Last week, while eavesdropping for the public good, I overheard two parents of young children lamenting the dearth of simple kids’ clothes available. I came directly home, opened my browser, and pecked out the title of this post. Because what felt too nosey to say to strangers in public, but what is absolutely true, is that despite many not-so-great options out there, there are lots of folks making simple, sturdy clothes for babies and kids.
Like lots of parents, I like to make getting my kids dressed as painless as possible. I like when they look neat and clean and put together. Despite my best efforts, they still sometimes look like ragamuffins. They’re four and one and a half. What else could I possibly expect? In all things parenting—and in dressing small children in particular—I do my best to respect imperfections, my own budget, and big personalities in small people. If Faye wants to wear an enormous ribbon in her hair, or parade around the neighborhood in a tutu, or put her shorts on backward, I don’t stop her. But I provide a backdrop of simplicity. For me, a small and nimble wardrobe of basics feels best. Mostly because—and more to the point—I don’t want the clothes that I dress my kids in to reinforce someone else’s outdated notions of what a boy or a girl should look like.
Perplexingly, this is a hot button issue. In an age when gender fluidity is increasingly being embraced and accepted and acknowledged to be true, a majority of clothing retailers perpetuate gendered stereotypes when marketing to young kids and their parents. Shops are still separated and arranged by gender. Girls are sugar and spice (and cropped and fitted). Boys are snails and puppy dog tails (and oversized and baggy).
And at the risk of ruffling feathers, and with acknowledgement that exceptions abound, I’ve been surprised at how often these same gendered constraints are perpetuated by parents themselves. Folks can’t imagine that a baby boy might be wearing pink or have his hair clipped back with a barrette and they’re only moderately more comfortable with a little girl wearing board shorts without a tee. (To be clear: The boys undoubtedly get the short end of the stick when it comes to other people’s perceptions of what’s acceptable for them to wear.) Dress a baby, and you’ll quickly learn that all manner of seemingly neutral items are, in fact, deeply coded according to gender. Fruits and polka dots and stripes of a certain width are all for girls, I’ve been told. Anything on wheels or in outer space, well, those are for boys. Horse? Girl. Dinosaur? Boy. Hedgehog? A rare case of anything goes. It’s as ridiculous as it is exasperating.
In my family, I’ve chosen to mostly keep things plain and simple but also to flout convention whenever I—or my kids—would like. I don’t, for instance, forbid dresses or florals or other things that get read as feminine, but I don’t stop myself from dressing my little boy in them either. There’s a much longer piece—book?—on the subject that needs writing, but for now I’ll stick to the basics: Simple clothing options for kids feel scarce. People’s opinions—and assumptions—about kids’ clothes are many.
If you find yourself yearning for simple clothes for babies and kids, here’s a pretty hefty list of simple alternatives. (What kids will do with them is anyone’s guess.) All of these shops peddle wares that are simple, mostly unadorned, and most importantly, comfy. You won’t find characters or logos, though you might notice a preponderance of stripes. I’ve tried my best to limit the list to folks who are making thoughtful choices in terms of the environment and workers and wear, but I’ve also been mindful to include choices in a range of price points. I hope there’s something in here that’s helpful.
Arq: I adore the underwear (great colors! no wedgies!) from Arq, but they also have a sweet collection of classic tees cut from vintage deadstock and vintage blue jeans. Comfy, hardwearing, and undeniably kid-like.
Babaa: I love the cotton sweaters from Babaa for kiddos (and for myself). They’re so soft and lovely and cut in such a way that they can last for far longer than you might expect. Buy a bit big and they’ll fit for at least two years, if not more.
Billie Blooms: Billie Blooms have sponsored this site since Faye was in their bloomers. We’ve since passed the bloomers along to Silas, but if anyone else is partial to sticking a summertime baby in bloomers and calling them dressed, their collection is worth a look. They’ve also recently started making simple tees.
Burt’s Bees: For affordable organic cotton basics, I’ve often turned to Burt’s Bees. Like other shops on this list, their clothes are still separated by gender, but poke around and you can find a solid selection of classic, simple tees and tanks for building a small wardrobe of basics.
