Christmas dress dilemma

By Mir
December 12, 2007

The lovely Susan writes:

I love your site because I hate shopping and you basically do it for me!

I’ve got a problem I need help with. My 4-year-old daughter has nothing to wear on Christmas day. I cannot find a simple, holiday dress for her. I know – I’m waiting until the last minute. Still, what is the deal? We don’t like frilly, tulle-y, satiny things around here. We like plain and simple, but pretty. Her dress last year came from Land’s End and it was just a plain, red, velvety dress – tank-like at the top, to the shins with a princess waist. They’ve let me down this year, though, as they have nothing we like. I have found one or two possibles, but they’re way expensive – especially for a one- or two-time wear.

Can you help???

(I just realized while typing this that I’ve landed my dream job—I shop for other people. It’s always fun to come to work, if you’re me!) Anyway, yes! Yes, Susan, I think I can help.

Here’s the thing about cute stuff for girls between the toddler sizes and, say, junior sizes: Bring your blood pressure medication. I mean, we all sat around, when everyone was having babies, and talked about how much fun it is to dress little girls. So much better than shopping for a boy! So many choices!

Once your daughter grows larger than about a 3T, the choices quickly become skanky and skankier. And the prices are ridiculous. It turns out that many of us are not willing to spend more money on our preschoolers’ clothes than we spend on our own clothes. Go figure!

I find holiday clothing a particularly good illustration of this problem. The choices are generally either too grown-up, too expensive, or both. And—I’ll just apologize to people who like little girls in black, right now—the proliferation of black as a suitable color for toddlerwear just weirds me out. They are children. They don’t need anything slimming or swanky, so why not let them enjoy some color?

[Aside: My daughter is nearly 10 and I just this season let her get a black velvet dress. She was beside herself with joy to have the black embargo lifted, finally.]

Ahem. Sorry about that—I tend to go off on this subject.

My overall suggestion for you, Susan, is that you scope out any local thrift or consignment stores you may have in your area. One of the really nice things about buying second-hand (aside from the price, of course!) is that often you’ll find the older styles of stuff, which—to me, at least—are often vastly preferable. Especially with something like a fancy outfit, which probably wasn’t worn much, you’re likely to find something in great condition on the cheap.

Susan is correct, though, that the usual haunts were a disappointment this year. I checked Lands’ End, LL Bean, and The Children’s Place—three of my go-to locations—and found nothing I liked. How depressing. The one place I often frequent that I did see a few possibilities was Target, though even there I suspect many of the choices will be too frou-frou for what Susan is seeking. Also look at Kohls in the girls’ dresses—I see a few Youngland and Sophie Rose brand dresses that I think you might like, all under $20.

And here are two specific suggestions, since you like it when I shop for you, and maybe one of them will tickle your fancy.

If casual is okay, the best bargain I found is this snowflake velour dress at Crazy8. It’s marked down to $14.99 and they offer free shipping. It’s not very dressy, but she can also wear it all winter long and the price is certainly right.

My favorite find was at the big Hanna Andersson Sale, which I have been avoiding because I love Hanna Andersson so deeply that I will spend money I shouldn’t, there. Anyway, their little red dress is simple but gorgeous, and it’s currently half-price at $24. I’ll have you know that I generally consider $24 more than I would spend on such an item, but I make an exception for Hanna items because—if you wanted to—you could buy that dress, use it this Christmas, and then turn around and sell it on eBay for what you paid, next year. Seriously. Hannas hold their value like crazy, so I do use that to justify spending a little more, sometimes. Just something to consider.

Good luck, Susan! Please do tell me what you end up getting!


  1. I have a 4 and 1yo daughter and they will be wearing white sweater dresses this Christmas, with white holiday tights adorned with silver patterns. One in red dress shoes and the other silver. Got my dresses at Childrens Place, but I seen they have them at Old Navy as well. Anyhow, just my two cents, simple and Accessorize!

