Building A Capsule Wardrobe for Babies and Toddlers - Can It Be Done?

One thing I wasn't expecting when I was looking forward to having a baby was the frustration that baby clothes would cause me. Waaaaay back when I was pregnant with Eli, I ordered a whole bunch of clothes for him in the 6-9 month range. I found skinny jeans for $4 and shirts for $2. I stocked up with what I *thought* he would need, spending about $30, but in the end, I think Eli wore maybe two of the shirts I bought him and his chubby thighs never even fit into the oh, so trendy skinny jean.

Beyond basically skipping the 6-9 month clothing stage, Eli has crazy chubby feet, and while we received a couple adorable pairs of TOMS sneaks and Minnetonka Moccasins, I don't think I'm ever going to be able to get his feet into them. I've been trying them on his feet once a week for at least two months and while the length should work, his little bricks are just too wide to fit. In addition, because we knew we were having a boy, we were gifted with an insane amount of baby boy clothes in the 0-6 month range from generous friends and family. While Eli was super well dressed, he rarely needed to wear the same outfit twice and I felt like I ended up boxing up clothing that was basically still brand-new. I think I have two huge tubs of clothing in the basement, most of it in perfect condition. 

I've been thinking a lot about baby/toddler clothing lately and what the best strategy is surrounding it. It's great to plan ahead and find sales, but I've found that I've actually wasted some money on super-sale clothing, because it seems like you never really know what size your child will be. Will you have a chubby baby or a skinny baby? You can't predict that. Eli was a chubbers, and essentially skipped the 6-9 month clothing, and to accommodate his thighs, he wore pants that were two sizes bigger than his shirts - meaning he never wore many of the pants we purchased or were given to him. Plus, he didn't really wear shoes until he was in size three since he was a late walker - but then again, from what I hear, he sorta has small feet and kids his age seem to be more in size five. So again, you can't predict.

I have friends that are masters at the garage sale, but the drive, hunt and search method really isn't my thing and I do think I can find pretty good deals while sitting my pretty little self on my well-worn couch cushions. And as I've talked with them, many of them have admitted that their children never wear all the clothes they purchase  - so even if they are $.50 or $1, they're still wasting money.

I'm not sure which is better - not wearing 10 $1 shirts or not wearing three $4 shirts. Okay fine, the garage salers still probably win, but I suppose I like to count my time and sanity as worth some money since the garage sale isn't as enjoyable for me.

I've been toying lately with the idea of a capsule wardrobe for kids. I've looked around online a bit, and haven't really seen anyone doing it - particularly for babies and toddlers. At this age, they do run through a lot of clothing, so I know know it'd have to be quite a few pieces, but I think it could be done. I've been sort of amazed at how well stains come out, particularly with lots of my DIY laundry detergent and a solid shot of Tide stain remover here and there.

At this point, Eli is wearing all 12-18 month clothes and we're running pretty skinny with 10 casual shirts, three dress shirts, two hoodies, one sweater, three pairs of shorts, three paris of pants, three rompers, three p.j.'s, and one pair of shoes (sandals). That's 29 items, about the typical 30ish piece capsule wardrobe, but I still think it could be less. It's a little tough because we live in Minnesota, which means while there are definite seasons, you still need warm clothing in the summer because it can get pretty cool some days.

He's been lengthening out a lot over the past few weeks, and I can tell he's going to be moving up sizes soon - but instead of just going out and buying whatever I think is cute and on sale, I want to be smart about it and feel like every piece that comes into our house has a purpose. I know that as he continues to get older, he'll naturally move less quickly through the sizes and hopefully will have time to actually "wear out" clothing, but I'm curious what the best method for this stage is. In addition, I'd like to do the same thing for baby girl. Since we dress Eli pretty "boy" nothing but the white onesie is going to cross over, so I know I'll need to get her a wardrobe. The other day I was on shopping for her and I had my cart loaded with about eight items, all $4 or less, but I just couldn't bring myself to purchase anything because of how wasteful I felt with Eli.

I'm not sure what the right answer is here, and likely I'm just over thinking it. But I'm curious - anyone out there find a good method of outfitting their littlest ones without going overboard? I'd love to hear any tips for streamlining the wardrobe of babies and toddlers and where you find the best deals! Plus, if it's of interest, I'll keep you all updated on where we end up!


  1. I think this depends on the style you choose for your
    kids. I find it easy to buy casual/play
    clothes like leggings and simple cotton tees and dresses in advance because
    they have so much stretch to them that it’s pretty impossible to skip over a
    stage completely. Honestly, these are
    the only things I do buy seasons in advance off the clearance rack for the
    reason that they will stretch and fit for basically an entire year (seriously,
    Lilah still wears a 3-6 month dress as a t-shirt now at almost 18 months). If you want your kids to wear actual denim,
    nice dress shirts, nice dresses, anything with buttons or zippers, those have
    to be purchased when they fit. The same
    thing applies to adults really. I can
    wear a basic target tee in S,M, or L and have it fit me any day of the week,
    but a button down blouse I know I need to try on.

  2. Such good perspective Amelia! Maybe that's been my problem all along - we dress Eli in true denim or at least more denim type pants and shorts - and many actually do have buttons and zippers. And the same with his dress shirts! I never really thought about that. Maybe it's a bit tougher to dress a boy than a girl - cause Mike (and I) would die if I put Eli in leggings or even pants that fit like capris - because he does have some sweats that still fit, but they're too short now. :) I think girls can probably pull off their clothing in more ways than boys can. Love that you have Lilah wear a dress as a tee - I'm totally doing that for baby girl!

