Back-to-School Capsule Wardrobe for the Tween-ish Set

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My eldest, Vivi, is eight and a half and has never been a super “girly girl” when it comes to fashion. She ripped bows out of her hair as a baby. She hates anything tight or sequined (too itchy). She’s the reserved one, as opposed to her often pants-less, free-loving younger sister.

It’s becoming increasingly hard to find clothing that fits my rising 3rd grader’s sense of style (or that fits in general — she is quite tall for her age). She might be as tall as some 11-year-olds, but she isn’t ready for that kind of clothing. She’s not a little girl, but not yet a tween (where’s that Britney Spears remake?).

For The Tweens: A Fun Back-To-School Capsule Wardrobe

What are we calling that gray area between little kid and full-on hormonal tween danger zone? Pre-tweens? Let’s go with pre-tweens, because these 7-10ish-year-olds exist, and they need to be clothed. I don’t know about you, but my eldest is past the age of wanting all things unicorn. So, what do you buy for the inevitable back-to-school wardrobe that isn’t superheroes and sparkles, but also isn’t…whatever actual teens are wearing.

Here are some fun outfit pieces that we’re working with this school year…

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.

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1| Art Class Girls’ Slip Sleeveless Dress with T-Shirt

It sort of hurts my soul that the ’90s is considered “vintage,” but here we are. I am obsessed with this plaid slip dress with a t-shirt from Target. It is so fun and could easily be recreated with other dresses/t-shirt combos like this Abercrombie midi dress paired with a Britney Spears tee underneath.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source Target

2| PiccoliNY Pickle Bagel T-Shirt

Going back to school in August is strange. There’s a certain chill at night that lets you know that summer is winding down, but it’s also still pretty freaking hot during the day. Vivi is a bit of a furnace so lightweight, short-sleeve tops like this Pickle Bagel T-Shirt from PiccoliNY are perfect for my little foodie. It works on its own or under a cardigan or sweatshirt.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source Saks Fifth Ave

3| Abercrombie Tie-Dye Crew Neck Sweatshirt

Early morning walks to the bus stop definitely necessitate a sweatshirt around here. I like that this Abercrombie Tie-Dye Crew Neck Sweatshirt isn’t in your face tie-dye, but definitely has that groovy “I either came from a Grateful Dead Concert or Music Class” vibe. My kid isn’t a huge fan of sweatshirts with hoods, so this is perfect.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source Abercrombie

4| Nordstrom Kids’ Pleated Plaid Skirt

As if! This pleated plaid skirt is definitely Cher Horowitz approved. Vivi owns a similar skort that is sadly sold out, but to make this skirt work for school, just add some bike shorts underneath. Fashionable, but also playground-worthy.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source Nordstrom

5| DL1961 Premium Denim “Chloe” Denim Jeans with Raw-Edge Star Patches

Somehow my child pulverizes the “super tough we swear these won’t tear” leggings, so we need something a little more substantial. And now that those fine motor skills are working well enough for buttons and snaps, we’re ready for some real pants. I’m living out some childhood fantasy with these DL1961 Star Patch Jeans. I desperately wanted cool patch jeans growing up with things like “groovy” and “yin and yang signs” on them, but there was no internet shopping to order patches or YouTube to teach me how to iron them on my jeans, and I certainly wasn’t asking my overworked mother for help. This was before dial-up Internet, friends. Practically The Stone Age! If you are feeling adventurous, check out this pack of patches and upgrade your kids’ existing jeans for the school year.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source Neiman Marcus

6| The North Face Tote Pack

I’m always looking for backpacks that will last a few grades for each of my kids. This North Face Tote Pack comes in a few understated, but lovely solid colors, has room for #allthethings, includes a laptop slip and has a bike-light loop. It works for school or a weekend of camping (I’m assuming there are people that camp — I am not one of them). Or for a vacation. Let’s go with that.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source The North Face


