How to dress well with children

How To Dress Well With Children

As a men’s style writer with three kids, I know how hard it can be to dress well when you have young children.  As a father, your interest in clothing and style hasn’t changed, but the demands of parenting require some creative adaption regarding your wardrobe. If you’re a father of young children, your little one’s needs take priority over a new blazer, a pair of oxfords or a signet ring, but that doesn’t mean you have to switch to sweats until your kids are in junior high.

We all know that eBay is an excellent place to find great deals on clothing that would otherwise be ridiculously expensive for the average gentleman. Between eBay, Craigslist, flea markets and thrift stores, there is no shortage of apparel for the sartorially-savvy man. So what differentiates the average man on a low budget from a father? The short answer is boogers.

The average toddler gets around seven colds a year, and they last an average of three weeks. You do the math. That means that on any given day, a parent is dealing with the side effects of an illness in addition to mealtime messes, diaper duty, the occasional discovery of a jar of shaving cream.

The trick is keeping away from the fingers if you want to stay clean

The trick is keeping away from the fingers if you want to stay clean

So how can you maintain a wardrobe on a budget with kids and avoid ruining clothes that not even a dry cleaner will touch? From one father to another, here are some tips and tricks.

Baby covered in spaghetti

Baby covered in spaghetti

Budget Finds

By now, most of you know the key ways to find a wardrobe for less.  Where to buy clothes, how to find good deals and what to look for from a quality perspective. Instead, in this article, we’re going to focus on what items to buy, how to keep them clean and how to change a diaper in a bow tie.

The Essentials

In most cases, when we refer to essentials we’re talking the gray suit, the navy blazer, the black captoe oxfords. When it comes to the dad’s wardrobe, it’s more about the material than anything. A father is nothing short of a jungle gym. If you’re anything like me, you have clothes you wear in the house and ones you wear outside. The house clothes are just a down-sized version of the full outfit. Assuming you enjoy wearing business attire, here’s how you can keep your wardrobe intact and clean.

1. Buy Wrinkle Resistant Dress Shirts

Let’s face it; you don’t have a lot of time to spend ironing and steaming your shirts. Buying shirts that resist wrinkles more than others is a must when you’re being tugged in every direction. So, buying Super 80’s fabric will be better than a Super 140’s because higher count cotton wrinkles more easily.

Why not just buy Non-Iron Shirts you might ask? Well, the problem with these coatings is a. that they are often treated with formaldehyde which is nothing you want on your skin and b. it doesn’t last much more than 20 washes. The Swedish shirt manufacturer Eton developed a process that is green / organic and lasts much longer but their shirts cost north of $250 off-the-rack.

A father is just another word for jungle gym

A father is just another word for jungle gym

2. Bow Ties Last Longer Than Neck Ties

A necktie is to a child what a piece of string is to a cat. For some reason, they think it’s their personal play toy. If you manage to luck out, and they don’t try to grab hold of your tie, rest assured that at some point it will appeal to them as a perfect alternative to a napkin when their chubby little cheeks are full of ketchup. Regardless of what they decide to do with it, anything that hangs from your neck will get touched, and we all know that ties are a lot more challenging to clean and repair than a shirt or pair of trousers. Bow ties and cravats are a perfect choice for the dandy dad. There is less fabric to take hold of; it’s not as easy to reach, and it’s a lot easier to keep away from grimy hands. If you’re not a fan of bow ties or cravats, put on your tie when you leave the house with the kids in the car. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you become adept at tying a tie using the visor mirror of your car.

3. Fabrics Make or Break the Bank

If you’re buying less expensive clothing because you’re on a budget, consider buying vintage instead of cheap. A good quality vintage wool jacket will last far longer than a new poly-blend one for the same price. The interlining will be sewn and therefore softer, and more breathable than a less expensive interlining. Shirts made from cotton will always clean easier, and pants made from wool are about the same. A quality natural material is often more durable and long-wearing than synthetics. When it comes to linen, you’ll learn quickly that it’s a disaster of wrinkles waiting to happen.

Messes happen and dads have to deal with it. A typical day in the Shapira household

Messes happen, and dads have to deal with it. A typical day in the Shapira household

4. Don’t Wear Jackets and Ties at Home

A shirt can be tossed in the wash, but a blazer or suit jacket needs to be dry-cleaned. Leave the jacket off until you’ve left the house to avoid hefty dry cleaning. Keep it in a garment bag and put it on as you leave, or simply leave your jackets at the office. While you’re at home, you can use the following techniques to keep your base layer clean, so you don’t have to change twice.

If that’s not enough to keep clean before heading out the door, considering saying your goodbyes before changing for the office. When you get home, take the first opportunity to change into less precious clothes.

