Shopping for ‘Tweens in Three Steps, and Betty’s Capsule Wardrobe

by | Apr 13, 2015 | Capsule Wardrobe | 20 comments

Shopping for little kids has always been pretty straightforward and easy around here. New stuff, gifts, hand-me-downs, all work great. Especially since someone invented adjustable waistbands — GENIUS. But then, sometime around nine or ten years old, things seem to get more complicated.

All things have fit my all little kids, well enough anyway. But then . . . ‘tweens.

My ‘tweens have a body type. Not everything fits right or is flattering. Sizes seem to vary drastically between brands, but the kids are still growing too fast to get a handle on which size they are at which store. And their sizes aren’t changing as predictably as when they were younger. Sometimes they’ll be able to wear something for a couple of years, sometimes they’ll jump multiple sizes over one season. For that reason, it’s a challenge to decide whether to invest in more quality pieces. I’m concerned about modesty and appropriateness more than when they were younger. They also have . . . preferences (dum dum DUM). I’d like to honor those, as much as possible, anyway.

It’s a lot to consider.

The solution has come in three (relatively) easy steps:

1. Shop in person

I am a big, big fan of late night online shopping. I order most of my own clothes online, and most of them work, because I know what I like, and what looks good on me, and what size I wear at my favorite stores. For my younger kids, we get lots of hand me downs from family and friends, but when I need to supplement that, my mom or I will order things for them online.

That same approach hasn’t been successful with my ‘tweens.

I need to SEE the clothes in person. I need to be able to tell what that design is on the shirt, and what the fabric is and whatnot. And, more importantly, we need to . . .

2. Shop together

Again, this would not be my preference. But it’s worked for us for many reasons.

It can be frustrating and disheartening to have a box of clothes arrive and have NONE of them fit properly or be appropriate. That’s not my kid’s fault. It just is what it is. But if we’re at the store, we can grab another size or another style and still walk out of there with something with which we can both be happy. I think that’s a better way to approach clothing without creating issues.

Once my kids get to a certain age, not all styles of clothing flatter them anymore. I want them to learn how to pick things for themselves that fit our family guidelines for price and modesty, are appropriate for their needs, and that look nice on them. Shopping together is a great way to accomplish all of those things.

It also helps us avoid surprises once we get the clothes home. Some things that look like they’ll be too short, actually end up looking
nice. And some things that look appropriate on the hanger turn out to
be bafflingly low cut or see-though or some such nonsense.

3. Keep the wardrobe minimal

Especially since their sizes can still change quickly, and I can’t count on necessarily being able to pass things along to the next sibling (because they don’t all have the same body type), I mostly shop at mid-priced stores with only occasional purchases of nicer items for special occasions.

I limit clothes shopping (for myself AND the kids) to three times per year. We shop before school starts, before Christmas and before Easter. Crazy growth spurts notwithstanding, of course. Sometime they need new church pants or new shoes and it won’t wait. But other than that, I get them set for a particular season, donate what doesn’t fit or we don’t need, then I don’t let myself buy stuff we don’t really need during the rest of the year.

The most effective way I’ve found to not spend too much on ‘tween wardrobes is to not have much in the closet at once. My twelve year old son, Jack, has about 25 items in his wardrobe, including shoes. He’s got 5 t-shirts, 2 long-sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt, a jacket, 2 school polos, 3 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of casual pants, 3 church shirts, 2 pairs of church pants, plus church shoes, casual shoes, sneakers, and sandals. We do laundry often enough that that’s plenty.

My eleven year old daughter, Betty, needs a bit more variety than that. But not TOO much more. We just figured out her entire wardrobe for spring and summer this year, and it’s 35 pieces.

Here’s the whole shebang . . .

Since many of you have specifically asked about Betty’s wardrobe, let’s take a closer peek, shall we?

She is eleven years old, and wears a 14-16 in the girls’ department, or a small or extra small in the women’s department. We shop for her occasionally at modCloth and thredUP (but those are online only, so they break my rules steps) and mostly at Target and Old Navy. She also gets some hand me downs.

