Kim and James Green of Capitol Heights, Md. set out to go shopping for school clothes for their first-grade daughter, Janay, they established a game plan:
-- They made a list of what she needed.
-- They looked over last year's wardrobe to see what still fit.
-- They set a budget.
-- They comparison-shopped.
The result is that Janay is heading back to school with a wardrobe experts say is exactly right for a young school-aged child. The elder Greens exhausted neither themselves nor their finances.
"I made sure that I got everything she needed because I won't do any more shopping for school for quite awhile," said Kim Green, as she and James prepared to buy shoes for Janay and James Jr., age 2, one recent evening at a Kohl's store. "I won't do any more shopping until it's time to pick up a few things for winter."
As parents head out to do back-to-school shopping, experts suggest they follow a similar game plan as the Greens'.
Boys and girls in elementary school grades, they say, need a combination of basic casual clothes, a few dressier pieces for special events like programs and picture days and a few "fashion forward" pieces and accessories to sauce up their basic school wardrobes.
They recommend that parents stick to the basics initially, then buy more fashionable accent pieces only as money allows: "If you are shopping on a budget, make sure to get the jeans, sweats, layering tops and basic tops before venturing into the wind pants or cargo pants or things like that," said Tom Orth, a district manager for The Children's Place clothing store chain.
For families on limited budgets, mixing and matching pieces can expand the child's wardrobe.
The basic elemetary school wardrobe for boys should include five pairs of jeans, three sets of sweats, three "layering" tops and six to seven miscellaneous basic tops, such as graphic printed long-sleeved T-shirts, flannel shirts and denim shirts.
For dressier days, boys' wardrobes should include two pairs of corduroy pants-one each regular and wide wale-a dressy shirt, a long-sleeved polo or nice pullover. To give the wardrobes a kick, add a pair of wind pants and a sport pant like a cargo pant.
They also should have a nice cardigan and a windbreaker for cooler days. When cold weather kicks in, parents should add two or three turtleneck sweaters and maybe another sweater or two.
Boys need six to a dozen pairs of socks -- depending on how frequently parents want to do laundry, an everyday winter coat, such as a long down jacket, a dressy coat and three pairs of shoes -- sneakers, leather shoes and boots.
For girls, the basic wardrobe is the same, except that two of the pairs of jeans should be "fashion jeans" with embroidering, beading or cuffs, and some of the basic tops should include stretch wovens and novelty tops. Girls' wardrobes also should include more fashion-forward pieces and accessories.
"Fashion items are much more important for girls," Orth said. He suggested that parents "dress up" girls outfits by pairing a basic skirt and slacks and plain top with a vest in "pleather" (plastic leather) or this year's popular cowboy prints.
Girls' wardrobes should include 12 to 18 pairs of socks. They can be used as accessories to accent bright-colored tops that are matched with basic pants or jeans.
Clothes should be color -- coordinated to cut down on selection time on busy mornings. A dark, a light and a bright, such as red, white and blue for boys or purple, pink and white for girls are recommended. Then use bright splashes of color such as an orange velour vest for a boy topping a pair of jeans and blue T-shirt or bright green vest for a girl over a pair of dark slacks and pink T.
Orth said many children's clothing retailers now design lines around basic color matches and often set clothing out in stores in coordinated matches to assist parents.
Retailers don't recommend a budget they do suggest that parents comparison shop and stick to one or two stores to make things easier.
Building a relationship with a store and a sales person who can assist with gathering items and advising parents and children on choices also is recommended.
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