Keeping Clothes Clean

If you’ve managed to only change once before leaving the house for work, you’re a superhero. Here are some tips to make sure you’re not changing again:

Mr. Rogers with his iconic sweater

Mr. Rogers with his iconic sweater

5. Wear Sweaters

There’s a reason that suburban dads are synonymous with sweater vests and cardigans. It’s because they provide a barrier between grimy fingers and clean cotton shirts. They also protect neckties, which is a bonus. Pick up a few quality, long-stape cotton or merino wool sweaters, because they will look nice even after you have washed them a number of times, whereas cheaper sweaters knitted of inferior, short-staple yarns will pill quickly and look terrible. A safe bet is always to have five or six in the rotation. Not only will they protect your clothing, but if someone suddenly comes knocking at your door, you can open it without having to worry you’re underdressed. A cardigan is a perfect solution because you can quickly remove it as you leave the house for work without ruining your hair or having to re-tuck your shirt. It’s perfectly okay to pull a Mr. Rogers and keep a few sweaters by the door. By quickly throwing one on, you can come home at the end of the day and immediately get on the floor with the kids without having to change or worry you might get dirty.

A chefs jacket keeps you clean during dinner and still looks good

A chefs jacket keeps you clean during dinner and still looks good

6. Cover Up at Meal Times

Anytime children eat, you will get dirty. It doesn’t matter what you serve. You can give them plain crackers and water, and somehow you’ll end up pulling caked soggy crackers out of their neck wrinkles. An apron is handy, but it just doesn’t cover enough surface area. Instead, hop online and buy yourself a chef’s jacket. They’re just as inexpensive as aprons, but they cover your entire upper body and arms. They also have a more masculine appeal, so you might even find yourself wearing it when dinner guests show up or when barbecuing for a crowd. The chef’s jacket will fit over your dress shirts and ties and prevent you from getting ketchup on the Charvet you just bought. It’s also white, so it can be bleached.

If you feel self-conscious buying yourself a chef’s jacket when you’re not a professional chef, get creative and suggest it as a father’s day present so you can shrug it off and tell people it was a gift from the kids. It’ll make you feel like super dad, and you look a lot cooler than you would in an apron.

Three little chefs enjoying in the kitchen making big mess. Litt

Three little chefs enjoying in the kitchen making big mess. Little girls making bread in the kitchen

7. Keep a Second Set of Clothes Handy

If you’ve seen the movie The Transporter, you probably remember the scene where he opens the trunk of his car and has a second identical suit in it. Copy that. At some point in your career as a parent, you will inevitably end up going out in public without realizing you’re wearing a special gift. A second outfit in the car or at the office can be a life saver. Or both. Stick with staple outfits that can be used in various scenarios and paired with clean items you’re already wearing. The navy blazer, a gray suit, a red tie, and a white dress shirt. It may be a little boring, but it’s clean.

This isnt real. No family wears this much white. Its an advert

This isn’t real. No family wears this much white.

8. Keep a Dry Cleaner and Tailor on Speed Dial

The tailor is pretty well mandatory for any gentleman, but maintaining a close relationship with a good dry cleaner means special treatment when you need it the most. Tipping well and show your appreciation can mean staying open late or taking a second stab at a stain just for you. Dads don’t have much time on their hands, so finding one that offers pick up and delivery is worth the search!


Hopefully, this primer on how to be a well-dressed dad gave you a little more insight and helped offer some unique suggestions. For many of us, it’s a matter of trial and error. The biggest thing is to maintain a barrier between your children and your clothing, but that doesn’t mean having to keep them at a distance. What are your parenting tips for dressing well?

Article Name
Dad Shirts & Clothing - How To Dress Well With Children
Tips and tricks from a dad and style writer on how to dress well with toddlers running amuck.
7 replies
  1. Frank Gadson says:

    Truly delightful article and certainly some wonderful helpful tips that remaining fashionable while handling children thanks!

  2. Brett says:

    When the weather allows- TWEED! And not the dainty stuff you find nowadays. I am talking about the five pound, vintage sports coat. My 19 month old seems to unwittingly enjoy spattering me with foodstuffs anytime I want to dress well, going back to his infancy when it would sometimes be nothing more than a bit of “spit-up” as we dropped him off at grandma’s for a night out. Nothing else in the closet stood has been as valuable. There will always be times when something really just needs a trip to the cleaners; however, when accidents happened with many an old, heavyweight tweed jacket, I could sit down with an old toothbrush and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and gently remove the “problem” (a tip I learned researching ways to clean the wool rug in the nursery). There’s a reason this stuff was once used for outdoor pursuits and sports

  3. YU says:

    It’s a truly relevant article for many of us and enjoyed reading the article. Great read as always.

  4. Richard says:

    I’m a consultant, so bow ties are out. A tie bar clipped low near my navel keeps the necktie away from little hands, especially while I’m kneeling and bending down. Kids also make you realize the value of old clothes. I keep things for much longer now. Getting thread bare, permanently stained, or slightly too small nowadays? No problem! Worn out oxford shirts, moth eaten sweaters, and threadbare slacks make great roll-on-the-floor clothes, and still look better than a t-shirt and jeans, IMO.

  5. John says:

    I’m certainly a fan of using sweaters anytime I think my shirt or tie may be in danger of getting messy. To me, it’s much easier to get ahold of a cheap sweater that looks nice to cover my good shirt and tie, as opposed to finding a cheap, disposable dress shirt that looks nice. Thanks for sharing.

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