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  • Black and white ruffle sleeveless blouse was a hand me down from me. But here’s something similar
  • Gray ruffle top from thredUP.
  • Ruffle-front three-quarter sleeve button up was mine, too.
  • Coral and white sleeveless blouse, color knit top, and pink three-quarter sleeve top, all from Target last season.
  • Two graphic t-shirts from Target last season.
  • Ribbon trim split neck tee was new this year, found here.
  • Sleeveless white eyelet button-up, from Old Navy.
  • Crochet overlay tank top new this year, found here.
  • Striped maxi skirt from last year, similar.
  • Button from chambray skirt, new, found here.
  • Purple knit skort from the American Girl store.
  • Higher-rise skinny jeans, similar.
  • Jean shorts, new, found here.
  • Embroidered demin capri pants, Target.
  • Overalls, new, from Old Navy.
  • Yellow long sleeve, Boden.
  • Teal three quarter sleeve, Old Navy.
  • Coral windbreaker, Old Navy.
  • Pink hoodie, Target.
  • High-low colorblock knit dress
  • Teal lace overlay dress, new, found here.
  • Royal blue with pink flamingos, new, found here.
  • Navy and teal chevron, new, found here. (It is CRAZY short on their model, but knee-length on Betty.)
  • Two school dresses, from Land’s End.

Here are some of the outfits she can put together . . .

And the pieces she has will mix and match into plenty more.

A couple final notes: I have my girls wear camisoles under everything and bike shorts under all skirts and dresses. It allows them more flexibility in necklines and more freedom of movement when wearing skirts and dresses.

I don’t have hard and fast “modesty” rules for my girls. For Mass we cover our shoulders and keep skirts close to the knee. Other than that, modesty, for us, is more an attitude (and a conversation) than a set of specific guidelines. I think modesty is more about how and why a young lady is wearing something, rather than exactly what she is wearing. So, we talk about dressing in a way that is appropriate to the activity and to our particular culture and time period, and about trying to find clothes that are flattering to and appropriate for our particular body types. But we also talk about not dressing or behaving in a way that tries to get attention for how we look on the outside rather than who we are on the inside. My hope is that this approach will be more useful to my girls in the long term than a tape measure would be.

Related reading:

Kids and Modesty or, How I Got My Kids to Quit Getting Naked in the Yard

And more about Betty:

The Bookish Little Mama

So ‘tween mamas, I hope that helps a bit. And if you can’t get enough of the capsule wardrobe thing, you’re in luck. Because I’m planning to share MY spring/summer third trimester/postpartum/nursing capsule this week too. So don’t touch that dial.


  1. Elisa | blissfulE

    Thank you for breaking this down and making the idea of shopping for/with a girl with a body type and preferences slightly less scary for me. I have an 8yo who I'm planning to give a clothing budget (a very tiny clothing budget, which will be 1/6th of the tiny clothing budget I have for myself and my five kids) when she turns 9. We don't have a source of hand-me-downs or grandma purchases for her. We are going to be praying and hitting the op-shops (aka charity shops). That's what I've been doing for my wardrobe and God has been providing some really cute stuff lately! I'm definitely looking forward to seeing your third tri/nursing wardrobe!!! Betty is very lucky to have a mom with such a great style sense.

  2. Lauren and Joe O'Brien

    Can't believe you can already pass down clothes to her! I give a lot of my too small clothes to our babysitters (age 15-22) so I probably won't have much left when Grace gets to be a tween. And love the color pallet simple, comfy styles.

  3. Caroline

    My daugther is in size 10 for pants, and I had to switch her to boy pants, such as cargo or khakis, because all the girl jeans especially, were always too low cut or too tight, and frankly, immodest. She actually looks so much nicer in pants now., plus they do have that adjustable strap to tighten them up if needed. I have been able to find them at great cheap prices when they go on clearance (usually at Walmart), I have been able to get them for $3, or $5 brand new. I agree with shopping at second hand stores, I have found brand new things or lightly used things for hardly anything, or garage sales. We found some very pretty spring dresses at target at sale prices. Buy for next year, when things are really cheap!

