How to dress a teenager

When I was a teen in high school in the 1980s, my dad decided that my sister and I should get an annual clothing allowance.

Like almost all school students in Australia, we wore a uniform and school shoes, which our parents paid for, so the clothing allowance was for everything else.

(Years later, on asking my sister and mum about this, none of us could remember how much this clothing allowance was. Maybe it was $500 each?)

It sounds like a lot of money for back then, but $500 did not buy many clothes or shoes in those pre-fast fashion days. I made mine go further by buying fabric and sewing clothes, but my sister had expensive taste and ended up with fewer items (she was also very organised with her purchases and often utilised lay-by*).

Certainly with a limited clothes budget there’s higher stakes if you make a foolish purchase, and I think that’s a good thing. Buyer’s remorse is an important life lesson to learn early on.

There were a few catches with this clothing allowance: we didn’t receive a lump sum of cash on January 1st each year. Instead, we had to put in a claim for it by either buying an item with our own money and being reimbursed by Dad, or putting something on lay-by and then asking for the money. Dad required receipts, and payouts came fortnightly on his payday. The clothing allowance was for clothes and shoes only, not LPs, stationery, sweets, and other things teens fritter money on. The allowance ceased on graduating from high school.

So fast-forward to now. I’m a parent of two teenage girls. Will I do the same thing as Dad and give them a clothing allowance?

Things are different.

Where we live (country Australia), there are very few places to buy clothes and no department stores such as Target. When I was a teen in the city it was easy to go shopping for my own clothes, but they can’t. They buy clothes, whatever they like, paid for by me, on our infrequent trips to the city.

Clothes cost much less now. There’s a thriving second hand “pass it on” thing going on here; at times, second hand clothes flow through our house like the Nile Delta through Egypt.

Neither of them are particularly interested in sewing; they are creative in other ways.

There’s some clothes sharing that goes on in our home. The three of us are about the same size and sometimes they wear things of mine. Funnily, my sister, Mum and I never shared clothes, even though we were similar sizes. Maybe because we didn’t have as many? My mother’s clothes seemed very much “older” than what I wanted to wear as a teen.

Letting my children wear any of my clothes has brought an unexpected revelation: it works both ways. Their clothes also fit me, and when they don’t want something anymore, sometimes I take it on (I’m wearing Minecraft pajamas as I type this). They are happy to lend me things if I ask.

How did you acquire clothes as a teenager? Did you sew? Did you have a clothes budget? Did your parents buy all your clothes? If you’re a parent of teens now, what happens in your family?

Cheers! Liz

Yes, that is me in the photo, aged 14 and wearing a fleecy top I’m fairly certain I sewed myself.

*lay-by, I believe, doesn’t exist anymore. The idea is to pay a deposit and the shop will put the item aside for you, then you pay it off in weekly instalments until it’s paid for and you can take it home.


  1. juliana bendandi on March 31, 2024 at 8:39 pm

    Hi Liz, as always I very much enjoyed your latest post. I have always always been obsessed with clothing but alas in my chaotic and unhappy family clothing was always fraught with all sorts of other issues. Learning to sew for myself has been a way of not just making covering for my body (and those I care about) and exploring the art of clothing but also a way of untangling some of those emotions. Thank you again!

    • lizhaywood on April 1, 2024 at 1:42 pm

      Thanks Juliana – yes, you are so right, clothes and emotions do intertwine, and I’m sorry you weren’t able to enjoy clothes in your family.
      We were the only ones we knew of who had a clothing allowance (we weren’t going to argue with it though!). Our dad was an old-fashioned man, a conscientious parent, strict, with firm ideas of “how things should be done”. I don’t recall my brothers having a clothing allowance; maybe they did but I suspect only the girls got it.

  2. Juliet Hartwell on March 31, 2024 at 9:32 pm

    I’m fairly confident it was $400. Quite unsure why I’ve stored that….

    • lizhaywood on April 1, 2024 at 1:14 pm

      That’s very plausible. It’s a bit crazy that none of us can remember the amount. For some reason I thought it was $1000, which sounds ridiculous! C thought it was $750. It could not possibly have been that high.

  3. DSG on March 31, 2024 at 11:22 pm

    Hi Liz,
    The common name for lay-by in the US is layaway. It’s still available in some stores here. Burlington Coat Factory is one (I worked there in my college days). I think Big Lots still offers layaway as well. Walmart used to but they now use a credit model (instant gratification instead of delayed).
    Happy Easter!