Chasing Windmills: I love these merino wool basics. My kids have been wearing their shortjohns all summer (and I swear by their longjohns for winter months).
Colored Organics: If you’re looking for basic baby goods, you might have luck here. We have a handful of their long-sleeved ivory onesies for Silas and I’ve really liked them—they’re thick and soft and they’ve held up beautifully through many (many) washes.
Go Gently Nation: I don’t have personal experience with this label, but everything looks beautiful and like it’s made with care. Organic cotton, beautiful colors, and sweet shapes in sizes ranging from baby to kid.
Goat-milk: We’ve loved Goat-milk since they had a little shop across from sister’s place in the East Village. Their kids’ underwear and cotton basics are all beautifully made and classically shaped.
Gray Label: If you’re a fan of the softest jersey and fleece cotton you can find, look no further. We have a hoodie from Gray Label that is truly excellent, no doubt everything else they make is too. This Amsterdam-based label can be found at US-based Over the Ocean and other boutique retailers.
Hanna Andersson: I love Hanna Andersson’s organic cotton pjs in grays and oatmeals, but for folks who are partial to brighter colors for basics, there of lots of those available, too. On a personal note, I’m so hopeful we’ll soon see a catalog that stretches the limits of gendered color choices from Hanna Andersson.
L’oved Baby: This is another baby-specific option that we really liked. Because Silas was born in the middle of winter and Faye was born in the middle of spring, we lacked newborn cool-weather options when Silas came along. I loved their footed overalls in calm and quiet colors for his first few months.
Les Gamins: Everything from these folks looks so soft and comfy. Their clothes are colorful without being garish and the cuts look comfortable and roomy without also looking sloppy.
Little Winnie: These organic cotton longjohns from Australia come in sizes for the whole family, but I especially love how they look on kids. The colors are terrific and the classic cut looks comfortable and cozy.
Mabo: Full-disclosure: My kids are dressed in Organic Cotton Basics and other simple gems from RMTL sponsor, Mabo, a vast majority of the time. I love the stripes on the cotton basics and that they mix and match so effortlessly. For slightly dressier occasions their overalls never fail to make me smile. Both kids are in overalls (Faye and Silas) from Mabo’s summer collection in these shots.
Misha & Puff: Faye has worn the same size 18-24 month popcorn sweater from Misha & Puff since she was 18 months old. What started out roomy is now snug and every bit as loved as the first time she put it on. The merino is super soft and the popcorn knit sweaters in particular are simple but not somber. This summer, we’ve also really loved their new swimsuits.
Nico Nico: Everything from Nico Nico is beautifully made, but I’m a huge fan of the rompers and coveralls in particular. We’ve had a summer and a winter version of their rompers for Faye and she’s loved both. Best of all, they make for a complete outfit in just one step. No mixing or matching required.
Petits Vilains: Faye has a set of organic knit essentials from these folks that are really excellent. The fit is snug but not stifling.
Primary: I’ve never owned anything from Primary, but lots of parents rely on these colorful basics for graphic-free kids clothes.
Red Creek Kids: If you love linen for kiddos, head here. I bought Faye two pairs of Red Creek Kids linen pants when she was 18-months old and she wore them until she was nearly three. I had to patch the knees once Silas was in them, but I love them even more with a tender patch job.
Rudy Jude: The best crew-neck sweatshirts for kids (and parents) out there, plus lots of other simple and comfy stuff like cotton track shorts and plain tees.
Soor Ploom: The seasonal collections from Soor Ploom are always exquisite, but I’m particularly fond of their beautiful organic cotton essentials. Both Faye and Silas sleep in their beautiful night dresses.
Winter Water Factory: For parents of little guys who are anxious for clothes with a little more visual intrigue than a solid stripe, Brooklyn-based Winter Water Factory is a sweet option. I especially appreciate that their dresses come in a huge variety of prints: chemistry sets, bicycles, and dinosaurs included.
What did I miss? Please share your favorites below.
PS. If you haven’t read Sarah Rich’s truly excellent piece on boyhood and masculinity from The Atlantic, here it is again. It’s one of the best things I’ve read on the topic of kids and clothes and about boys in particular.