On [Retail] Clothes for Boys

Jasper in Heather Ross Linen Shirt
Jasper wearing the lone woven shirt he will tolerate

(Yes, I am a bad blogger. A blogger who needs flogging. Sorry. There’s been a huge pile of crap between now and the last post – most good and fine, and most recently quite awful.)

I spend a lot of time looking at a lot of brands of children’s clothing, and I almost never look at the girls’ side – I have only boys, for one thing, but for another – frankly, boys’ clothing seems a far better barometer for the level of talent/innovation/whatever a line has. It can be difficult to make a truly amazing dress, certainly, but it definitely seems like tons of children’s designers let prints, ruffles, and assorted “stuff” do the work for them.

Clothes for boys require restraint. There are a few designers, admittedly, whose clothing I love (like Tulip & Nettle, and sometimes Bobo Choses, though I’m not as hot on them as many are) but would never ever buy – because I wouldn’t make my poor kid wear knickers and a poet shirt to school. Even a Montessori school.

Also, once past a certain age (2? 4? I have no idea. I didn’t care about clothes when I was little, myself) girls seem to take serious interest in what they’re wearing. Many or most boys care about how things feel a lot more than how they look. (Although my son would prefer to be dressed in head-to-toe neon orange at all times.)

This is not just my – sensitive-to-a-fault, sure – kid. I know many, many mothers who say the same things. This is what I find to be true for our boy clothing needs (please note that “rugged” is present but not that high up on the list, actually) –

Number 1. It MUST BE KNIT.

My son has a couple of pairs of woven pants that I can sometimes bribe, cajole, threaten, or otherwise jam on him, but he would REALLY prefer not to wear them. He has one button-down linen shirt I made him that he will wear without a fuss, though I’m not sure why.

Most of the kid pants I see – even for babies! Why would I put a baby in denim? – are woven. My kid, and many other kids his age, refuse twill, denim, corduroy – basically everything out of which you are making pants. This forces parents into Old Navy for ugly sale sweatpants with giant numbers and branding on them. Tea has great French terry cargo pants, Mini Boden has some nice ones, and there are some highly idiosyncratic knit pants out there for boys, but those are very expensive. It’s practically a wasteland between Circo and Tea/Boden.

Designers! Give us decent knit pants, for around $15 – $30 (definitely no more than $30/pair. That’s a LOT.) I bet if you think real hard on it, you can even make them attractive!

Number 2. Illustrations are not that big a deal. Cut it out.

Even Tea and Boden are guilty here. Parents of boys get: 500,000 t-shirts with assorted robots, monsters, animals, and rock-and-roll-related devices on them. Whatever whatever at this point. If you go and get one or two (and I would stick to that number, seriously) really, really, really great, super-interesting illustrators (of which there are MANY), fine, give us a few super-cool graphic tees. But you know what? We have them. We have graphic tees coming out of our ears. We have them expensive and we have them – sometimes nearly as attractively – super-cheap. We have them from indies in Brooklyn (umpteen thousand of them) and we have them from Target.

Opening up a catalog or looking at an online shop and seeing nothing but fifty graphic tees – no matter how super-dupes cool they are – is disheartening and annoying.

Number 3. Only the children of celebrities want to wear skinny jeans

And probably not even them but they have a lot of paid staffpersons around to feed them candy until they are back home

Number 4. Make most of your shirts long-sleeve, knit Henley-style or similar collarless shirts.

If you want to show variation, go here. This is what we need more than anything. Plain short-sleeve t-shirts are a dime a dozen and most parents I know will not spend a lot of money on them, so again – unless you have something really killer there, you’re probably just going to wind up with a lot of inventory.

Boys need long-sleeve, comfortable, big-enough-to-go-over-an-undershirt, knit shirts for a huge chunk of the year in a lot of this country. Make them striped, make them buttoned, give one or two a collar but mostly not because they are annoying, make them not pique for the most part – interlock or jersey, fine – make a few with illustrations, make two dozen color variations, and we will buy them.

I do not need another plaid button down (basically ever.) My kid hates them, they don’t go with anything because he won’t wear jeans, and if I did want them I could get them for $3 at consignment. If you absolutely just simply must have one in your lookbook then so be it – at least make it a soft flannel instead of rough shirting cotton.

Number 5. Fashion-interested parents of boys become attuned to subtleties.

This is something you can capitalize on! We don’t get ruffles or ribbons or tiers or trims to distract us, so we become preternaturally attuned to minor differences in tone and color. We notice stitching, pocket placement, welts, and yokes. We learn what our boys prefer and we look for variations on that theme.

If you are used to making clothes for girls, you might feel like you are just making the same pair of pants with minor variations from season to season – but that is fine! If you develop a couple of really really solid boy pants and shirts for your company, yes, yes, go ahead and continue producing them in almost exactly the same fashion from year to year! Absolutely make them in 12 different colors, please, do! Yes, put cargo pockets on some pants and only hip pockets on others, and slap a knee patch on for fall or whatever. Make 14 different sturdy knit Henleys (only one or two with a graphic) and I bet you will sell them.

We LIKE solid, go-to pants and shirts. We LIKE seeing your colors and fabrics and details and we will notice them and also we will buy a lot of them if we like them and they are reasonably priced.

Number 6. Will somebody please start making decent, reasonably-priced socks for boys?

We need socks that are: not thick. Not as long as tube socks but not the wee anklets many stores sell. Preferably minus giant seams at the toe. I can get socks like these for grown-ups anywhere – why do they not exist for kids? Etiquette comes closest that I’ve found but they are still not long enough and have big seams. Also they are very expensive and shrink a ton.

Number 7. Sure, rugged, yeah.

I mean, don’t make clothes that fall apart. Were you going to do that? I hope not. Reinforcing the knee is fine but I have no problem accepting that a boy in routine daily life is probably going to wear down a knee or two, so don’t go bananas or anything.

Now, obviously there are boys out there who don’t care if their pants are knit or not, and I’m sure there are one or two who are honestly perfectly happy in skinny jeans (maybe they stand a lot), but what I know for sure is that when I look at the clearance sections? It’s the twill. The knit pants? Are always sold out. I could get fourteen designer button-downs at 60% off but I will never find the striped Henley there. And we all have our limits on the graphic tees, for the love of Pete.