Letter Re: Advice on Stocking up on Clothing For Families With Children

Mr. Rawles,
I’ve read your book and perused your web site extensively, yet there is one issue which I cannot find a plan or answer for: growing children.
I have three and five year old boys. Kids grow of course, and fast. Stocking up on clothing, shoes, et cetera while planning for future growth is like stocking up for five or six separate people. I’m sure there are many of us who would appreciate some advice on this issue, and maybe some time in the future you could address it.
As a comment, I highly recommend an anti-diarrheal such as Loperamide in one’s medicine chest. One half of all deaths during the Civil War were intestinal disorders: typhoid, diarrhea, and dysentery. When a new dark age settles upon mankind, poor hygiene and tainted food or contaminated water will again take their toll, especially on kids.
From a history on Civil War Medicine which you may find interesting, as the descriptions of some Civil War camps might resemble some retreat [situation]s. (The following is quote from The American Civil War Home Page):
“About half of the deaths from disease during the Civil War were caused by intestinal disorders. The remainder died from pneumonia and tuberculosis. Camps populated by young soldiers who had never before been exposed to a large variety of common contagious diseases were plagued by outbreaks of measles, chickenpox, mumps, and whooping cough.
The culprit in most cases of wartime illness, however, was the shocking filth of the army camp itself. An inspector in late 1861 found most Federal camps ‘littered with refuse, food, and other rubbish, sometimes in an offensive state of decomposition; slops deposited in pits within the camp limits or thrown out of broadcast; heaps of manure and offal close to the camp.” As a result, bacteria and viruses spread through the camp like wildfire. Bowel disorders constituted the soldiers’ most common complaint. The Union army reported that more than 995 out of every 1,000 men eventually contracted chronic diarrhea or dysentery during the war; the Confederates fared no better.
Typhoid fever was even more devastating. Perhaps one-quarter of non-combat deaths in the Confederacy resulted from this disease, caused by the consumption of food or water contaminated by salmonella bacteria. Epidemics of malaria spread through camps located next to stagnant swamps teeming with anopheles mosquito. Although treatment with quinine reduced fatalities, malaria nevertheless struck approximately one quarter of all servicemen; the Union army alone reported one million cases of it during the course of the war. Poor diet and exposure to the elements only added to the burden. A simple cold often developed into pneumonia, which was the third leading killer disease of the war, after typhoid and dysentery.
Regards, – Jeff

The Memsahib Replies: Buying clothes for kids can be problematic. We buy lots extra “to grow into”-sized clothes at thrift stores. Many thrift stores have special sales once a month where you can buy a bagful of clothes for a dollar. This is a great time to stock up on kid’s clothes. They may not be stylish, but they are inexpensive and functional. If you make the rounds of thrift stores regularly on their sales days you will be able to stock up inexpensively.

Avoid jackets with zippers because zippers break easily.

When thrift store shopping, be on the lookout in the sweater section for Merino wool sweaters (usually tagged as such.) These can be purchased for a fraction of their retail price. They stay warm even when wet, so are ideal for layering outdoor clothing.

We like to visit thrift stores when we travel to large urban areas with affluent populations. (You won’t find much selection in small town thrift stores, and the thrift store clothes there are generally heavily worn, with little life left in them.)

The only items that we avoid at thrift stores are shoes, which might be vectors for foot fungi. . We buy lots extra mud boots (in several sequentially larger sizes than our kid’s current ones) when they are on sale at our local farm co-op store. I’ve also lucked into some brand new (unissued) military combat boots at great prices at gun shows. It is amazing what Uncle Sugar releases as surplus, usually at pennies on the dollar.

Our extra clothes stored for survival purposes are nearly all in earth tones (not reds, yellows, pinks, blacks, or bright blues). Light-colored clothes made from natural fibers can be dyed to “tacticalize” them. As mentioned in JWR’s book Rawles on Retreats and Relocation, it is a good idea to buy packets of RIT brown and green dyes when you find it on sale. Also a lot of our native plants can be used to dye natural fiber fabrics. Your local library will probably have books on plants for natural dyes. Also see this web site. And BTW, a fun Spring craft project is coloring hard boiled eggs with natural dyes.

One not to overlook when thrift store is gloves in sequential sizes. If you have too many, they always can be used for barter. Most clothing items can be improvised, but gloves and footwear are the most difficult.

Another good source for kids clothes are hand-me-downs. We never say “no” to hand-me-downs. I sort all the excess clothes into boxes with the sizes marked outside. We get double duty by storing unisex clothing. We store basic sturdy pants, that can be worn by boys or girls. Ditto for tops. We don’t store anything obviously girly. Rightly so, the boys in your family will not wear anything girly. But girls can wear “boy” clothes in the event of TEOTWAWKI. Boy clothes are usually better made, comfortable to wear, modest, and in more tactical colors. By the way, aren’t the latest fashions just awful!? At a recent social event at which kids of all ages competed in games and relays, the girls in their low rise pants couldn’t keep up with the others because these girls kept having to yank their pants back up! And of course the girls wearing those spaghetti strap tops were not only freezing, but distracted because their immodestly cut tops kept gaping during the active play. The last thing you want in a dire situation is the females in your family distracted by a wardrobe malfunction!

Internet/mail order dealers such as Cheaper Than Dirt and Major Surplus and other surplus sellers occasionally offer great prices on foreign military surplus camouflage uniforms, of which the small sizes will fit older children who weigh 100 lbs. or more.

I hope it goes without saying you shouldn’t force your wimmin’ folk to wear drab ugly boy clothes before the balloon goes up! Nothing will turn the gals off preparedness faster than denying them the enjoyment of bright pretty colors, lace, and ribbons because they won’t be practical if and when western civilization collapses!