  2. I totally agree about Hanna — that’s where the 3 beauties got their holiday dresses from this year, and at sale prices. Also, I have given up on “holiday” dresses, because I am too cheap — OK, sorry, too practical, to pay any money at all for a dress that will be worn just a few times. So, I chose very cute versions of the “it’s a day dress/it’s a play dress”, which the girls will wear for the holidays while they’re still brand new and fresh and then for the rest of the year (they wash like a dream, too.) I also had great luck this year at the Rugged Bear, where I got some things for under the tree. Rugged Bear has great tights, comparable to Land’s End and Hanna’s. I’m not one for consignment or thrift shops, though. For one thing, shopping there means you have to leave the house…

  3. I sooooooooo love Hanna Andersson. Oh, how I love her (and her clothes.) I just bought my 4 year-old a playdress for NEXT year, because it was on sale and, well, you just have to. And this year she still fits into the red playdress I bought her 2 YEARS ago, and the blue and purple ones I bought her last year. Two of those, I got on ebay, one used, one new. They hold their value like crazy, but they also last forever. Buy slightly big and you may just have a dress for 3-4 years.

  4. Thanks! I am having NO luck with Christmas dresses for my 3 and 4 year old this year. Or any dresses for that matter. Why don’t they make cute dresses for preschoolers!?!?!?

  5. I would also try buying just after easter for the following year’s Christmas. At least where I am at the temps are the same and so the stores design them as such. Granted I have boys so its all the same. That is the time of year that I’ve found the cheapest dress outfit sets. Especially at JC Penny.

  6. If you buy the Hanna and then sell it on eBay, I will be bidding!

  7. Gymboree (on sale) can have good dresses, too. Right now they have a “Santa Dress” (looks a lot like the Hanna dress to me!) for $18.79. They have other less Christmas-ey dresses for even less.

  8. Oh, Mir, how I love thee…

    Thank you so much! I just got off the Crazy8 website, of which I was not aware. I went with the red velour snowflake. My girl is a tomboy, so casual is good! I also bought two shirts for SIX BUCKS each!!!

    Now, what can you do about turning the industry away from skank before my daughter gets any older?

  9. I found some cute dresses on

    Like this one or this one or this one

    I love this one for 19.99: .

    If she can wear a size 5, this one is adorable:

    They have some other really pretty ones if you are willing to spend more than 25.00.

  10. Ahhh, Mir, did you realize the bucket of worms you were opening??? I lurve Hanna Andersen and do not understand why there is not a Daydress/playdress in my size w/matching leggings no less. (I suppose I understand it, but hey, I Don’t have to look at me.)

    We have an older cousin who we get lots of hand me downs from and since I have two daughters I can now warrant the cost of some of these things as I will get 2x the wear (3 if it came from the cousin and now 4 cause my BFF just had a girl in Oct.) May I also suggest the neighborhood coop where everyone brings their stuff in and swaps it. Especially for holiday/dressy stuff it’s a good way to get lots of wear out of barely worn stuff. Don’t have a group in your neighborhood to do this with? Get the parents in the class in on it.

    You could make it a Mom’s Nite Out, drink wine & swap clothes. Kind of like going to a knitting club w/out knitting 😉

  11. I got my twins’ Christmas dresses at Gymboree on sale a few months ago. Both cotton jersey, but one was green with metallic gold braiding and the other red with sequins. So cute, and no skank factor, and they’re super comfy– I let them wear them with leggings to dress them down. Also, I sold two Hannah dresses on ebay and got $54 bucks for them!

  12. Oops, I don’t mean red with sequins as in pasties, I mean embroidered flowers with sequins and beads sewn onto them. Sheesh! What kind of a mother do you think I am?

  13. Um, this is going to sound strange, but I bought my daughters holiday dress at Target. It’s a lovely black velvet with a simple black ribbon tie in the back. And I only spent around $20.

  14. Hanna is AWESOME too. But, I also suggest EBay, I scored two smocked dresses for CHEAP!!

  15. This would be my dream job too – do you need an assistant, beautiful Mir???

  16. I’ll speak up for the thrift shops and consignment shops on holiday dresses, if you want something specifically for Christmas. (Maybe not on Dec 12, but the rest of the year, holiday dress items are always available and always look unworn.)

