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Baby clothes

Baby clothes buying guide

Last updated: June 2014
Getting started

Getting started

Warning: It will take every ounce of willpower not to load up your shopping cart with mini jeans, tiny sailor suits, floral sundresses, polo shirts, and pullovers in every color. Baby clothes, trendier than ever, are as irresistible to parents (and friends and relatives) as a pool on a hot day.

Everyone wants their baby to be well dressed, and manufacturers have responded with micro styles that appeal to our adult fashion sense. Not that your baby cares. All she wants is to be comfortable, and that's important to keep in mind. The basic necessities--even if they're "pre-owned"--will keep your little cutie content.

When stocking up on basics before your baby arrives, purchase only a few items in newborn size. Your baby will outgrow these tiny garments fast--sometimes in less than a month. It's more practical to buy in the 3-to 6-month or 6-to-9-month sizes. If saving money is your mission, try to do most of your shopping after your baby shower.

Sizes

Baby clothing sizes are usually based on age: preemie, 0 to 3 months (newborn), 3 to 6 months, 6 to 9 months, 9 to 12 months, 12 months, 18 months, and 24 months. But one manufacturer's 6 to 9 months may be quite different from another's because there are no standard sizes in the industry. Every brand of baby clothing has its own size specifications. As a general rule, you can often double your baby's age. For example, if you're buying for a 3-month-old, buy a 6-month-old size; if you're shopping for a 6-month-old, buy a 12-month-old size, and so on. Even though that doubled size may seem a little big at first, your baby will grow into the clothing quickly and you'll have leeway for shrinkage.

You don't always have to double the size, though. It depends on the manufacturer, so experiment. Some experts think the age-doubling formula ends at about 2 years anyway. After that, you can buy one to two sizes up, depending on your child's size. For example, an average-sized 2-year-old (a toddler in the 50th percentile for height and weight) can probably wear a size 3. But a large 2-year-old (say, in the 95th percentile) might wear a size 4.

Read the weight and length charts found on the back of many garment packages or consult a size chart, which many baby-clothing stores keep on hand, especially those that sell garments in European sizes. It's helpful to know your baby's height in inches so you can convert your baby's size to centimeters.

Consider safety

Be wary of tiny buttons, hooks, snaps, pom-poms, bows, and appliques. They can be choking hazards. Routinely check clothes and fasteners for these loose items. Some clothing with heat-transferred or "tagless" labels may be associated with rashes. Avoid loosely knitted clothes--sweaters, booties, or hats--that might trap a baby's tiny fingers or toes. Cut all dangling threads before your baby wears a garment and avoid clothing that has seams with very few stitches per inch. Before you put socks or booties on your baby, turn them inside out to look for small threads that could capture toes.

Baby's first shoes

To keep your pre-walker's feet warm on cool days, look for soft, elasticized baby socks or booties that cling to the feet so that your baby can't kick them off. You don't have to buy the baby shoes you'll see everywhere, which can easily run you into big bucks, and which your baby will outgrow quickly.

You might think that shoes complete the outfit for kids, but wait until your child begins walking--usually at 10 to 14 months--before buying her first pair of shoes. That's when a child really needs them. Experts recommend picking a first shoe with flexibility, which helps the foot develop its arch. Try to bend the shoe in half. If it bends easily, it's worth considering.

The best shoes also have traction on the bottom so your baby won't slip easily. A shoe doesn't have to be expensive to be flexible, but you may find that the most flexible shoes are higher-ticket brands. That might include Merrell (www.merrell.com), Nina Kids, Pediped (www.pediped.com), Stride Rite (www.striderite.com), and Umi (www.umishoes.com). And stores that sell higher-ticket brands generally have experienced sales help to make sure you buy the right size. You'll want some room at the toe, but not so much that your child will trip. Also, keep in mind that toddlers kick off anything and everything, so look for flexible shoes that lace. They're harder to take off than shoes with Velcro closures.

Types

You'll find "boy" and "girl" baby clothes in every imaginable pattern, style, fabric, and color (besides pink and blue, think mocha, powder, buttermilk, safari, camouflage, silver, avocado, Bordeaux, and pistachio). Cotton, which is soft and absorbent, is still the most common fiber. Organic cotton children's clothes are coming into their own as the trend toward "green" takes hold. Read laundry instructions, though. Cleaning organic fabric can be more labor-intensive than cleaning regular cotton. Many garments are made of cotton/polyester blends, which dry quickly and resist wrinkles, or cotton/spandex for maximum give. You'll also find thick, soft knits and fleece made of micro fiber. At specialty boutiques, you'll see high-maintenance fabrics that require ironing or dry cleaning, such as linen, cashmere, and hand-knit items.

