PROS: Organized retail store atmosphere where you don't have to dig for gently used children's items for a fraction of retail. You can "trade-up".
CONS: Not as good a deal as thrift store.
Consignment stores are great places to find gently used and some new children's items: clothing, toys, books, children's furniture, hair ribbons, jewelry and even maternity clothes. Parents bring in their clothing and the store will either sell it for them or buy the clothes and then turn around and sell it. Some stores will even sell local handmade items such as bows, smocked items, bibs, personalized diaper bags, etc.
I occasionally shop consignment stores but I mainly use them to sell off the Superstars' clothes after they have outgrown them and there are no local consignment sales (see below) for a while. I usually make at least what I spent for the clothes since I buy things so cheap, but either way I find I get more bang for my buck by going to the thrift store. Jeans at consignment stores generally run from $5-$15. Jeans at the thrift store for kids up to pre-teens are $2.50 - $3.50.
PROS: Greater percentage of profit than consignment stores. Great assortment of furniture and larger baby items for cheap. If you sell items at the sale you get to shop before the public. The profits made by the organization holding the sale usually gets the other portion of the profits (goes to a good cause).
CONS: Seasonal. More work on your part, and although you can get some deals, since the other mom's prices the items, they can be more expensive than buying those items on sale at retail (and definitely more than thrifting).
Better than consignment stores are consignment sales, and if you live somewhere like I do, they are regular seasonal occurrences. We even have a website that keeps track of all the consignment sales in Tennessee.
Like consignment stores someone else does the work of selling your clothes by providing you space and an "audience" for a percentage of the sales. Most of the sales I have participated in gave me 70% of the profit, while they kept 30%. The best sales I've been a part of are churches, who in turn use the money they make for things like youth programs, international and national mission work and even for building playgrounds.
You can sell pretty much buy and sell any child's item at these types of sales. It's a great way to get rid of unused clothing, shoes, duplicate birthday toys, bikes, books, high chairs, computer games, etc. The last sale I made $150 and the church that held the sale made $35,000 for a playground.
PROS: Precision shopping from the comfort of your home.
CONS: Not as great a bargain as thrift or sometimes even retail sales. You need eBay/PayPal account. You can't examine the item you are buying. May not be returnable (depends on seller's policy, although if the seller was misleading, PayPal offers a process by which you can get your money back).
Children's clothes on eBay can be a bargain, especially if you are looking for a particular item or a particular name brand. I have resorted to eBay when I was looking for a character piece of clothing for the Superstars birthday. Other than that I am not beholden to any particular brand name so I'm pretty content with what I buy at the thrift store.
That said, I was able to buy a Dora bathing suit for my youngest last season (which she wanted and needed) for less than $10 and it was delivered straight to my door. Mommy ROCKS!
DISCOUNT RETAIL STORES (TJMaxx, Marshall's, Ross, Nordstrom's Rack, etc.)
PROS: Retail store atmosphere. Return Policy.
CONS: Average prices are generally more than thrift or consignment. Not always a good selection of the size you need. Quality isn't always the greatest.
With the advent of discount stores like TJMaxx, Ross and Marshall's, there are tons of places to buy brand name clothing at discounted prices. Marshall's has a particularly good shoe department for children and I have seen Merrells and Stride Rite shoes for at least half retail prices. I also regularly find Ralph Lauren clothing at these stores for less than $20, still more than what I generally pay since I have found tons of Ralph Lauren at the thrift store (including new with tags) but it's a great place to buy gifts for showers, birthdays, Christmas, etc. when the recipient may not be as thrilled with a thrift store purchase as I am.
The great thing about these places and that they too have end of the season sales where their prices get even lower. I recently went to a shower where I spent just $2 for a beautiful pink Ralph Lauren pique cotton onesie and $2 for a two pieces cotton summer dress & bloomers that I gave as a gift.
PROS: Retail store atmosphere. Quality name brands at better than retail prices. Return Policy.
CONS: Average prices still more than thrfit store or consignment. Not as readily available, even in larger cities.
Outlet stores are also a good source of children's clothes especially if you favor a particular name brand; Ralph Lauren, Carter's, Children's Place, Gymboree, etc. but for me it means making a trip somewhere, even in a larger city like Nashville. And if I want to do that I have to do it during the week with the Superstars or on the weekends when Dad can watch them, since he hates shopping.
When the Superstars were younger I use to shop the end-of-the-season sale at Children's Place Outlet where everything I bought was under $5.00, most pieces were $1.99 and $2.99. My youngest is STILL wearing some of these items and will next summer. When she is finished with them I will probably end up consigning them at one of the sales and making back what I paid (if not more) 4 years and 2 kids after buying them. Woo-hoo, that's how I like to ROLL....
