Consumer Choices Selecting clothes for toddlers, ages 1 to 3

Janis Stone
Textiles and Clothing Extension Specialist
Iowa State University

Copyright Access Information

Toddlers need clothes that will keep up with them in their active

Toddlers learn to talk, walk, and develop self-awareness between
the ages of one and three. Clothing helps please the important
people in a toddler's life, and dressing is a skill to conquer.

How toddlers look

As toddlers grow, their body proportions change. The body grows
comparatively more to fit the head, but the body remains broad
compared to its length. The shoulders are narrow and sloping;
hands and feet grow fast. A child may gain about 10 pounds and
grow 9 inches taller during the two-year period. Girls may be
slightly shorter and weigh less than boys.

Remember the toddler's physique when choosing clothing:

  • The neck is still short. Look for rib knit necklines
    or single-thickness collars that lie flat.
  • The shoulders are sloping. Shoulder straps will fall
    down unless crossed in back or anchored together.
  • Diapers are still worn. Pants need fullness in the
    seat. Crotch openings make changing easier.
  • Toilet training is beginning. Pull down styles of
    pants with elastic waists will help both boys and girls learn
    to manage this important task.
  • The toddler is still crawling. Crotch length of pants
    should be long enough not to bind.

A toddler needs clothes that fit. Clothes that are too big hinder
movement and play. Clothes that are too big also can become caught
on play equipment and lead to injury. Table 1 shows growth features
you can look for in clothing.

Table 1. Growth features in clothing

 Fabrics that stretch
 Two-piece outfits
 Long tails on blouses and shirts
 Raglan, kimono, or set-in sleeves with
deep-cut armholes
 Adjustable shoulder straps
 Garments without waistlines
 Cuff elastic that doesn't bind

Also remember these tips.


  • Don't plan to save money by buying clothing on sale for the
    next season. Your child may not be the right size for that clothing
    when the season arrives.
  • A large, varied wardrobe is not important to a toddler. Having
    just a few items and buying as size needs change will help keep
    clothing costs down.

How toddlers think and feel

Developing self-awareness

As a toddler, your child will begin to recognize himself or
herself in the mirror or in photographs. He or she is developing
self-awareness – becoming a separate person from you. When toddlers
approach their second birthday they will use their own name to
talk about themselves. At about age three they start using pronouns
to refer to themselves.

As your child becomes aware of himself or herself as a separate
person, he or she also develops an interest in clothing. Your
toddler learns that his or her appearance can cause people to
respond in a certain way. Your toddler will notice if you are
pleased when he or she is dressed up for a birthday party or unhappy
about clothes getting dirty.

Dealing with fears

Toddlers may develop fears and will need your help to understand
and dissolve them. They may be afraid of certain people, noises
such as thunder, lightening, strange places, the dark, animals,
or taking a bath. Toddlers are not all alike, and they may or
may not experience these common fears. But the fears they experience
are real to them.

You can help make your child feel secure. Physical security grows
when warm, dry, well-fitting clothing and personal care are provided.
A favorite blanket or T-shirt may help the child develop emotional

Showing strong reactions

One- and two-year-olds often begin to express strong emotional
reactions – either positive or negative – to events, objects,
or decisions. For example, a child might have a temper tantrum
if told to wear a particular outfit.

Remember that each child is different and may require different
handling during such tantrums. One method is to ignore the tantrums
because your child will outgrow them in time.

Showing independence

A toddler's self-awareness is one of the first signs of developing
independence. His or her favorite word often is “no.”
Fortunately, this negative stage doesn't last long. By the second
birthday a toddler will be learning to talk, be proud of personal
accomplishments, and seek approval for actions.

Toddlers can express feelings and independence through clothing
choices. You can provide two outfits that are suitable for the
weather and occasion and let your toddler choose which to wear.

Your child may say “me do it.” As thinking skills increase,
toddlers show interest and ability in solving mental problems.
Children need to learn to dress themselves. You can provide clothing
that is easy to put on and take off; such clothing will be helpful
during toilet learning.