Low-priced and midpriced garments

These often have soft but sturdy fabrics, competent workmanship, and plenty of fashion flair. And they're usually machine washable--a definite plus.

Upscale baby clothes

These cost more, without a proportionate increase in quality and durability. High-fashion clothes may require hand laundering, even dry cleaning. (Air out any dry-cleaned clothes before your baby wears them.)

"Green" baby clothes

If the label says the garment is 100-percent organic, that means only that the cotton in the clothes was grown without synthetic pesticides and other such chemicals. Since cotton is one of the most pesticide-intensive crops grown, buying baby clothes made of organic cotton may be better for the planet. But keep in mind that an organic label certifies only the growing methods of the fiber in the item, not the way it was processed into fabric. There's no guarantee that clothes marked "organic cotton" haven't been chemically treated. If you want to buy truly "green" baby clothes, check whether the tag or manufacturer's website has information on how the clothes were processed and dyed.

Features


Your primary concerns for baby clothing should be dressing ease, softness, durability, safety--and then style. Because most babies dislike having anything pulled over their heads, look for garments that are easy to take off and put on, with front-opening or side-snap tops. Snaps are easier and safer for baby than buttons. Quick access to the diaper area is essential, so choose snap-open legs or loose-elastic waists. Velcro closures are quick and convenient. Before washing, close them so that they don't fill up with lint and threads and lose their holding power. Here are the baby clothing features to consider.

Comfort and safety

Check the seams on the inside of the garment. They should be smooth, not rough, and lie flat rather than sticking out. Don't buy clothes with tight elastic bands on arms, legs, neck, or waist; they can irritate your baby's skin and restrict circulation. Bypass anything that could be scratchy--unpainted metal zippers, appliqués, or snaps with rough or uneven backings. If an appliqué is made of heat-welded plastic, check for rough edges on the back. Give sequins, buttons, and snaps a quick tug to make sure that they can't easily come off, posing a choking hazard. But don't pull so hard that you weaken the attachment in the process. And recheck them after each washing.

Fabric

Apparel labels must state fiber content and care instructions. All-cotton knits may look large when new, but they can shrink as much as 10 percent with repeated washing. Polyester/cotton blends are less expensive than pure cotton or organic cotton and more resistant to wrinkles and shrinking. Avoid thin, semitransparent items or garments with poor finishing such as unclipped thread. Although babies grow fast, you'll need clothing that's durable enough to last several months.

Shopping tips

Expect to get clothes as gifts

During your first forays into the baby department, buy only a few items in newborn size, such as one or two sleepers, since she may outgrow this size within a few weeks. You'll want to focus on 6-month-size clothing--your baby will grow into it quickly. Even then, try to hold back and fill in after the baby shower. Clothes from generous friends and relatives may get you through the first year. Gift-givers who are already parents, grandparents, or aunts or uncles may buy in bigger sizes, knowing how quickly babies grow. Use your own judgment on how much you want to buy and what you can expect as gifts.

Watch for sales on brands you like

Sales are everywhere--in stores, in catalogs, and online at the end of each season and in between. Major chain stores that sell baby clothes have regular sales. If your baby is a newborn, resist the urge to stock up, since most babies whiz through this size range. But don't shop too far in advance for larger sizes, either. Infants can have sudden growth spurts that throw off your sizing forecasts. A winter coat you snag for your baby in August may be too small by December.

Consider used

If you've never used or bought anything secondhand, you can start with kids' clothes. You can easily get away with it, especially when your child is an infant. A friend, neighbor, or colleague with a slightly older child may happily pass along their child's too-small duds to a willing recipient. You can also scout for tag sales and thrift or consignment stores. Babies go through clothes so quickly that the small stuff is almost always in good condition. It's not unheard of to pay 50 cents for a near-perfect pair of pants that would cost you $12 or more new. Pristine used clothing is tougher to come by in toddler sizes; when messy activities such as finger-painting come into play, clothing gets more wear and tear.

Secondhand shops are also prime hunting grounds for special-occasion baby and toddler clothes such as christening and holiday outfits and fancy party duds that have been worn only once or twice (if at all). You'll probably pay a fraction of the retail cost. Also try browsing websites such as eBay, Craigslist, or Freecycle (www.freecycle.org)--a website through which consumers can give and get free stuff.

Inspect any used clothing for unraveling thread, loose buttons or snaps, or scratchy appliqués and elastic bands. Don't dress your child in anything that's not as good as new or that appears unsafe to you--especially anything with drawstrings of any kind (see clothing safety for more information).