PROS: Consistently the cheapest way to buy kid's clothes.
CONS: Going through racks of clothes that are only separated by large year gaps. Usually worn, rarely new.
Of course you know that this is my favorite of all places to buy kid's clothing. I guess I'm of the mentality if the thrift store is good enough for mom it's good enough for the kids, and really, they aren't as gentle on their clothes as I am. It just never made much sense to me to buy expensive clothes for the kids when A) the outgrow them so quickly and B) they can tear them up in just one play date or 5 minutes outside.
Of course I am spoiled, I live in an area where people donate Gucci and Prada, so the kids clothes selection can be great. I have bought tons of clothes that were new with tags including: TEA, Rare Edition, Ralph Lauren, Strasburg, Gymboree, Gap, and tons of fancy boutique brand names with smocking and lace (not too many since I'm not that fancy).
Even though some of the clothes can have stains (and I have bought items that I was able to get the stains out) there are just as many that are barely worn. Kids can grow like weeds and it's not uncommon for them to wear something a couple times before they've outgrown it, especially if they are going through a growth spurt. Sometimes the Superstars have skipped over certain sizes in a growth spurt.
Thrifting is hands down the best way to find cheap clothes for me. I don't mind the digging to get the great deals. Just last week I bought Superstar #1 a Kangol youth hat in soft fuzzy gray for $1.50. I can't tell you how many compliments she's gotten in it.
PROS: Cheap and sometimes FREE. Shopping from your computer.
CONS: Meeting up to get it from someone you don't know. You don't know till you meet them whether or not the clothes are in good wearable condition. First come, first serve.
Craigslist is like the ultimate 24/7 garage sale. I have friends who swear by it when it comes to children's clothing. Just today I went online and saw a woman advertising 10 pieces of Gymboree clothing most brand new with tags on them for $15, so you definitely can get deals. Like the thrift store it's limited to what people are listing. You may not find the size or the brand names or condition you want for the price you are willing to pay.
The only reason why I don't use Craigslist as often is because the best deals aren't always nearby in the sizes I need. That said, when it is, the deals are great because people are just happy to get rid of it and get some money for it rather than giving it the thrift store...which of course, I am always happy when they do.
RETAIL & BOUTIQUE STORES
PROS: Excellent name brand quality in a retail atmostphere. Usually great customer service and a return policy. End of season sales can mean thrift store prices for brand new name brand items.
CONS: Most expensive of all options.
It's a huge category, but I lump the likes of Target, Kohl's, Macy's, Nordstrom, Gymboree, Jack & Janie, and all the Mom & Pop boutique stores into this category because they are what I like to call "full retail" stores. Their stores are the first line after the clothing leaves the manufacturer. Although I rarely pay full retail I still scan the sale racks of major department stores and mall stores and even boutiques during prime sale times - i.e. end of the season. It's then that you can snag up terrific deals anywhere from 30% to 90% off.
Like my recent trip to Target that netted me $70 of clothes for $14 which is about 80% off retail. Even the boutique store down the road runs 70% off sales at the end of the season when you can get high-end smocked items for those who like to dress their children fancier or just for fancy occasions. Since I buy all those at the thrift store when y'all are done with them, I'm thankful you donate them when you're done!
A FEW LAST WORDS
Children outgrow clothes so quickly that it never made much sense to me to spend a lot of money for it. As for "well-made", yes, I don't want my kids to wear something a couple times and have it ripping at the seams, but I just can't see spending $50 on a child's piece of clothing that will last MAYBE a year, more if you can pass it to a younger sibling. Of course I want the Superstars to look presentable, but reality is that all it takes is one meal and not only may "presentable" be out the window, but so might the outfit depending on the damage done.
As I always say, "If a 2-year-old looks messy or is wearing mismatched clothes, she's TWO. She has an excuse. It's harder to explain when it's the 22, 32 or 42 year mother who looks that way." I'm beginning to think some Moms wear their mismatched or ill-fitted clothes as a sort of badge-of-honor, an outward sign of the inherent difficulties of martyrdom...I mean, motherhood. At the same time, others may use their perfect appearance as an outward sign that they have it all together. Neither choice is to be commended or more highly regarded.
Ultimately it's about finding balance in your own life where both you and your children are taken care of and feel good about yourselves. Alas, it's much easier for children than Moms, but our children learn those kind of things from us and we are laying the groundwork for what kind of adult they will be someday.