  4. Lizzie

    Any reccomendations for type/brand of camisole? My little girls all wear slip shorts but I had never considered camisoles.

    • Kendra

      I like the super stretchy ones (not just cotton). I'm not sure what that fabric is. But it seems to hold up better through many washings and wears. I've been able to find them at Target, or even at Costco every so often. I make sure they have tank type and thin strap versions, then they'll work under just about anything.

    • Frugal Momma

      Surprisingly, Justice has nice cotton, wide strapped, no shelf bra tanks for girls. My 13yo has them in white and black.

  5. Trista Roehl

    Just curious, given the differences in body type, style preferences, etc., will you save Betty's clothes once she outgrows them for your younger daughters or build capsules from scratch for each of them? I hate the idea of excess clothes taking up storage space if they will never be worn again, but I also don't want to donate something that will be.

    And I'm looking forward to your spring/summer 3rd tri capsule! I'm due a week ahead of you and need to build that maternity capsule. I'm done with sweaters and dark trousers.

    • Kendra

      I save my favorites of little kid clothing to pass along. But, because of just what you've said here, I've stopped saving clothes to pass down for older kids, especially since Betty and Anita are five years apart. If I were more organized, I'd probably try to sell them on thredUP, but as it is, I just donate them. All except one or two things that have sentimental value, like a First Communion dress, or something from a vacation. But really, I just get rid of it all, and figure we can get used or hand me down or sale items if money is tight, and that way other kids have been able to be wearing all those clothes in the five years they would have been in storage.

  6. Emily Q-F

    I love this!

    My girls already have very different body types and they are only 6 & 4! I have to take my 6 year along at times, because she is so slim and long limbed, that I can't buy off the rack. I now know a few brands that fit her well, but like you said, no one is happy when you get a big box of clothes that don't fit! I also find that family will sometimes buy her a size bigger than she is, which as I mentioned her body type, makes her look ridiculous. And actually many clothes look ridiculous on her, I have to be really careful. But I'm learning. My other daughter just makes everything look cute. Seriously it's crazy.

    Love Betty's style!

  7. Nanacamille

    Betty looks very nice in her outfits.and nice that stores have come out with tween sizes and styles. They weren't there for you and sister so you were hard to find clothes for at that age. I made a lot of your party dresses because there was just nothing appropriate or that you liked out there. We were able to find some "special" things when you went to New York with me and we went to the garment district. It was fun because no one had anything like it out here in CA. This was before every city had exactly the same stores.

  8. biancefamily

    I love this! My oldest is almost 10 and always needs clothes and making her a capsule makes so much sense!! She is getting to such a hard age to buy for because stores want them to dress like 20 year olds.
    Do you wash clothes after one wear? We are going on a trip for a week and I keep thinking they need 7 complete outfits, how do you handle travel clothes when your kids don't have 7 pairs of shorts and tops?


    • Kendra

      At home, we always have the kids look at their clothes and decide whether they should go into the laundry or be folded and put on neatly on the floor to be worn one more time. I think it's a good policy no matter what, because anything that cuts down on laundry is good, but it's especially necessary for us right now because we have water restrictions because of the drought in Southern California.

      About half of our vacations are camping, and on those the kids just keep wearing dirty clothes, or spot clean stuff in a sink.

      As for our less dusty vacations, I try really hard to book us in places that have access to laundry. We almost always stay in apartments instead of hotels. But if that's not possible, I wash stuff in the bathtub and hang it to dry. We often do ten day vacations, and there is no way I could handle all the luggage that complete outfits for nine people for ten days would entail!

  9. Amanda

    Oops, I was still signed in as our homeschool co-op admin!

    I love hearing from your mom too Kendra 🙂 It's great to get more perspectives!