During toilet learning, accidents will happen. To help your child
become independent, provide everything needed to take care of
the problems, such as clean underwear, clothing, and washcloths.

Your toddler will feel great satisfaction in the ability to undress
and dress. The first step of undressing often is removing shoes,
socks, hats, coats, and mittens. By beginning the process, your
toddler is showing independence. Don't be surprised when, at about
age two, your toddler undresses completely. Children like appearing
nude and might express independence this way when you least expect
it. But remember that undressing/dressing is a skill that will
take a while to perfect.

What toddlers can do


Your toddler gradually will become more cooperative during
dressing and learn to extend legs and arms to help put on coats
and pants. Between 19 and 24 months of age, your child will be
quite cooperative. At age two, he or she usually will be able
to pull on simple clothing. During the next year, toddlers become
fairly skilled dressers, asking for occasional help. But, this
ability to dress does not always mean your child will dress accurately
or want to do it all the time. Clothes may be put on backwards
and shoes on the wrong feet.

While your child is learning to dress, use a teamwork approach
so he or she does not get discouraged. Toddlers often want to
carry out a task that may be impossible for them to complete.
They should be able to save face and have successful experiences.
You soon will learn the dressing tasks that frustrate your child.
But you can prevent some of these situations. For example, if
your child can't take off overalls because of the buttons unbutton
the overalls first and then let your child do the rest.

Shirts with expandable necks, pants with elastic waists, socks,
underpants, and undershirts are clothes your child may find easy
to put on. Large buttons, grippers, or zippers with large tabs
(not separating zippers) are easiest for small hands to manage.

Another way to help make dressing easier for your toddler is to
lay clothes out in the order they are to be put on. Face each
item in the direction that it will first be placed on the body.

A toddler may not be able to tell the back from the front. You
can teach your child to remember the “doggie” design
goes in front, for example. Or, you can mark clothing with a dot
or X on the back and teach your child where it goes.

Remember that children differ in their growth patterns. Some may
master an activity, such as dressing, earlier or later than developmental
charts indicate. A six-month range of difference in abilities
is common.

In motion

Toddlers are always on the move. They are learning to coordinate
their large muscles to run, walk up stairs, jump, and climb. They
also are refining the use of their small muscles as they build,
grasp, and scribble.

Clothes must allow for movement and protect knees, shins, and
elbows from abrasions from falls. Choose pants or overalls that
have extra padding in the knee area. Long-sleeve shirts or blouses
(when possible) can protect elbows.

Check the size of your child's clothing often. Clothing that is
too small or too large can restrict your child's movement and
be uncomfortable.


Toddlers are learning to talk and will imitate sounds. They
understand directions quite well. The vocabulary range for ages
one and two is three to 900 words. Toddlers use two- to three-word
phrases. Their language finally may be understood by others outside
your family.

By teaching your child to name clothing items, their colors, and
the part of the body they are worn on, you help increase his or
her vocabulary. Your child can learn to follow directions as you
give suggestions during dressing. For example, tell your child
to put the head through the T-shirt first, next place each arm
in an armhole, and then pull the T-shirt down over the body.

The younger the child, the shorter the direction should be. Explain
one step at a time.


Toddlers don't understand that they can be hurt by things in
their near environment. They still like to explore by putting
things in their mouths. Check clothing fasteners to be sure they
can't come off to get swallowed or cause choking. Clothes should
fit close to the body so that they don't interfere with a child's
movement or cause him or her to trip and fall. Avoid drawstrings
or long ties that can trail behind and get caught. Avoid safety
pins as temporary fasteners.

When shopping, keep an eye on your toddler at all times and never
let toddlers wander near an escalator.

Flame-resistant clothing

Since your toddler always is on the move, consider how to protect
him or her from fire. In today's homes, candles, playing with
matches, and lighted cigarettes can cause clothing fires. Nearly
all daytime clothes will burn easily if ignited.

