When my daughter was born, almost 4 years ago, I had a small collection of onesies and sleepers that awaited her arrival. They had been purchased new, washed in baby friendly detergent and carefully folded into her dresser. I knew I’d have to buy more clothes once the baby arrived, but I didn’t give much thought into the particulars. Sure babies probably grew fast, and they probably needed a lot of clothes, but it couldn’t be that expensive, could it? It could. It was.
That’s when I discovered the world of secondhand kids clothes. I’d shopped secondhand for myself for years, mostly for fun, but having a child opened up a whole new world of secondhand shopping. There’s a huge market out there because kids are constantly outgrowing their clothes, wear can be minimal, and parents are constantly looking to offload unneeded items.
In my years of small-person wardrobe procuring I’ve found three main sources for secondhand clothes (and some things to watch out for):
The hand-me-down is the ideal way to get kids clothes. These usually come from relatives or friends with a slightly older child. Hard to hint for, but easy to accept once offered. Etiquette? If you want it, say thank you and accept everything. You can sort through the clothes for size and suitability later.
Quick tip: Make sure you know if the original owner wants the clothes back when you’re done with them. If so? Mark the clothing labels with either permanent marker or easy-to-use washable labels . You’ll never remember which adorable onesie was theirs and which came from your great aunt Mary. Welcome to parent-brain.
The bulk purchase:
A common way to sell children’s clothes, where I live, is in bulk lots via either an online classifieds site (kijiji or craigslist) or on facebook. I’ve had the most luck on facebook. Join some groups that are local to your area (search “mom swap” or “mom buy and sell”, along with your neighbourhood/town/city name) and keep an eye out for the stuff you need. Prices can range wildly, but anywhere between 50 cents and a dollar per item is generally a good deal, around here. Larger lots generally have a lower per-item cost, but you’ll get to see a smaller percentage of the items in the listing photos.
With lots of more than 20 items, the poster will generally only show a handful of the items they’re selling. Take a close look at those items. Do you like the colours, style and pattern? Then you’re probably going to like most of the items in the lot. It’s also important to be flexible. I got a bag of clothes for my daughter once that included 5 pairs of plaid shorts. Not what I would have picked, but they were in good shape and she looked adorable in a mini-country-club-caddy kind of way.
The advantage of bulk purchasing is that even if there are some items you don’t like (“My mommy says I’m a princess” t-shirts anyone?) or don’t fit, you’re still saving money, and those clothes can be passed along to someone else.
Quick tips: Be smart when meeting up with someone. Pick a public place. Coffee shops or store parking lots work well. If you do decide to meet the seller at their house, let someone know where you’re going, bring a friend, and don’t going inside a stranger’s house. Also, bring correct change.
Secondhand stores can be really great stocking up on specific items of kids clothes. If you’re lucky to live close to a larger store, there’s generally a fairly wide range of clothes available. Shopping in a proper store means more time to check sizes, quality and the condition of the clothes. Picking clothes by the item also ensures that you’ll only get stuff you really like, and your kid needs. It’s also often quicker than hunting around online.
The downside can be price. The prices at our local stores tend to be all over the place. I suspect it depends on who in the back room is doing the pricing. As always, it’s worth it to be a bit picky and frugal. Make sure you’re getting good value for your money. An Old Navy t-shirt for $4? No. A GAP sweater for $4? Sign me up.
Quick tip: check the fabric content of the clothes. 100% cotton is great for most kids clothes. Nylon and polyester knits can make a lot of kids uncomfortable and sweaty. Wool is often itchy, unless it’s high quality and/or mixed with other fibers. Polyester fleece jackets are warm even in wet weather, and are extremely durable.
While writing this post I realized I have a lot more to say on this topic. Apparently I’m very opinionated about kids clothes. So please officially consider this the first of a series. Anything else you’d like me to address regarding kids clothes and shopping? Drop me a note in the comments.