Safety

Baby clothing has been recalled in the past because of safety hazards such as dangerous drawstrings at neck or waist, or failure to meet the federal flammability standard for sleepwear. Here's what you need to know.

Drawstrings

Although there have been federal guidelines and an industry standard for more than 10 years, clothing with hazardous drawstrings continues to be sold and frequently recalled.

Clothing drawstrings are a strangulation hazard because they can get caught on playground equipment and in other places, like bus doors. In 2007 and 2008 alone, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued more than two dozen recalls of clothing with such drawstrings, mostly sweatshirts and jackets. The agency continues to track and investigate incidents of deaths and injuries each year in which children's hood and waist drawstrings become entangled.

CPSC recommends removing neck drawstrings from all outerwear, including jackets and sweatshirts. Likewise, before buying outerwear with a waistband drawstring in sizes 2T and up, such as those found at the bottom of a jacket, make sure the drawstring is sewn to the garment at its midpoint so that it can't be pulled out more than three inches from the garment on either side.

We recommend that you do not purchase children's jackets and sweatshirts that have any drawstrings. Look for snaps, buttons, Velcro, or elastic at the neck and waist instead.

Sleepwear

Fabric and fit are important safety considerations for your baby's sleepwear. To protect children from burns, CPSC regulations dictate that children's sleepwear sizes 9 months to size 14 must either be made of flame-resistant fabric, which doesn't ignite easily and must self-extinguish quickly when removed from a flame, or the clothing must fit snugly because loose garments are more likely to catch fire. Sleepwear that fits snugly does not trap the air needed for fabric to burn and reduces the chances of contact with a flame. Flame-resistant fabrics may be worn either loosely or snug-fitting; they're often made of polyester, although cotton can be treated to make it flame-resistant.

Flame-resistant sleepwear isn't necessarily treated with chemicals. Some polyester, for example, is inherently flame-resistant. As long as it passes flammability tests that manufacturers must conduct according to children's sleepwear regulations, it can be used in sleepwear without being chemically treated. Under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, any flame-retardant chemical used is required not to be toxic. But the CPSC doesn't require, suggest, or endorse any particular chemical that manufacturers must or can use. Clothing manufacturers aren't required to label the type of flame-retardant chemical used, if any. If you'd like to buy sleepwear that hasn't been chemically treated, look for sleepwear with a prominent warning on the label: "Wear snug-fitting, not flame-resistant." Then buy it in your baby's correct size.

Here's a checklist for buying safe sleepwear for your child.

  • Don't buy oversized sleepwear that's not flame-resistant. (Look for a label on the garment indicating flame resistance.)
  • Don't allow your baby to sleep in loose T-shirts, sweatshirts, or other apparel made from non-flame-resistant fabrics.
  • Don't buy snug-fitting sleepwear a size or two larger for your baby to have growing room. That defeats the purpose of the garment and puts your baby at risk. Snug-fitting sleepwear looks tight, but it stretches. It must have a prominent warning label that states: "Wear snug-fitting, not flame-resistant."

Infant sleepwear smaller than size 9 months is exempt from government flammability requirements, because infants aren't sufficiently mobile to expose themselves to an open flame. For infants, we recommend a wearable blanket, or sleep sack, to replace loose blankets in your baby's crib, which are a suffocation hazard. Sleep sacks don't fit snugly; there's plenty of kicking room. They're typically made of flame-resistant fabric, but check the garment's label to be sure.

Recalls

For updated recall information on baby products, visit the CPSC's website.

Money savers

Babies grow too fast for designer duds. You don't have to spend a bundle on baby clothes and shoes. Here are ways to save big.

  • Don't buy designer duds or put them on your baby registry. Babies may be able to wear them only once or twice before they outgrow them, which inspires new-parent guilt and the sense that the money could have been better spent on diapers, wipes, or formula. If you can't resist, watch for sales at your favorite baby stores and scout for designer wear at secondhand shops and sites.
  • Arm yourself with coupons and codes. Before you make a baby-clothing purchase, check or sign up for coupons and codes online or sent to your email or phone via text, either for clothing discounts or at the very least, free shipping on online orders.

Or join the e-mail or text alert list for your favorite baby and department stores, for advance notice of sales and coupons. Combining a sale item with a coupon can result in impressive savings on top brands. One caveat: When you're shopping online with coupons, take note of shipping costs and handling charges. They can sometimes wipe out any savings--and then some. (In addition to using online coupons, zone in on a clothing website's sale and clearance sections for serious savings.)

   

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