Burns are among the most painful injuries. Moreover, burns involving
clothing are usually deeper than other burn injuries and affect
a larger area of skin surface.

Children's sleepwear (sizes 0-14) is required by law to be flame
resistant and meet flammability standards. However, even these
flame-resistant or flame-retardant fabrics will burn, but they
don't catch on fire as easily and will burn more slowly so you
have a chance to put out the fire. To maintain the clothing's
flame resistance, launder with a phosphate or heavy-duty liquid
detergent and rinse well.

Clothes that are considered fire hazards include:

  • loose-fitting styles;
  • full, loose sleeves, ties and sashes;
  • ruffles; and
  • fuzzy, airy fabrics.

Clothes that reduce chances of catching fire include items

  • fit close to the body,
  • have narrow sleeves with cuffs, and
  • are constructed of tightly woven or knitted fabric.

When your toddler can understand simple instructions, teach
him or her what to do if clothes catch fire:

stop – don't run!
drop to the ground, and
roll over and over to smother the fire.

How toddlers play

Learning through play

Children play by exploring the world around them. Toddlers
take play very seriously and usually are fully absorbed in play.
However, they play alone or alongside other children, not with
them in an interactive way. They find it hard to share things,
but they like to watch older children play.

Your child will enjoy nesting toys, blocks, books, and crayons.
Household items also will interest your child. Make sure any household
items you give to your child are safe.

Toddlers love to imitate tasks their parents do in the home. One
favorite is imitating housework, beginning with dusting. Eventually,
with some guidance, your child will be able to participate in
tasks such as dusting, mopping, sweeping, and putting away groceries.
He or she may even attempt a kitchen activity a parent or sibling
is doing. Guide your child by helping and giving him or her a
chance to work along with you.

Practical play clothes include coveralls, slacks, overalls, shirts,
and knit tops. Coveralls look neat, but may be quickly outgrown.
Shorts and sun suits are practical for warmer weather.

Wear and tear

Toddlers live an active life and this can be very hard on their
clothing. Clothes with the following characteristics may be easier
for you to care for:


  • machine washable – to remove food spills and soil easily;
  • durable to withstand abrasion from climbing, crawling, and
  • jersey t-shirt knits that stretch for comfort;
  • sweatshirt fleece for warmth and softness in cool weather;
  • additional fabrics that need no ironing, such as seersucker,
    corduroy, terry cloth, quilted fabrics, and stone-washed denims;
  • fabrics with printed patterns that show soil less than plain-colored
    ones: and
  • smooth-textured nylon, polyester, or cotton/polyester blend
    outerwear which tends to be water repellent to resist rain or



Clothing construction features that provide durability are:


  • seams sewn with small stitches, flat and pliable;
  • finished seam and hem edges;
  • satin-stitch reinforcement at points of strain such as ends
    of zippers and pockets.



Above all, children want clothing that is comfortable and easy
to get on and off. Selecting a few clothes that are easy care
and that will take hard wear will let your child enjoy active
play and growing independence safely.


National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the
National Extension Service Children Youth and Family Educational
Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials
in whole or in part for educational purposes only(not for profit
beyond the cost of reproduction) provided that the author and
Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is included:

Reprinted with permission from National Network for Child Care
Stone, J. (1994). Consumer choices series, Selecting clothes for
toddlers, ages 1 to 3. [Pm 1105]. Ames, IA: Iowa State University

Any additions or changes to these materials must be preapproved
by the author.

Extension Distribution Center
119 Printing and Publications Bldg.
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011
PHONE:: (515) 294-5247
FAX:: (515) 294-2945

Jan Stone
1055 LeBaron Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011

FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Print – 4 pages
Level 2 – Iowa State University Extension
ENTRY DATE:: June 1998
NOTE:: Revised from a previous publication by Tabitha Aanonson,
former extension home economist; Barb Abbott, extension communication
specialist; Rae Reilly, former extension specialist, textiles
and clothing; and Randy Weigel, former human development specialist.



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