Spring Closet Cleanout with Cathlin Sentz

I am a childrenswear stylist and a mother of 3 (nearly 4). I came to motherhood with a background in the fine arts and found that the way I parented naturally (all in) was at odds with my prior patterns for creating - I just didn’t have the same flexibility to create on impulse. Instead I discovered the areas of motherhood that creating flowed out of - from meals and homeschool, tiny homes for mouse dolls and mending worn out knees, and of course, styling garments. Since dressing is a daily occurrence the rhythm of it became my favorite outlet. As sure as the sun rises, everyday as mothers we dress and in this season of life we dress little ones, too - and so every day presents a fresh delight for me. 

This is why I find myself explaining that childrenswear styling is functionally an outpouring of love, it is a downstream phenomenon that cannot be reversed, and never takes priority over children themselves. The garments must serve them, and well. I was recently asked by a friend that noted I gravitate towards fibers like linen, cotton and wool and what my motivation is. There are of course implications of sustainability and stewardship in these choices, and of luxury. I feel a bit disingenuous when lofty values are ascribed to me in this area of our life - ultimately I choose what I delight in: fabrics that are a joy to work with, wear, launder, care for, and pass down.

As a stylist I have my share of experience in looking at a wardrobe with a critical eye and I delight in having pieces we love and reach for time and again. Because we have children of varying ages, sizes and seasons they were born into I keep my brain from turning to mush by having a framework for their wardrobes and shopping within that, largely because I adore the hunt for the next beloved garment and I need to guard our budget and the physical limitations of our closets carefully. Whether you’re interested in curating a capsule, or simply making sense of a seasonal wardrobe, this process should help. My approach comes from a place of practicality (keeping track of what everyone needs in what size is mayhem) and it keeps us from having one child with five sweaters and no pants.  

First, figure out your categories like underwear, socks, pants, skirts, dresses, shorts - whatever the season dictates. It’s like revisiting all those primary school outline exercises, these are the categories that you will first fill in with what you already have. Hand-me-downs of course, but also the garments from last year that are flexible enough in sizing to still work. Lali dresses in particular tend to fit for more than one year, so you may be in the happy situation of being on the second or third year of a favorite. 

If something you have no longer fits but you love it, that is a hand-me-down candidate. Wash and store all garments that are now out of season but you plan to pass down, and separate out those you plan to sell. If it needs to be mended or stains treated, now is the time - do not put it into storage without addressing those items, they will haunt you. Pajamas are actually one of my favorite things to mend and extend the life of - whether it’s patching a knee in winter or converting some much-loved long johns into short johns for summer. Not only do these pieces feel more loved for the care we put into them, it’s a pretty great way to practice sustainability and stewardship. Likewise tiny rips and holes that crop up are fixes I try to take care of quickly - and we’ve had some memorable ones, most notably with a brand new Lali dress that was taken on a very eventful bike ride! 

I’m sometimes asked why my kids look ready to be in a family photo most days - it’s not that we are always dressed to the nines, or that I choose their outfits every day (most of them are too big for that now!) it’s that the palette is cohesive across all three kids’ garments. In styling Lali I’ve found the palettes are so cohesive that they work together with minimal effort, achieving my preferred coordinated - not necessarily matching - look. If you have a palette you work within then your kids will always look put together. When building on prints and favorites the biggest help you can be to yourself is to choose neutral colors and non-neutral colors you really, really like. You will be drawn to those colors anyway, that makes it easy to stay consistent. Neutrals are not just beige, white, black, and grey. They extend to blues and plums and deep greens - any muted shade that is going to play well with other colors. Choose from among them when purchasing expensive pieces like sweaters. If you’re struggling to come up with a palette I recommend looking to nature and/or landscape paintings. Colors found in nature tend to hold their appeal longer and look good together, and are frequently the inspiration behind Kinnari’s vision for a season. 

Now for the savage but ultimately time saving step - measure your children. There is a lot of variety between brands, and nothing more frustrating than ending up with the wrong size. Most include measurements alongside their standard age sizing, so measure away - height, waist, hips, chest, girth, shoulder to wrist, shoulder to waist, inseam and feet! Once you measure, keep track of the measurements - mine are in a note on my phone. You can get away with measuring every 6 months, but if there’s a big growth spurt we end up measuring every 4. If your child is two years old and this sounds like an exercise in futility you can measure existing garments that you love the fit of and track that way.

Finally, a personal favorite - shopping. If you’re overwhelmed by shopping this is where having the categories and the palette help: you are just going to fill in the categories. If you love shopping and are trying to pare down and capsule, it helps in reverse: focus.

I hope this helps you as you prepare for the coming season!

Cathlin is a childrenswear stylist and homeschooling mother of three, soon to be four, children on the Palouse of Idaho. She is passionate about her family, motherhood after miscarriage, and recovering lost domestic arts.

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