Before we cut the docklines in 2008, we were well supplied in clothes to take the kids through about two years of living in the tropics. In hindsight, this was serious overkill. We brought too much. The obvious fact that escaped me when provisioning for a fundamental needs like clothes and food: remember that people everywhere need to dress and eat... you really don't have to bring everything you need with you.
They look so small! Alameda, October 2013
It did help to start with clothes that worked. For us, that means lightweight, synthetic blends. Many pure cotton clothes take longer to dry, which can be a problem here in the land of the daily squall. We need things that can dry in a few hours of peak sun.
Although my 20/20 hindsight was that we brought too much, a few things are helpful to stock up on. Outside of flip flops, shoes have been more difficult to find. Although it wasn't hard to find clothes that met the the kid's needs, it's also nice to also have exactly what they'd like to wear.
A bit bigger now. Flores, March 2013
We plan ahead the most with clothes for swimming and sun protection. In most of the cruising grounds we have covered so far, swimming is a near-daily activity. Having a spare suit (or two) is helpful, and having an extra size can be as well. We give and receive in the hand-me-down circle, although that's harder to count on.
Sometimes the only option for buying new is a resort that caters to tourists at marked-up prices. Since we know we'll all go through a lot of gear, we stock up on spares or a size up when it's economical. Long-sleeved rash guards and swimming pants can be hard to find, and they are invaluable for protection from UV and jellyfish. I'm still wearing the pants I had made in Mexico, but I go through about one rash guard a year: the UV exposure eventually turns them into stretched-out unwearable balloons.
Beyond rashguards, if your kids are big swimmers or you anticipate a lot of water time, it's worth looking at junior sized wetsuits. That's another item that can be a little harder to find as you go. We didn't feel that we needed them in Mexico, but they came in handy for many of our Pacific stops.
Clothes that aid with sun protection are also harder to find. The kids have especially light skin, a family history of melanoma, and live in the tropics. They need all the help they can get! It's easy to find shorts and t-shirts, but it's not always easy to find the lightweight, loose, sun-protective gear that can really come in handy sometimes- especially if you'd like something purpose-designed and SPF rated.
Broad-brimmed hats with chin straps are good to stash as well. Along our travels I've routinely seen them available for adults, but far less often for children. Besides, the kids can be picky about what they wear, so we made sure to let them pick out the style and color they wanted (within parameters for sun protection). We get about a year out of each hat.
Each of the children have a sturdy pair of sandals: the kind of show you can go for a hike in. I love Chacos for this, and a friend helped get our entirely family shod in their awesome sandals when we had a "mule" visiting us from the states a few years ago. Actually, one of those- and a pair of flip flops- are the only shoes the kids have. Recently, both of the girls needed new sandals. We didn't have the next size on board, but they could get decent replacements for about $10 locally: the a bonus of traveling in an inexpensive region. Multiple repairs have been done- restitching soles was about $1/shoe in Indonesia, a little more in Malaysia. For long term durability, though, it's best to start a well made pair. When the inevitable blowout occurs we can get by if we don't have exactly what they need, when they need it, stashed in a locker.
At home, they rarely wore out their clothes- they were far more likely to outgrow them first. Now, the reverse occurs. It's partly a function of the fact that we have much smaller wardrobes so clothes get more wear; it's partly a function of the harsher sun drying. 100% cotton lasts longer, but it takes longer to dry, so we tend to prefer lightweight, breathable synthetic blends. They are more comfortable, and they'll dry before the afternoon squall hits, but they are more susceptible to UV and they are harder to find in the developing world.
Mostly? The kids' clothes, like mine and Jamie's, are well worn. They are holey, haphazardly patched, and sun-bleached. Niall has shorts that remain decent only because of strategically placed sail tape. Does it matter? Nah. They don't care. We don't care. and happily, there is no peer group dictating "the latest" thing they need to swap it out for either.