Buying for Kids: How to Embrace Mini Styles Without Breaking the Bank

By Kelle Hampton

If I had to review my baby registry list from my Launch Into Motherhood stage seven years ago, I’d probably laugh at the number of things I thought we had to have—the grocery cart cover, the pacifier case, the travel swing. No doubt, sellers and commercialism prey heavily on new parents and their lack of experience in the product-buying world. I mean, I was one of the suckers many a time. I bought the bath thermometer that promised to keep you from ever burning your baby when really, an elbow dipped in hot water will keep you from ever burning your baby—and save you twenty bucks.

So maybe I’m wiser now in that I realize a battery-operated nail trimmer isn’t a life-or-death necessity for my child. I will say though that I’m still a proud member of the baby retail club—a smarter shopper than I used to be, of course—but I’m not turning my buying card in quite yet. Have you seen the baby clothes online these days? Hello!

With that said, I will admit that I love buying baby things. I love miniature style, well-made garments and finding unique looks for tots. I am well aware that what really matters in life is heart and kindness and community and am first and foremost dedicated to instilling those principles in my children, but I also welcome and celebrate the fact that we are human, and style–especially pint-sized versions–is–well, awesome. Amid the great responsibility of taking care of babies and teaching them important values and making sure they feel loved, there is this little bonus in motherhood called We Get to Dress Them. And get this: yellow mama clogs come in miniature sizes!

Listening to my own mother recall old favorite outfits of ours and how happy they made her, I realize the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “Oh, Polly Flinders dresses! I loved them,” she exclaims with a twinkle in her eye. Lord knows we don’t have very long before our children make their own outfit choices (for the record, I did not wear Polly Flinders dresses as a teenager), so maybe that’s why that little window of choosing baby clothes is so much fun for moms.

That and the fact that teeny tiny Adidas are a lot cuter than the gym class honkers teenagers wear.

Will all that’s available in terms of baby style options and the very brief wear period most baby clothes endure, where do we draw the line on what we buy though? Let me start by giving you a little tip. Lean in and I’ll whisper it. Psst. The $200 Gucci crib bootie? Don’t do it. Now that that’s out of the way, how do we really shop smart for our little ones–have fun with style, explore creative brands and yet not break the bank?

How I Shop
Mixing and matching style “splurges” with thrifted goods and inexpensive basics is a great way to build a child’s wardrobe. We buy a lot of leggings and layering tanks from Target and find stylish dresses from local consignment shops as well as favorite online thrift stores. And when I find something I can’t resist that fits more in the “splurge” category, I ask myself several questions:

How much will we wear this? Shoes that pair with most everything in the closet have a much higher chance of winning the buying argument than, say, a fancy dress.

Is this something that can be passed on? With three kids, we get extra wear on a lot of our purchases. If I know something is going to hold up through more than one child, even if it means saving it for grandkids, I’m more likely to buy it. That often means sticking to timeless styles rather than of-the-moment trends.

What do we know about the company? Is the item handmade? From a small business? A mama entrepreneur? Environmentally friendly? Great charity involvement from the company? If I love what a company is doing or have followed creative endeavors of a small business owner, I’m far more likely to spend extra dollars on something that I love.

Is it worth it? Remember, kids’ clothes require a fraction of the fabric that adults clothes require. If your child’s shirt costs more than your own and he’s only going to wear it for three months, you might want to reconsider your purchase. Let the grandparents and aunts and uncles tread that territory.

The world of mini fashion has expanded far beyond onesies and rompers. Embraced smartly though, it really can be quite fun to explore.

About the Author

Kelle Hampton is a writer, photographer and speaker. Her blog post about her daughter's Down syndrome led to the writing of "Bloom," a New York Times bestselling memoir. Hampton has contributed to "Parents," "Parenting," "Martha Stewart’s Whole Living," "Good Housekeeping" and NPR’s "All Things Considered." She shares photography and journals about life and motherhood on her blog Enjoying the Small Things.