How Do You Find Modest Clothes for Hard-to-Fit Teens?


Macke: Women shopping, modern art, from Wikimedia

I wrote earlier this year about some steps we can take, as parents, to instill in our daughters a sense of modesty.  After that column a friend took me aside and asked, “But where do you find clothes?”  I  know just how miserable the quest can be.

But my children insist on wearing clothes, as indeed we’ve taught them they must.  So what are our shopping secrets?

1. Size is Just a Number

We think of the size on the tag as a starting point, like the “You are Here” symbol on the map at the mall.  It’s a gauge that, combined with the fit of the clothing, tells us whether to go up or down.  That’s all.

It doesn’t matter to us if the manufacturer thinks a given piece of clothing is large or small, petite or tall, slim, or plus.  We try on our best guess for what might fit, then see if we need to go longer or shorter, trimmer or roomier. Sometimes it seems like the garment industry hires all its cutting department workers from Middle Earth — this year we’re using short sturdy hobbits and dwarves for sizing, next year tall skinny elves.  So what?  If you need more room for movement, go up a size.

Certain children require a bit of creativity to size.  If you have a proportionately-taller child, when shopping online a “mid-calf” hemline will turn out to be below-the-knee, and “below-the-knee” will be at-the-knee or just above.  Conversely, if you have a proportionately-shorter child, to get the right waist and length, go for a larger size with a shorter (supposedly) hemline.   That said, I’ve known major retailers to vary widely in just how long two “below the knee” skirts from the same clothing line really were.  Plan to have to make returns.

2. Shop Every Store, Every Department

Within your price range, don’t pass over unlikely sources.  Just because a girl is between the ages of 13 and 17 doesn’t mean she’s been locked into the Juniors’ department.  (And just because you are older or your daughter is younger doesn’t mean you’re locked out.)  Check out the girls’ and womens’ departments, and don’t be afraid to check petites’ or plus-sized sections even if your daughter is neither petite nor plus.  Because of the massive variability in how garments are styled and cut, you can find surprisingly good fits in the weirdest of places.

Likewise, don’t rule out stores that are normally well beyond your budget.  If you browse around you’ll often see styles that would be perfect if only the price would drop 70%; make a note to check back in a month and see what’s left on the clearance rack.  Because manufacturers produce an overwhelming bounty of interesting clothing, you only need about 1 in every 50 must-have items to actually hit clearance in order to fill your closet.

Very Secret Mom Trick: Sometimes I discreetly stick some of the boy’s hand-me-downs in the girls’ closet and see if they bite.  (Sometimes it’s not a secret: They know winter coats are going to be handed down, and they know that an unfashionable day in the snow means more money for something cute to wear to church.)

3. Even You, Yes You, Can Do Easy Alterations

Two words: Safety pins.  It’s actually not that hard to do simple sewn-alterations, but honestly we prefer the safety pin method for growing children because then you can let back out the seams bit by bit as needed.  So if the length of the skirt is right but there’s too much waist, experiment to see if there’s a discreet place to take in an inch.  Think of the store as a fabric merchant that offers a variety of partially-finished garments.  Use your judgement, though, because some clothes can be taken in, or up, more easily than others.

Some other tricks to keep up your sleeve:

  • A dress with a sweater over top becomes a skirt.  So if it makes a great skirt even though the top is not so inspiring, you can buy it to wear as a skirt.
  • A dress that’s skimpy on top can be paired with a blazer, jacket, sweater, shrug, or blouse.  Trust your daughter’s instincts on this one though — just because you think that cardigan looks fabulous doesn’t mean she thinks it does.
  • A tall pair of boots covers a multitude of sins between ankle and knee.  Likewise a tunic-length blouse or sweater can make up for a pair of jeans starting to get too tight in the rear, but that still fit through the legs.

The key in the no one needs to know school of fashion is that your daughter is confident of what she’s wearing.  If you’re counting on a pinned waist, make sure the pins are going to stick.  Make sure the final product meets your mutual standards.

On the one hand, I won’t argue if my daughter’s happy with an outfit that looks to me a bit too cobbled-together, unless it’s a serious occasion.  On the other hand, nothing kills a girl’s sense of self like feeling that she’s been sent out into the world as her mother’s patchwork quilt project.  Let her be the final arbitrator of which alterations and disguises work, and which do not.

Girls Are Creative

The thing about girls is that we like to solve problems and we like to express ourselves.  If you walk into the store thinking your job is to serve the fashion industry by snatching up whatever excuse for a trend they throw your way, you’ll forever be miserable.

Teach your daughter that the store works for you, not you for the store.  It’s their job to propose clothing that’s worth your time.  If they insist on selling tacky, skimpy, ill-made products, they don’t get your business.  If they’ve got a good basic piece but are dreadfully mistaken in precisely how an outfit should be rendered, or how it should have been sized, it’s up to you to take it home and transform it into what it was meant to be.  Happy hunting!

Your turn: What are your tips for shopping with teens?

Copyright Jennifer Fitz 2014

Photo Credit: Wikimedia


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  1. My girls are very different body shapes. So we always start with color. Each girl has a few colors that ALWAYS makes their skin, face and hair look better so we start there. A boring sweater or polo shirt is much more acceptable if it is a color that looks fabulous. We also have a collection of camisoles in great colors that can go under tops or sweaters that are a problem on their own. If the color is right it should go with things we already have. My husband is willing to be the “heavy” so new clothes need to be Daddy ok’ed as well. It is a treasure hunt.

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