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How much baby clothing do you need? An introduction to layette

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One of the universal delights of a new baby on the way is all of the teeny, adorable outfits: sweet little baby hats, miniature baby booties, darling little footies, and itty-bitty bodysuits. The only problem is, all of your relatives and other loved ones are also thinking precisely the same thing: “Oh boy! I get to buy CUTE TINY CLOTHES!” And suddenly, your baby has an even bigger wardrobe than you do, but you can’t find  the one item you need when you need it. So, as with all baby shopping missions, it pays to be strategic when you’re looking for baby clothing.

Let’s start with the basics. Think of it as a single drawer full of clothing (the traditional word “layette” comes from the French for “little drawer”), with the essentials for the first few months. Our Ultimate Baby Registry Checklist lists the following must-haves for baby’s arrival:

  • Bodysuits/onesies (5+): These one-piece items are a lot like a teeshirt, except they extend downward and close around the crotch with snaps or velcro (letting you easily open them up to change diapers). They tend to have a distinctive neckline, made to widen to fit over a wiggly baby’s head, but also to allow you to slide the whole thing down if there’s a particularly dire diaper disaster. You can watch a very charming Aussie mom explain and demonstrate the utility of that unusual neckline here. (Another fun fact: the word “onesie” is trademarked by Gerber, which is why you’ll mostly find them called “bodysuits” here and elsewhere.)
  • Footies (5+): These are bedtime essentials because for the first year, it’s unsafe for your baby to sleep with pillows or blankets, so you need to dress her for warmth. You can choose one-piece sleepers with or without feet; if she’s a summer baby, you might want to go with something a little cooler. Long gowns that close at the bottom are also good for this purpose; some will have mittens to keep her from scratching her face with her sharp baby-nails. Keep in mind also that you’re probably going to want to swaddle your newborn to put her to sleep, so adjust the layers under the swaddle accordingly.
  • Socks (10+) and Hats (4): Babies get cold easily, so keep little feet and little heads covered. Summer babes will also need sun hats – their skin is extra vulnerable to sunburn, and clothing is the safest way to protect kids under 6 months of age, before they’re ready to start wearing sunscreen.

If your baby is arriving in the winter, jackets and sweaters will also be useful, but keep in mind that items like snowsuits are usually outgrown at tremendous speed, so a really good stroller footmuff will last you longer. A car seat cover serves the same function in the car or if you’re strolling with your car seat clicked onto the stroller. Both items will spare you stuffing a howling baby’s arms into tight sleeves, or attempting to un-stuff her if she gets too warm (in the latter case, you can just unzip the front of the footmuff or cover a bit for ventilation).

Investopedia offers the following additional great tips for buying baby clothing:

  • Do minimal buying in advance – both your baby’s initial size and her rate of growth are unpredictable. You may find, as Amalah did, that your first baby is a giant who can’t fit into newborn sizes at all, but that your second baby is swimming in 0-3 month clothing. So, we’re serious about the minimum numbers above, especially if you’re able to wash laundry every day. We guarantee that your baby doesn’t mind wearing the same thing all the time.
  • Onesies are quite forgiving when it comes to size – babies can often wear them in a larger size for a while until they grow into it, you can cut off the sleeves to adapt them to a warmer season, and you can even cut off the bottom to create a teeshirt.
  • Don’t buy your own baby clothing selections until after you’re done getting gifts! Remember what I said above about how nobody can resist buying cute baby clothing? You’re going to get quite a few items you didn’t ask for at the shower.
  • Hand-me-downs and used items are great budget stretchers, especially when you keep in mind that babies only fit into a given size briefly and many outfits you find will be very lightly used (and possibly completely unworn). And YES, you can buy used cloth diapers! It may sound weird but it’s very practical.

Finally: it’s a good idea to come up with a baby clothing organizing strategy in advance and stick to it. There are a lot of great ideas in this roundup at One Crazy House – I particularly love the shoe organizer idea, since it makes it so easy to see what you have! Really, over-the-door shoe organizers are useful for EVERYTHING, and I’m a big booster for ‘em (I use one to keep my vast collection of leggings organized).

Do you have any additional layette tips to share? Add them in the comments!

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