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All dressed up for the outdoors

The Northwest: A natural fit for kids' activewear fashions
Girl playing outside in the sunAugust: the time when many parents start thinking about back-to-school clothes while their kids are enjoying the last month of summer. Sure, those button-up sweaters and plaid skirts are tempting to buy, but the bottom line is, kids want to be outside in early autumn -- especially during Puget Sound's typically warm September days. And let's face it, brown penny loafers won't cut it when climbing a tree. It's our region's characteristic sense of outdoor living that inspired ParentMap to skip the traditional "what's hot in fall fashion" article and instead highlight the Northwest's love for outdoor activewear clothes.

Judy Rich, assistant store manager at the Seattle Flagship REI store, understands the active Northwest lifestyle because she lives it: hiking, camping and exploring with her two young kids. As a mom with an eye for practical outdoor clothes, Rich explains that the biggest development in children's activewear is versatility. New materials are allowing old staple pieces to do "double duty," she notes.

Boys and their parents are big fans of convertible pants with zippers at the knee that allow for a quick transformation into shorts. These pants can be worn to school, while camping or even to sports practice. A new nylon quick-dry material means they can easily be rinsed out and worn again the next day.

Another example of dual-purpose clothing is the line of swim shirts offered by REI and Quicksilver, with sun protection of SPF 50 built right into the material. Rich describes them as "great coverage clothes" that can get wet and will "quick dry" so kids can play in them the rest of the day. They are offered in styles for both boys and girls in cuts that don't look swim specific, and Rich suggests buying them one to two sizes larger than a child's regular size to gain multiple years of wear. Travel shirts and T-shirts are also available with the SPF feature.

Essentials checklist
Spending time outside is a great way for the whole family to have fun, but Northwest weather can be fickle. Even the most fun day trip can spell disaster when kids aren't dressed properly for a sudden downpour or heat wave. When expecting the unexpected weather wise, Rich suggests parents pack the following basic pieces to ensure an enjoyable outing:

  • A hat. This will protect faces from the sun's harmful rays and shield kids from rain.
  • A lightweight, breathable jacket. Many jackets are thin enough to collapse so they fit into the palm of a hand. This means they are easy to pack and throw on over clothes as a top layer.
  • Sunglasses. Be sure children's lenses are polarized and have UV protection to safeguard the sensitive skin around eyes. Rich notes that sunglasses are especially important to wear around bodies of water, because the sun's reflection can burn the eyes.
  • Synthetic socks. Compared to thin cotton socks, these will stand up to the test of nature and protect against clammy feet or blisters.
  • Good sturdy shoes. When taking your kids along for a hike, or if your child just loves to explore, be sure that their shoes have strong ankle support. Otherwise, Rich says, a regular pair of tennis shoes is great for the outdoors and safe for running.

Activewear fashion trends
In line with the multipurpose clothing theme, a popular shoe this year is the Keen Newport sandal. Built tough for adverse weather conditions, its black toe cover protects feet in the water or on land. Although it wears like a shoe, Keen's side cut-out design allows the open-air, quick-drying freedom of a sandal. Rich suggests pairing it with a thick sock when hiking or in the evening.

Even the fashion conscious at Nordstrom appreciate the versatile nature of activewear clothing. Jorge Valls, Nordstrom marketing manager for kids wear, says that the latest trend for girls and boys is activewear turned everyday wear. Thermals, hoodies and henleys, otherwise known as long underwear and sweatshirts, are showing up as layering pieces for fall. To properly achieve the layered look, begin with a long-sleeved shirt, throw a T-shirt on top, pull on a front-zip sweatshirt and finish with a vest.

For girls, the suddenly popular gaucho pants have become the equivalent of the convertible pant for boys. Comfortable enough for outdoor play, they can also be dressed up and worn for more formal occasions. Valls notes that the newest versions for fall are the constructed and corduroy gauchos.

Camouflage prints aren't just for the Army anymore. Young explorers can blend in with their wilderness surroundings while wearing camo print hats and shirts, sweatpants and even baby blankets for the littlest campers. Valls says this trend is great for any age group or gender.

Activewear may have once been associated with neutral basic colors, but today's kids are wearing colorful clothes -- the brighter, the better. For girls, pink, purple and apple green are showing up everywhere while boys are favoring the classics such as orange, blue and green as hues for their outdoor duds.