    They’re also a great item to pick up cheap at the thrift shop, save, and resell to the consignment/upscale used stores at a profit in the fall.

    (and I am now in love with Hannah dresses– luckily, nothing that I like is available in my daughter’s 2t-3t sizes)

  17. A little (ok a lot) off subject but a point of confusion to me as the mom of 2 boys – why are almost all the little girl holiday dresses I see SLEEVELESS? Ok, if you live in GA (Hi Mir!) I guess I can see wanting a sleeveless pretty dress for holiday gatherings. But um…if you live in the midwest like me (where we are currently coated in over 2 inches of ice with an equal amount of snow on the way) I just don’t get it. Makes me glad my boys can stay toasty warm in chinos and sweaters at our holiday parties!

  18. You’re the only other person I’ve ever heard who understands about children wearing black.

    To give you an idea of how I was raised — when I was in the high school orchestra, we had to have long, black formal dresses. I had never worn black before, and my mother was not intrigued with the idea even then — at 15. Because we couldn’t find anything she felt was “suitable” enough, she ended up sewing my dress – -making sure it had a sweet, innocent-looking princess neckline with enough skin showing so that the black wasn’t right up against my face. (Because if it had been? Totally inappropriate for a “sweet, young girl!”)

    Anyway – just had to share. 🙂

  19. When my daughter was nearly four I took smocking lessons just so I wouldn’t have to buy skanky clothes for her. Now I have a closet full of little dresses for her daughter some day. The real question is, where does the mother of a young teen find girl clothes which aren’t skanky? NO WAY will she wear home mades anymore.

  20. Here is what I do not get – why, when the playdress/daydress and the matching leggings go on sale, is it impossible to get a set in the same size? Who are these people not buying them together, or buying ones that completely don’t match? This happens for every sale!

    I like black on my daughter (14 mos) but in small quantities. She has a long sleeved black tshirt from Tea Collection that looks so awesome with jeans and little pink sneakers, and she also has a black velour hoodie from Target that I just love. I wish they’d make some more simple black clothes for girls – some days I get really tired of mice and pandas and pink.

  21. Oops! I meant “a set in the same color.” Colors that have dresses available in the four biggest sizes have no leggings left, and vice versa! I guess I didn’t realize so many people bought them on their own.

  22. Here is a thought…one which I do…I buy a nice sweater set and a skirt. I am not a fan of dresses in the winter…They may look “cute” in dresses but their little legs will freeze in the upnorth country. The skirt gets traded for pants the rest of the winter season and then the skirt gets used again for Easter! =) or anything else.

  23. Last year’s holiday dress… a red santa style… Target $12.
    Last year’s Easter dress…. a pink print sundress… Costco $16.
    This year’s holiday dress… red velvety with snowflakes… ShopKo $9.

    We are all about comfort and re-wearability around here.

  24. I am a grandmother on a budget and I just found Hannah this year and I love it. Organic onsies and gorgeous tsweater and the highest quality and the lowest costs! I got a sweater for $ 14.00 and its regularly $28.00 but worth far more! You can’t go wrong with this one… Enjoy your holiday with your family

  25. For Hanna sets, after 2 years I *finally* learned to buy AS SOON AS the daydress & leggings go on sale. They never go lower than $24-$26, so there’s no point in waiting for them to go lower. BUY, BUY, BUY.

  26. I bought this year’s holiday dress and next years at last years Hanna post-holiday sale. (Little Red Dress went down to 12.00!)

    Also I have to recommend if there is one in your area.

    You can sell your old clothes and buy new ones at the same time which helps with storage. Tons of holiday dresses and Halloween costumes at the fall sale.

  27. I have to brag, and where else can I brag but here. Even though no one will read it. I just came home from the Amvets thrift store with a Jona Michelle dress that I purchased for $1.50. It was half off day on clothing.

    Blue velvet bodice with long sleeves, pretty little detail bows at the waistline and a lovely light blue shimmery skirt with tiny blue and white flowers on it. It’s perfect for my little girl and will take us through the 3 parties this week quite well as it’s easy care also.

    So, what Mir said about thrift stores? It’s true.

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