7| Gap Kids Heart Tie-Dye Denim Jacket

It’s never too soon for baby’s first jean jacket. This Gap Kids Denim Jacket takes the basic formula and elevates it with a sweet tie-dye heart on the back. Unexpected and very cool.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source Gap

8| Kurt Geiger Girls’ Mini Lane Stripe Low-Top Sneakers

Kids’ footwear is the bane of my existence. It’s either light-up, sequined purgatory or far too plain. Vivi loved these Mini Lane Stripe Sneakers because they have some fun pops of color while being versatile enough to go with everything. OK, Vivi didn’t use the word versatile, but she did remark on their practicality like the good, first-born, Type-A Capricorn that she is. These are lace-ups, so if velcro is more comfortable for your child, here’s a fun sneaker I found by Vans.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source via Bloomingdales

9| Steve Madden Kids’ Jamulet Embellished Boot

Sneakers and boots tend to be my go-to for back-to-school shopping. Vivi isn’t quite ready for anything heeled, which makes these Steve Madden Embellished Boot an ideal flatish boot option for a kid nearing tweendom. It’s a neutral boot with fun embellishments. They remind me of the Karl Lagerfield Paris booties for adults.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source Nordstrom

10| Athleta Adjustable Everyday Masks

Masks have become the new socks in my household; they’re everywhere and nowhere. A 5-pack of solid color kids’ face masks is perfect for my kids; 2 for the backpack, 1 for the car, you get the picture. Plus, they’re adjustable!

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source Athleta

11| Art Class Moto Skinny Leggings

These Moto Leggings are tried and true in our household. They’re a bit thicker than your typical leggings, and I love the motto accents on the thighs. The olive green is also super on-trend for fall.

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
Image Source Target

So, what do you buy for a tween's back-to-school wardrobe that isn't superheroes & sparkles, but also isn't...whatever actual teens are wearing.
3rd Grade or Bust!

Jacket | Shirt | Skort (similar shorts) | Boots | Backpack

The pre-tween years are strange ones. They’re not quite in middle school, but also not the obvious bebes of elementary school. They’re not ready for the “juniors” section, but also wouldn’t be caught dead in a Frozen or Toy Story-themed shirt. Finding solid basics that are still fun and speak to their unique personalities is key. Now if I could only get her to regularly brush her hair…

x, Meredith

10 COMMENTS

  1. My kid is going into 5th grade and these are rough years for sure. I found out like 2 weeks ago that she now refuses to wear anything pink but coral is ok . Sheesh! We’ve been trying out a monthly rental service Everlasting Wardrobe and have enjoyed it quite a bit. She has her first few days of school outfits picked out which is a win! Your kiddo looks super cute btw!

  2. I love the Pickle Bagel tee. I don’t think I could convince my daughter to like it. My older daughter is 10 and super tall and skinny, she is not interested in anything too teen fashion style or anything too little kid. It has been very challenging to find things that fit her but are not too mature. She has a formula of leggings, t-shirt and sweatshirt. I like these moto leggings, I think I could convince her to get them.

    • It’s such a hard middle ground to find! The motto leggings are fab. A little something to them with the texture, but not like unicorns and hearts.

  3. I’m a mother of two sons and would LOVE some more clothing inspiration for boys. I have a tween and and 2nd grader and I feel totally lost on boy style these days. It would be great to see a back to school article for the boys!
    PS: I look forward to these emails daily. Keep up the great work Mom’s!

  4. OMG, both of my girls are in this phase. My 11 year old is starting middle school orientation NEXT WEEK and didn’t want any new clothes. She finally let me buy her actual bras (her boobs are bigger than mine were until I was in grad school. I do not understand this) and 3 new pairs of leggings, all black. I am guessing that maybe after a week or so with her new peers she may come back with some requests. My 10 year old feels similarly, except that she has grown several inches in the last year and doesn’t like how short her old dresses are getting, She is now a women’s petite small and chose 3 midi-length tee shirt dresses. I don’t know how this will factor in to her overpowering desire to climb trees during recess, but I guess we’ll see.

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