Stylish thrift-store shopping tips
Looking for a great deal on kids' back-to-school basics or vintage fashions for your stylish teen (or yourself)? Consider a trip to your local thrift store. Here are some tips for successful secondhand store shopping, courtesy of the Savers/Value Village international chain.

Kids' back-to-school clothes

  • Stock up on inexpensive secondhand staples. Jeans, coats, turtlenecks and sweaters are easily found in like-new condition, and long-sleeve tees with prints on the front make for the perfect layer under a short-sleeve tee.
  • Make the most of sale days: Buy multiple sizes as kids will quickly grow into the larger selections, and pick up jackets for each season.
  • Don't forget "dress pieces" for kids' closets. Thrift stores carry tons of like-new dress clothes because they are seldom worn and are quickly outgrown.
  • Use slightly worn clothes and shoes as canvases to create personalized fashions popular with kids and tweens. Bleach pens, fabric paints, material scraps and beads are all good materials, and also provide a fun craft project for long summer days.
  • Consider using dye to restore faded clothing to its original richness or change the color entirely.
  • Check each piece of clothing thoroughly for holes, including the back of collars and sleeve seams. Many nicks and spots are easily covered with fun patches.
  • Try things on and don't rely on tag sizes, as clothing could have shrunk in the wash.
  • Scout for new clothes with tags still attached. Kids outgrow garments so fast that unworn clothing frequently lands on secondhand shelves at prices far less expensive than department stores -- especially baby and toddler finds.
  • Dress to try things on quickly and easily, especially during busy sale days. Slip-on shoes, minimal layers and thin, fitted undershirts are good options.
  • Shop early and often and keep an eye out for specials. Many thrift stores offer discounts on certain colored tagged items week by week, so look for promotional signage. Also, seek out thrift store websites and sign up for e-newsletters to be alerted early of special sales and discounts.
  • Look in multiple departments. A kids' large might fit small teens, and girls love looking for blazers and other pieces in the boys' section.
  • Also, check both the men's and women's departments for accessories like belts and hats, which can be worn universally.

Women's fashions

  • Individual style is the latest fashion movement and thrift stores have no shortage of funky finds. Look for things in bold colors, like chunky jewelry or bright sequined tops, and mix with fall's popular neutrals for an on-trend color splash.
  • Vintage and retro are always coveted thrift scores, and this year mod-era geographic prints and aged lace are big looks. But because these styles resurge, examine the label if authenticity is important. Labels from decades gone-by are usually easy to spot by the artwork and appearance.
  • Accessories are fun and inexpensive thrift store finds. Look for popular antique brooches, as well as short chunky earrings and multiple bracelets.
  • Big belts are in this year, and thrift stores have piles to choose from. Try mixing and matching hardware from one belt to another for a new look, or find a long skirt in a cool fabric and shred it into a belted sash.
  • Don't bypass the shoe section, as older shoes can easily be re-soled and re-heeled. Boots are a timeless option easily updated with a more modern heeled silhouette.

Ages and stages activewear ideas
Girl playing outside on a bikeWhether your family is enjoying the lazy last days of summer or planning a back-to-school shopping spree, here's a list of ideas gathered from local outdoor fashion experts.


  • Yoga capri pants
  • Cargo pocket capri pants
  • Bella bands belly covers
  • Tankini swim suits


  • Baby leg warmers
  • Baby Banz sunglasses
  • Flap Happy sun hats
  • Camouflage-print diaper bags

Preschool Girls

  • Embellished clothing
  • Slip-on or no-lace athletic shoes
  • Scooter skirts
  • Gaucho pants in knits and denim

Toddler, Preschool and Elementary Boys

  • Double sleeve T-shirts
  • Cargo shorts
  • Track pants
  • Basketball shorts

Elementary and Tween Girls

  • Terry cloth (spring/summer) and velour (fall/winter) sweat suits
  • Layered Tees
  • Thermal tops
  • Knit gaucho pants
  • Camouflage hoodies, capris and scooter skirts
  • Tie-dye knee shorts

Teen Girls

  • Yoga style athletic pants
  • Crop pants and gauchos
  • Capri and low-rise workout pants

Teen Boys

  • Track jackets
  • Screenprint, layered Tees


  • Athleisure shoes
  • Polar fleece jackets
  • Vests

Elly Johnson, ParentMap's editorial intern, will be a senior journalism major at Washington State University this fall.

Photos by Will Austin

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