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How to Shop the Kids’ Section as an Adult

Surprise: Some of J.Crew’s best stuff is at Crewcuts.

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A kid in a leopart print jacket Photo: Crewcuts

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When I got my first full-time job a few years ago, I was excited about a lot of things: stability, a chance to prove myself, money. But mostly, I was looking forward to having an excuse to wear professional clothes. I work in publishing, an industry that, like many creative industries, isn’t known for forcing its employees to wear suits. But my first job was a big step up, and I knew I needed to do everything I could to make myself seem old enough — qualified enough — for the position I’d landed, convincing myself as much as my colleagues that I deserved respect.

My friends had spent the past few years working in politics, and I took cues from their style evolutions. They’d scour the clearance racks at Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, and J.Crew for pencil skirts and blouses that didn’t take too heavy a toll on bank accounts already ransacked by student loans. They looked polished and young, but presentable. They liked to layer. As I worked my way through a stream of internships, I’d look at the J.Crew window displays longingly; I picked through the website as soon as I got my first paycheck.

Shopping, for me, has always been difficult — I wear a 32AA, an XXS, and a 00, and I only fill them out when I’m on my period. I’d learned early on that the clothes on the racks at H&M wouldn’t be as form-fitting on me as they’d be on the mannequins. And what didn’t occur to me until I tried on the pieces I’d ordered online, however, was that office-wear is not meant to be tight; clothes that fit most people in an appropriately loose way make me look like I’ve decided to wear an unassembled camping tent. Size 00 petite skirts constructed to fall at the waist drop to my hips; darts on A-line dresses hit at my ribcage.

Disappointed, I returned the package of clothes to the mall and, after spending the rest of the afternoon slowly becoming frustrated with my lack of options for new clothes, I hate-shopped my way up to the J.Crew kids’ department, Crewcuts, in a desperate search for something I could buy.

I remembered dragging my mom into an Abercrombie when I was in high school only to figure out that I couldn’t fit into the pants, at which point we were shuttled to Abercrombie Kids, where I learned that I still fit into the kids’ sizes I’d so recently thought I’d grown out of. I started checking the sizes of the Crewcuts pieces, looking for a 12 or 14, which I figured would fit about as well as whatever I’d tried on so far, if awkward in different ways. There was a pretty cream-colored skirt hanging on the wall, reminiscent of the long, handmade tulle pieces blowing up on Instagram at the time, and, in a fit of desperation, I took it to the dressing room. It fit. A little boxy, but far better than the drooping skirts and limp sleeves of the women’s section.

I came back a few weeks later for a pre-tied Crewcuts bowtie, slowly building up my collection that has since grown to include crewneck sweaters, a cardigan, and a pair of breezy, knee-length gingham shorts.

Now I find myself drifting to the kids’ section each time I end up in a clothing store, trying to see which chains have better-fitting options. I head straight for the skirts and tops, which are less height-dependent than pants and dresses. I quickly weed out items with appliqués and graphics and focus instead on pieces made of soft fabrics and muted prints. The options are few, but no fewer than what’s available in the adult section after I whittle down collection to the few pieces that come close to my measurements.

I’ve talked to other tiny women who wish they had the courage to shop in kids’ sections. I was raised by a mother who felt no shame wearing her son’s T-shirts when she felt like it, so I’ve decided to embrace it rather than dwell on what other women are thinking as I load dressing rooms with children’s clothes.

Though I sometimes still look at the J.Crew ad campaigns longingly, knowing that I’ll never fit into their simple (if suburban) all-American workday women’s line, I keep going back to Crewcuts, knowing the company will typically translate its trendier looks into miniature versions — and they’ll usually be a good deal cheaper.