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Back-to-school clothes: shopping for your young child

When choosing school clothes for your younger child, keep her comfort, safety, and growing independence in mind.

By GreatSchools Staff

Your 6-year-old excitedly exclaims that he can tie his shoes! Never mind that his socks don't match and it's likely his sneakers will come untied before he gets out the door. This is an exciting milestone, and you'll want to encourage his efforts. Along with mastering the art of dressing himself, your youngster can also begin making some choices about what he wears. Include him when you go shopping for his back-to-school wardrobe.

  1. At home, have your child try on any of last year's school clothes that have mysteriously shrunk over the summer. Flood pants? No problem  - it's a chance to applaud how much she's grown (and what she's outgrown). Work together on a list of new clothes to buy.
  2. Before you buy, check with your child's school to see if there's a dress code or if any particular types of clothing are prohibited.
  3. Make sure everyone is well rested and fed before you set out on a shopping expedition. Full tummies decrease the risk of meltdowns and uncooperative behavior.
  4. Look for clothing that's machine washable and easy to keep clean. If you need to label your child's clothes, be sure there's room on the tags inside to do so. If your child is extra-sensitive to scratchy labels and tags, either cut the tags out or buy some of the new "tag-free" garments on the market.
  5. Keep it simple. Look for mix-and-match separates in coordinating colors. It's important to choose clothing that has simple fasteners; large buttons, zippers with pull rings, elastic waistbands and large neck openings make it easy for a young child to dress himself. Avoid complicated lacings, belts, and sashes.
  6. Keep your child's safety in mind. Drawstrings, floppy or wide pant legs and slippery soled shoes should be discouraged.
  7. Look for sturdy shoes with good heel strength. High quality sneakers or flat shoes are recommended by podiatrists. No flip flops! To ensure shoes fit properly, there should be a thumb's width between the end of the big toe and the end of the shoe.
  8. Keep your fashion standards flexible. If clothes meet your requirements - appropriate, safe, easy to wash and within your budget - let your child choose the color and style.
  9. Watch for store-wide sales and special promotions. You can also cash in on free shipping offers on Internet orders and "tax-free" shopping days available in some states. (Check to see if your state is one of them here.)


Comments from readers

"when is lake county fl gonna give there annual back to school fair back pack suppies to people in need help me "
"This site was informative and it was kept simple to areas of need"
"In my opinion uniforms do not change how children,teens,and even adults veiw their peers. While they are all dressed alike there are constantly new thing for them to be judged on.(Ex) I.e.- How they speak,Hair,beauty,skills in education or sports ect. It may be true that people are judged by what we wear. Also to all those who are going chaotic about misspelling words, claiming that 'It only going to show that we americans get bad educations' somehow connecting a few typing errors to the way children dress. Too all worried parents the easyest thing you can do is search for cheaper versions of the syles your kids may want. It is not a horrible thing to say No if something is unreasonable. If it is very expensive or you feel they dont need it just tell them they have to help pay the price or the whole thing. It will show them the value of money,what really matters when buyying,and if they REALLY need those 60$ designer jeans.(i recommend Kohls teen section for tween girls for ! cute clothes.Oh and reading this you may assume i am a parent but id like to verify that i am a student myself.I am 12 years old. This may sway you away from my advice but coming from a student mysel i just though you all should know and i hope this helps."
" I know that a lot of conflict and competitiveness will cease if uniforms are mandated. And the cost for parents would decrease a bit. I wish they would make this official today! I am pro-uniforms "
"Folks, if you are going to post to a public forum dedicated to education, it would probably be a good idea to proof-read your messages before hitting 'submit'. As it is, a lot of the participants here are showing their LACK of education, (regardless of whether they are in favor of school uniforms/dress codes or not). For example, I counted at least nine grammar and punctuation errors in the 08/20/2008 posting. Good grief."
"Uniforms in school is very important. When I went to school years ago I had to used uniform .I remember that the uniforms for elementary k-5 was white and green, when I went to middle school again the uniform color was change to white and blue and when I went to high school it was white and black. In a way is very important to wear uniform because with the uniform everybody is the same. People that wear uniforms are as follows: Policeman,mailman,fireman,paramedics and lots of people."
"In a society where everyone wants everything easy and wants to relax all the time, school uniforms provide a format that says pay attention you are in school. While uniforms do not make the school, the staff, students, and general attitude of the parents do make the school. When all who are in charge of the education of the children are united, guidelines are clear,and much is expected of the children, they want to comply. However if all those charged with the education of the children are divided, bickering and discombobbulated, the children sense this and seize the opportunity to do as they please. Uniforms show unity, so to your question do uniforms make the school better? Yes when the entire school, staff, children and parents are united, yes they do. "
"AMEN to the OMG responder on 8/6/08. Lets get our kids educated and forget the fashion. Kids are growing up with an entitlement mentality. They think they should have the latest trend NOW! But the can't spell, read, write......they don't have the skills they need to succeed. Teachers are to teach those skills, not wipe the kids noses too."
