure they look their best, J.Crew is the place to shop.
Most of my clothing comes from J.Crew for two reasons: I love the brand's style, and their apparel lasts for years. From tees and button-down shirts to jeans and suits, I can usually count on a half-decade of service or more out of my J.Crew clothes.
While my son outgrows everything he has from the company long before it wears out, I'm still happy to buy him the occasional J.Crew garment because the kids' clothing looks as good, fits great, and holds up as well as their adult apparel.
From kid-sized suits and dresses to cashmere sweaters and casual apparel like leggings and shorts, all of the kids' clothing J.Crew offers is carefully tailored, made using high-quality fabrics, and will last for years — great as hand-me-downs. Yes, you may have to pay more, but trust me, your kids will look great.
Pros: Top-quality clothing, lasts for years
Cons: Very expensiveThe best kids' clothes on a budget
Amazon's large selection of clothing allows you and your child to create any style that suits him or her.
There's always something to be said for quantity over quality, and if you want the former, you shop for kids' clothes on Amazon. And with low pricing available on so much of the clothing it sells, you can buy in large quantities, too.
If you stick with Amazon's own brands, such as Simple Joys by Carter's or Amazon Essentials, you can count on low prices and decent quality, although I have run into quality issues from time to time. And Amazon Prime members get the benefit of the Prime Wardrobe program lets you easily return clothes (non-members can use a seven-day trial).
As every kid's body is a bit different and growing all the time, this option makes the buying process much more seamless, helping you avoid a more involved returns process.
Pros: Large selection of products, low pricing, trial period of Prime Wardrobe for non-members
Cons: Occasional quality issuesThe best tween clothes
Nordstrom not only offers a wide selection of high-quality tween clothing, but it also makes the shopping process easy.
The human being during the tween years is an interesting creature. Part child, part pseudo-adult, occasionally rational, often silly, tweens strive to find and express their personality, and one of the ways they do this is by taking ownership of their clothing.
When you shop for tween clothing from Nordstrom, you are guaranteed to get high-quality, stylish apparel. The retailer sells young adult clothing from trusted, fashionable brands like Tucker + Tate and Hannah Banana as well as from activewear companies like The North Face.
Of course, with Nordstrom being a luxury department store, you can expect to pay a hefty sum for the clothes.
Pros: Great selection of designer brands, smooth shopping experience, great customer service
Cons: CostlyThe best tween clothes on a budget
For a department store, JCPenney's website offers a large selection of tween clothing but at affordable prices.
JCPenney is known for decent pricing and frequent sales. In terms of quantity, it offers a vast selection of tween clothing that's comparable to Nordstrom. And if you shop smart, you can get great deals on a broad range of young adult apparel that allows your tween to exercise self-expression without draining your bank account.
Unlike Nordstrom, the JCPenney website comes across as a bit cluttered. You can narrow down your search in several helpful ways, including searching by price range and by deals and promotions. With those metrics alongside filters including size range, product type, and brand, you can eventually find plenty of fine tween apparel at good prices.
Pros: Great pricing during frequent sales, products sorted by price and deals, broad selection
Cons: Website cluttered with ads and promotionsCheck out our other kids' clothing guides
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