  3. We *sort* of do a version of this. I have a rule that only 2 of Elziabeth's 3 drawer Hemnes dresser can be full of clothing. And since I use Ikea's handy skuub boxes our drawers cannot be crammed full. I definitely understand about sizing...E has skipped quite a few entirely so I don't tend to buy in advance unless they are basics like Amelia noted. I tend to buy things in grouped seasons, fall/winter and spring/summer. I tend to keep a similar color scheme so mixing and matching is at it's greatest potential. As far as garage sales, I only go to one or two at the beginning of summer and stock up on a few outfits specifically for play in the summer as that's when she's hardest on her clothes, especially now at 2. I do tend to purchase things of better quality if keeping the number of items down. That way I know they will wear well through the entire "season." Kids don't need a lot and neither do adults for that matter. :)

  4. Dude, leggings! I totally think they make dressing girls easier!

  5. I also had a chunky baby that breezed through clothing sizes without getting much use out of them. Maybe we could trade? I have boxes of girl clothes that didn't get much use and need boy clothes for our little guy due in 2 weeks.

    The most difficult clothing for us, as a cloth-diaper family, was pants. Jeans are a total no-go until she was out of diapers. I actually have a bunch of sweat pants from the boys department that worked really well. I find the pants in the boys section much more neutral (grey, navy, black, etc) and, when paired with a more feminine top, work just fine for a little girl.

    I like Zulilly for scoring deals on great clothes at good prices. As a work-outside the home mom, I have no time for garage sales or store shopping so online is my fav. But I waited until my daughter needed something specific in a size I knew would fit (and always round up!) before buying. Hand-me downs are also awesome!

  6. A few thoughts:
    - I think it's good to have a feel for how many clothes your family will purchase for birthdays and holidays. My mom and Grandma almost single-handedly supply a lot of clothing necessities, so that is one reason why I don't do a lot of buying in advance. I don't want to spend a bunch of money, only to have clothes gifted on top of that. Instead I wait until after those birthdays and holidays, and then I supplement only what is still needed.
    - Gap has such good sales from time to time that I don't feel pressure to 'stock up' at the end of the season. If you find something marked down, plus 40% off, it's not THAT much more expensive than finding an end-of-season deal from the previous year.
    - Also, you can always buy clothes in advance from stores that have very generous return policies like Kohl's or JCP (pretty much bring it back whenever)
    - Now that Lewis doesn't grow as quickly and actually wears things out, I'm investing in slightly higher quality pieces. He has one pair of jeans from Nordstrom for the fall, and I felt good about it because he will wear them multiple times / week for 6-7 months. As Eli gets older, he won't outgrow things as quickly.
    - Brad and I are becoming more and more aware of giving our children a mindset of being 'cool' or materialistic. I haven't been a big purchaser of clothing because I know I have the tendency to focus too much on fashion and I don't want our kids to grow up having all the latest trends. I think it would be helpful for them to be left wanting, or even save money to get nice tennis shoes or other things they really want. I know I suffered a bit from having lots of 'cool' clothes and am still reeling from it. Long explanation short - I like the idea of a capsule wardrobe for mom's sanity and for the child to have a healthy view that clothes should be limited and serve a purpose vs. lots of waste and excess.

    Loved this post! (sorry for the long comment)

  7. I made the opposite mistake where I bought 12-m short-sleeved clothes while pregnant last summer thinking my (now) one year old would wear them this summer... however, he is a petite kiddo and probably won't fit into those shirts until this winter - which then, of course, it'll be too cold to even wear them (smh)! Gifting those to his cousin...

    I agree with andreabrogle regarding buying all of the same color scheme so that you can have fewer pieces to mix and match. Doing a quick add up, we're probably right at 20 items that fit (granted, in Texas, you can get by with no real winter clothes) and most are in the grey/blue family. With fewer clothes to keep up with, I feel like I have better grip on what's next in line for him to grow out of which makes it easier to stalk sales knowing what classic pieces I will need - and not ashamed to buy the exact same favorite shirt in the next size up.

    My go-to is Gap for sure - only on sale and on the gap card on Tuesdays for even more discounts. Then I grab pjs from Hanna Andersson - stalking their sales and picking them up for $18 which is cheapest I've seen them, though not cheap by any means.

    Obviously I shop best online (eek)...

  8. Yes. Exactly! I've been thinking about that more lately, particularly after writing this post and seeing all the comments. I totally agree - that the online world is amazing for finding like-minded people who have experienced similar things. I truly have been blessed personally by that for sure. But like you said, it's so important that we also feel like we can be true to ourselves and not feel like we have to feel a certain way just because it's the prevailing or loudest voice on the internet. We certainly need a balance of both!

  9. We have been lucky to get hand me downs for almost a complete wardrobe, but whenever I needed to fill in some items I went to a second hand kids store. I'm not into hunting around at garage sales, but I also didn't feel like he needed everything new. Rather than buying a lot in advance I wait until I know I'm going to need an item (it's not being given as a gift or as a hand-me down) and I know his size for that season.

  10. I love this post- thank you for sharing! I am a SAHM, and the other day we were driving home from my son's 9 month check up. A good song came on the radio, and Hugo was babbling up a storm in his car seat. I just felt so happy. And grateful. And content to be where I was in that moment. Some days are hard (like when naps are short- the worst!), but most of the time, each day is filled with wonder, new experiences, and laughter. And it's the best. <3

  11. Haha, short nap time days are the worst - A common struggle to unite all moms! :) But yes! Exactly! Most of the time, motherhood is so amazing! And its not a "fight" to drum up the "good" in our days - I think there are seasons that are harder than others, especially in the first year, but overall I'm so happy to report that it's hands down, the best thing I've ever done. I'm so glad to hear you feel the same!