"While I don't disagree with the implementation of uniforms in public schools, I will argue that they are not the 'cure all' that many of you seem to think they are. I attended a private school that required uniforms for all students. It did not prevent cliques from forming. It did not make anyone feel less rejected or more included. It did not level the playing field in any way. Uniforms can be purchased from any variety of stores. Your khakis might come from Sears or from GAP. And the kids know the difference. Kids choose other avenues of identity when forced to dress alike: shoes, hairstyle, backpacks, lunchboxes and school supplies become status symbols. The type of car your parents drive is noted and compared. The one true benefit of uniforms is on laundry day. Sorting couldn't be easier!"
"My daughter's school does not require uniforms, but I wish they would. School uniforms are very sleek and stylish. The clothing that is currently being marketed to them look like rejected clothes that couldn't be sold in the 70's. Bright oranges... ugh. I think I will buy some of the uniform peices for her wardrobe since they look like they match just about anything else without looking like 1970's tent dresses. School uniforms are just a great way not to be concerned with fashion in a place that should focus specifically on education. Very few kids express themselves as an individual with their clothes, they express which group they belong to with their clothing. Since they are going to conform anyway, should we have them conform to a better style. When they become adults they need to dress a certain way for work, too much 'expression' will get you fired. Many jobs require uniforms or a certain level of dress. I just don't see one good argument to why uniforms sho! uld not be required."
"My daughter's school does not require uniforms, but I wish they would. School uniforms are very sleek and stylish. The clothing that is currently being marketed to them look like rejected clothes that couldn't be sold in the 70's. Bright oranges... ugh. I think I will buy some of the uniform peices for her wardrobe since they look like they match just about anything else without looking like 1970's tent dresses. School uniforms are just a great way not to be concerned with fashion in a place that should focus specifically on education. Very few kids express themselves as an individual with their clothes, they express which group they belong to with their clothing. Since they are going to conform anyway, should we have them conform to a better style. When they become adults they need to dress a certain way for work, too much 'expression' will get you fired. Many jobs require uniforms or a certain level of dress. I just don't see one good argument to why uniforms sho! uld not be required."
"My son had to wear a school uniform when he went to private school in Kindergarten. I moved him to public school when he started First grade and throughout the school year, he would constantly wear the polos and khakis from the previous year's uniform until they got too small because he felt more comfortable and it was easier for him to get ready by himself in the mornings. I am very happy about the fact that his public school is going to uniforms this year as well. I'm a little unhappy about the colors they chose for the polos but when they sent the letters home with their report cards, even my son exclaimed with joy. I would rather see the kids wearing a uniform then see the way that some parents allow their kids to dress like they do in today's society. They can dress to their liking and show off all they want outside of school if they want to but while in school...their minds need to be focused on their education and not the fashion of other kids. Let them express ! themselves all they want after school or on weekends but school should not be a fashion runway."
"Re-design needed !!! I think the idea behind school uniforms is great perhaps helping to eliminate certain grounds for bullying, jealousy etc BUT why do they have to be so impractical. I would redesign school uniforms getting rid of expensive, impractical, uncomfortable jackets and ties, etc (these are increasingly disappearing from many offices so why force them on our adventure loving kids) Instead I would design a set of t-shirts, shorts, skirts, long trousers and a fleece that are stylish, easy to wash, cheap to buy, and comfortable allowing children the freedom to move, run, climb and tumble."
