The right clothes for your tween

No longer a little girl, not yet a woman. So what can she wear?!

Clothes are the trigger for all too many arguments between parents and preteens, and shopping trips often involve tears and meltdowns. Kids want to look cool and fit in with their friends, while parents may be uncomfortable with the revealing clothes they pick out — not to mention the high cost of high fashion.

Inbetween sizes

There are also practical challenges: The changing bodies of preteens are often difficult to fit.

For example, Chantalle Joyce’s 11-year-old daughter, Sienna, at five-foot-three, is tall for her age (not surprising, perhaps, since her dad is six-foot-ten). That means that she’s outgrown most children’s sizes, but because she hasn’t hit puberty yet, women’s clothing doesn’t really fit her properly.

When she asks to wear tops that expose her belly button, Joyce says no. “The clothes for preteen girls are getting sexier and skimpier,” says Joyce. “People already think Sienna is older than she is. She can easily be mistaken for 15 or 16.”

Avoiding brands

Looking sexy isn’t the issue with preteen boys, but Karen Smith, mom of two boys, still isn’t happy with the options. “I find the way most children’s clothing is branded — with big, obvious logos — to be really off-putting. I don’t want my children to be billboards. I should be able to get ad-free clothes.” Smith also has trouble with fit: Her nine-year-old son is very slender and because he hates shopping, Smith spends a lot of time hunting for clothes that fit him properly.
Designer duds

And if getting the right fit and style weren’t challenging enough, some kids push for expensive designer duds or an extensive wardrobe your budget just doesn’t allow. Until Michelle Sanche’s twins, Anna and Matthew, were about 10 years old, she bought most of their clothes second-hand through the local Mothers of Multiples garage sales or at thrift shops. But then Anna started to care more about being in style and asked for new clothes. Sanche decided if her kids wanted brand new clothes, she would pay half, and they would pay the other half from allowances or birthday and Christmas money. (She continued to offer to pay the full amount for used clothes.) “It worked well,” she says. “Anna wants more new things than Matthew, but this helped her learn to set priorities and shop with discrimination.”

And that’s a worthwhile lesson for kids to learn at any age.

Surviving the mall

Stuck in the twilight zone of preteen shopping? Here are a few survival tips:

Allow ample time to shop. Rushing means you may end up with purchases you later regret.

Size ’em up. Karen Smith’s son is not enthusiastic about shopping, so she goes alone — but measures him before heading out. “It’s annoying how much difference there can be in sizing between styles, even when it’s the same manufacturer,” Smith says.

Explore a second-hand store. “You can find 10 or 20 different styles in your child’s size,” says mother of three Chantalle Joyce. “On one trip, Sienna tried on 30 different pairs of jeans, and we found three that fit her and looked good. Having that wider range of styles really helped.”

Accessorize! For slender preteens, a belt is often essential. A camisole can make a too-low-cut top more modest. A dress that’s a bit skimpy becomes a tunic when worn over leggings or jeans.

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