    Betty looks adorable in her new clothes! I agree tweens are *the* hardest to shop for. My younger kids I just make sure the color isn't wonky on them (we have a huge skin tone spectrum even among our bio kids) and then we're good to go. And tween girls often grow out and then up, so you want to allow for that extra room if they need it especially if they're going to be tall. I remember feeling fat as a tween and my mom didn't know how to handle that phase until I grew taller and everything evened out so she just kept buying me the same things that looked good when I was a skinny little kid. I feel like if I'd just had some cute clothes to get me through the brief awkward phase I'd have come out of middle school with more self-esteem still intact, lol!

    But oh just wait for when Betty hits the stage where she no longer fits into the 14-16 girls! Ana was bigger when she came to us (poor eating habits, had basically never had a vegetable) and wore a women's medium and could not fit in the girls' clothes but she was 11-12 and so wanted to wear bright fun colors and I wanted her to wear those too. But all we could find were overly mature teen clothes or way overly mature and boring women's clothes. Now that she's on swim team, eating healthier, and in a size 14-16 I feel like our clothing options opened up widely! I think it's worth trying for the children's plus sizes as long as they will fit just because the color and selection is much better. We get jeans from the teen store because they fit her hips nicely but tops and dresses are much cuter from the kids' section.

    I like your tip on keeping the clothing selection small. I'm going to be weeding through Ana's clothes soon too for our move and that gave me extra motivation to focus on building a smaller capsule wardrobe of sorts!

    • Kendra

      That IS a scary prospect Amanda. I kind of face the same thing for myself. I prefer bright colors, and fun prints, but I do not prefer miniskirts and low cut tops, so . . . it just takes a lot of looking. I've been pleasantly surprised by Target and Old Navy lately. They certainly have a lot of stuff in both women's and girls' that wouldn't work for our family, but they have a big enough selection that I've always been able to find something that works.

    • Amelia Bentrup

      My 13-yo has been unable to wear children't sizes since she was about 9 (not because of poor eating habits either…we eat really healthy and she is homeschooled so I know not getting junk anywhere else…just genetics) Anyway, it was really challenging finding clothes for her for about 2 years because she was adult-sized but not adult-shaped. However, now she's basically settled into her adult body type/shape so it's easier. Plus, we can share a lot of clothes (not everything) so that makes it a bit easier and it's fun. We mostly shop thrift stores. Sometimes Old Navy or Target. Definitely having her try stuff on is key. Although at this point, I can eyeball stuff too, so I'm not against picking up something on clearance for her if I'm out without her.

  10. Heather

    My wardrobe is about fifty percent thrift store and fifty percent online purchases. We live about an hour away from the nearest Target or Old Navy (my favorite stores for clothing) and my disability makes it hard to travel + walk through shops + try things on. I've learned to rely heavily on measurements and customer reviews when shopping online. My thrift store strategy is to know my measurements and have in mind what pieces I need for my wardrobe. Instead of trying on, I just whip out my handy-dandy tape measure to see what will fit. As a pre-teen/teen it was hard to find things that met our standards for modesty that didn't make me feel frumpy- my mom and I had two different opinions on what was "tight" and what was indecent! However, I will say that learning those standards of modesty has helped me dress appropriate throughout the years. It also helped me when I worked as a costumer for local theater groups because actors need to feel comfortable and not feel exposed on stage.

  11. Amanda

    She is so adorable! What a great model. I love these plans. My oldest is 6, and a boy, so I've still got easy, pick-it-up-on-clearance-after-season shopping for them, but I can see things getting harder when I'm not shopping for t-shirt wearers. Good advice.

  12. Molly Walter

    Thank you for balancing out a tween wardrobe that is fashionable, but not "trendy" or obviously trying to dress a young girl like a much older woman. I think it's clear that you're teaching her how to dress her body and the importance of a nice appearance., without an emphasis on being a fashionista and that's such a relief to see nowadays when even small children are expected to be fashion plates.

    She looks so nice, and in style, but very appropriate for her age. Just lovely Betty!

  13. Gina Fensterer

    Brilliant. I have a soon-to-be this age girl, and this same concept has been on my mind. Somehow, this summer, I need to get us out for a girls' day to do shopping and lunch together! (So much easier said than done, as I'm sure you know. You have a kid or two more than I do.) 😉

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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