"OMG! First, I just need to express my opinion about the things that I have read here today regarding uniforms in schools. While some comments have been insightful and eloquent, I am shocked, apppalled, and very disgusted with the lack of grammar and writing skills that I have seen within many of these comments. Especially disturbing, and I might add, not surprising, are the comments that are actually posted by children and students who say that uniforms take away their 'freedom and expression' such as the following: 'How do you exsoect children to express themselfs while having to wear things that aen't their style ? I'm a fourtee year old and I like to express myself in the things I wear. If you were to make me wear khacki and only 3 colors of polos, how can I become an indivisual ? They can be good if you live in plces like China, whre they are in school constantly. But here in America, I'd like to say we have the freedom to wear what we want' This child is going to walk into a future job interview with an Armani suit, an expensive breifcase...and a resume with misspelled words on it. The suit will then not make a bit of difference. This, my friends, is a sad commentary on our educational system. These grammatically incorrect comments shine a light on the fact that these children, and obviously many parents, are completely missing the boat. Teach your children that they can 'express themselves' through education, knowledge and character. Clothes have nothing to do with expessing individuality. An expression of who you are comes from within. For the commentator(s) who expressed dissatisfaction with the teachers: There are good teachers, and there are bad any other occupation. Sadly, there have to be limitations placed on teachers' attire because there are those out there who need to be reminded that they are role models. However, teachers should not have uniform requirements. AFTER you are educated and well versed in the ways of success and the world, you have earned the right to have choices in your attire. The expectation is that you will remain professional. Again, shame on those who have to be reminded. The commentator who has expressed her disdain at teachers' salaries vs. those of RN's...well take your own advice: 'Stop the whining' and accept the career choice that you made. If it does not pay enough, then find another one. Just keep in mind that you will probably have to go back to SCHOOL with TEACHERS to do so. To the commentator who wrote: 'It is not the clothing that gets to me----it is the lack of efforts by the schools (teachers, administration, etc..)--for the extra efforts to 'teach' our children. In Kindergarten, the child is already supposed to know all the basic's. If a teacher has to help a child tie or god-forbid help the child learn to tie his/her shoes---then the teacher should just do it acceptingly--without complaint or 'deep sighs of agony'!! This is their job to teach development as well!! ' My question is: What is the parents role? When the people of this society finally 'get' the idea that the educational system should be used IN CONJUNCTION with the home to fully educate our kids, we will be a lot better off. NEWSFLASH: There is no excuse for your child arriving at school onthe first day of Kindergarten not knowing the basics. The minds of small children are like sponges. Simple exposure can go a long way, and a little effort can go even further. Don't blame your lackadaisical attitudes and home environment on teachers. Do whay YOU can to make sure YOUR kid is successful beginning school and beyond."
"I agree with alot of the parents here, that uniforms are a great idea. When I was in school, you were judged by the clothes you wore. Luckily my family was able to afford the hottest fashions. Clicks form and one major factor on those clicks is presentation. If your parents cannot afford the styles that are in, you are labeled as poor and/or just nerds. Uniforms would take the concentration off of who is in the 'in group' and put the focus on forming groups of friends based on similarities."
"Personally, I think it's wrong to make children wear uniforms. You're always told that no one can force you to do anything you dont want to, than why are you forcing us to wear a uniform even though we don't want to. It's pretty hypocritical if you ask me. My parents agree with me when I say we are children, teens, and pre-teens. And by that statement we need to express our individuality. People say, 'There is no one like you, your you and no one can change that' Well, wearing uniforms can really get those younger kids confused. I do believe gang clothing and innapropriate clothing is bad but i would much rather have a dress code than have a uniform. It gives us more freedom but the incredibally strict schools really need to ease up. Uniforms are definitely NOT the way to go."
"I was at first against the the school uniform thing, I was thinking like alot of other parents, our freedom of expression rights,wear what you want,but no longer! I have been in some of these schools that don't have the dress code, it was disappointing the clothes people let their little children wear;the jewlry hanging to their navels,the pants drooping crotches to their knees, I could go on, it sickening to see what these kids would wear if they didn't have a dress code, I think kids should dressed with clothes that fit properly. I know that the dress code does keep the children from being singled out by their income. Teachers don't always help in this matter, regardless of who or where your child comes from listen to how these teachers talk to the children thats more important than clothes wouldn't you think.Grades for most tell to complete story of how our children are doing in these schools."
"I love uniforms! My daughter wore uniforms at a private school for Kindergarten and First Grade...Then when we moved back to Washington State she started public school (without uniforms)...Believe it or not, even with uniforms, kids had a choice. They wore either a plaid jumper that was required on certain days, but they could also wear khaki colored skorts or pants and either polo shirts or plain white dress shirts. Then 2 days a week they had PE and could where shorts or sweat pants and a school logo t-shirt or sweatshirt that day depending on the weather. Not only was it helpful for the budget, but now in public daughter has become increasingly fussy about what she will and will not wear. And I constantly here...'but she has such and such'....followed by a whine when I say 'no'....She loves the fact that there are no more uniforms...but personally, I would give anything to have the uniforms back."
" My child is in second grade. They started uniforms his first year of school where we live. I was not pleased to hear that at first. It comes to find out. They are a really good idea. It makes getting ready for school easier. You dont have to worry about what matches with what. They can get it there self and go. It comes out cheaper in the school shopping too."
"First, I would like to express my disappointment in the writer who was so disappointed in the ability of others to spell or use correct grammar. Please learn to spell 'reasonably', 'organization', and 'environment'. Also, you should have used the work 'effect' not 'affect'. Affect is a verb; effect is a noun in this case. As far as uniforms go, I think they are a great idea IF there is some CHOICE involved. The problem is that not all styles of clothes look nice on all body types. To force a child to wear a certain style that does not make him or her feel good about the way he or she looks is to condemn that child to a rotten year in school. The same could be said for color choices. I know of one school that requires the students to wear a gray t-shirt with the school logo printed on it. Unfortunately, gray is a terrible color on many people, and I know it affects the way some of the kids (particularly a few girls in this case) feel about themselves. It's hard enough to b! e a kid these days without feeling like you look like death in the color you are forced to wear. "
"First I would like to express my disappointment that so many of the comments left had more spelling errors than any adult should resonably have made when stating an opinion centered on intelligence, confidence, and the overall education of our children. I believe that uniforms add a sense of orginization to any school enviroment. I also believe that teachers, parents, and peers have more affect on a child's learning process than clothing choices. "
"Keep your child well groomed and well dressed even if you are a low income parent, your child shoulnd't look like he/she just got out of bed and left to school as just, 'KEEP IT SIMPLE 'as far as jewelry goes, we live in a bad world and many things happen daily, so why make it worst? Your child safety depends on it. Clothing shoul be of proper ware nothing to Girls: shady or expose. Boys: baggies or dirty. Parents you know the drill, so ' Keep it Real ' your child future depends on it. "
"I personaly don't think uniforms are necessary. Because parents will continue to buy the more expensive clothing and shoes, no matter what the dress code is. I had a problem with another school making ALL tops to be tucked in even if they were designed to be worn untucked. However the teachers and office staff did not have to tuck their shirts in. What ever happened to setting an example for the children. 'What's good for the goose is good for the gander'. I also noted that the teachers were allowed to wear flip flops. The teachers and staff should also adhere to the same dress code. There was a math teacher that used a riddle for solving a math problems that included kill kill and dig a big hole to bury them to hide the evidence. Now if that doesn't put ideas into a childs mind. That type of teaching is uncalled for. To me that kind of teaching is being taught by 'educated idiots' and that is not the type of teacher I want teaching my child. We were much better learning the basics, which the teachers of today take a simple problem and turn it into somthing so stupid and use language that is not appropiate and the paren! ts have a difficult time helping their children with their homework, and then they complain about their salaries. I spent over 30years as a nurse, and THEY are underpaid. An RN with a BS degree does not make as much as a teacher. Even with a master degree, guess who still makes more money. My advise is if you don't like the teachers pay then get out of teaching, STOP THE WHINNING and do their job since no one forced them to become a teacher. "
"i think uniforms are a great idea! i like it. my son will be entering 'K' this fall and being a mother of 3 going on 4 soon, budget is my middle name. but uniforms, aside from any other plus to it as far as budget, focusing more on school and 'not who's wearing what today' also allows parents and teachers identify children at their school. makes it more noticable when someone is walking off with a child that SHOULD be in school, don't you think? that extra safeguard does help me feel better about my child being in school. "
"I read some of the comments below and I'm displeased with alot of the responses. I feel that uniform make the children equal, why belittle a child if he or she cannot afford exspensive clothing. Low self esteem causes learning disabilities and children will hide rather than express themselves. It starts at home. "
"okay my son is going into kindergarten he is only 5 years old i think people are nuts clothing does nothing for a kid at all it don't make there brain work lol this is nuts. kids are kids and that's it. all this stuff about cloths is off the wall. kids should wear what they want to ..."
"Are you Kidding me??????>:-( As a kid, I definetley disagree!!! A kid's clothes are about free expression! I think you're trying to tell our parents what to buy for young children and pre-teens. I'm a pre-teen(almost teenager) and I don't like what you're saying because, like i said before, clothes are about free expression. But, if you want to try to turn today's kids into fashion-don'ts, then be my guest!!! >:-P"
"Uniforms don't change the way kids learn. Trust me. I used to go to a public school with uniforms and they were dropped in favor of the dress code before I went to the seventh grade. If you people think that seventh graders that were in my school last year are rowdy because of no uniforms go take a hard long look at yourself.....(hormones kicking). If uniforms did work they would have been in HS (they weren't in my county before uniforms in all grades were dropped). They are hard to enforce and got real leniant before they decided to drop it."
"My kids went to a private school this past year where they wore uniforms. I don't like buying the uniforms because I can not get them on sale like I can the regular clothes. We are suposed to go to a certain uniform store but the kids have been getting them from Aeropostale ,etc to get around that. My daughter does not like the pants that come up to the belly button so that makes it hard to find pants plus I have to hem the pants for my son and daughter so that is an added expense of $5 for each pair of pants. Next year they will be going to a public school where they dont require uniforms! I work in a different public school system that does require uniforms and it does not make a bit of difference regarding the gangs. The gangs are still in the school. They will find some way to show what gang they are in no matter what you do and I am from a small town so we have it here too."
"This is a very helpful site"
"First and far most I want to say uniforms are a waste. They take away individuality because me myself I like to be odd and wear skulls and stuff. so uniforms should just be banished."