    • lizhaywood on April 1, 2024 at 1:23 pm

      That is surprising it’s still available. Last time I saw lay-by in Australia they were charging a fee for it – it used to be free.
      You’ve just reminded me that where Mr H grew up in the country, customers were allowed to take clothes home from shops “on appro” ie on approval, and then return to pay for them. This sounds a bit incredible now, but I guess if you were a long-standing customer with a good relationship with the shop it would work.

      • Julie on April 1, 2024 at 4:40 pm

        Nice trip down memory lane :-)…. Yes, I can vouch for “appro”. At least in the 70’s and I put it to good use. Both my parents worked so if I saw something I liked I was allowed to “take it home to show mum”. The joys of country living. I also sewed a lot in the holidays which ended up being nearly my entire wardrobe. This was before stretch knitting (and overlockers) became a thing… which completely changed the landscape of my sewing. Enter babies, perfect timing. And the ‘hand-me-downs’ from older cousins. Just loved it when a box showed up… we sat around like it was Christmas.

      • lizhaywood on April 2, 2024 at 11:31 am

        You have touched on so many great things – stretch sewing, hand-me-down boxes, sewing in the school holidays 🙂
        It sounds like “appro” was a country thing, and possibly an Aussie country thing (?) unless anyone reading this can correct me?

  4. Tory on April 1, 2024 at 3:28 am

    Ahh, going down memory lane…
    I finished high school in 1983 and we lived in the downtown of a major city, so I had a wide variety of choices, everything from Lord & Taylor to secondhand shops. We held no judgment over the type of shop; well made clothes can come from anywhere.

    My mother was an excellent seamstress so she was able to alter my clothes for a better fit. Shopping was a little stressful for me back then because I was plump. Teens who can buy plus sizes today have no idea what it was like back then! Sometimes I borrowed my mother’s clothing as well. Who paid for everything? Mostly my parents, but I had a small bit of steady income from babysitting jobs that I’m sure I didn’t put into savings! It’s fun to go back and think about this. Thanks, Liz!

    • lizhaywood on April 1, 2024 at 2:05 pm

      Thanks for sharing the memories, Tory. Lots of great thoughts. It’s hard for teens now to understand what it was like to have limited size ranges, or new clothes arriving in the shops only 4 times a year!

  5. Lynne Wilcox on April 1, 2024 at 5:32 am

    I grew up in a village just outside a seaside town in England so there were plenty of jobs around for ‘Saturday girls’. As soon as I was 14 I got a Saturday job in a small department store so I had money for clothes. I used to sew, very rarely buying fabric but altering everything. I used to go to the Jumble Sales in the village hall and buy clothes because I liked the fabric and then re-model them. My sister and I were definitely brought up to make do and mend.

    • lizhaywood on April 1, 2024 at 1:53 pm

      Thanks for sharing Lynne. Mending, altering, Saturday jobs, secondhand shopping: not always easy but great life skills to have.

  6. Llewena Newell on April 1, 2024 at 1:03 pm

    Loved the read,I started work at 14 I remember wearing my grandmothers clothes ,till pay day

    • lizhaywood on April 1, 2024 at 1:58 pm

      Many thanks for reading Llewena. I bet you’ve worn some awesome outfits since then.
      I would have died if I’d had to wear my Grandma’s clothes!

  7. Michelle Cahill on April 2, 2024 at 1:18 am

    I really enjoyed this post. Was also going to say in the US Lay-by was called Lay-away. I didn’t not get a clothing allowance per se but items as needed. I remember sewing a lot of short sets in high school. For some reason I loved wearing shorts with a matching top. Even went so far as to tie dye jersey fabric for a set. You’re really taking me back!
    I vividly remember the first jeans I bought with my my own money. Brace yourself Liz, this will be like a dagger to your heart–stone washed high waisted skinny jeans with distressed holes all over them. They were AWESOME and I still have them in a box somewhere because I cannot part with them.

    • lizhaywood on April 2, 2024 at 11:24 am

      Thanks for sharing the memories, Michelle. Don’t we all remember our first clothes purchase with our own money?! (Mine was an oversized plain black t-shirt from Sportsgirl which I wore until it fell apart). I would have envied your jeans!

  8. LinB on April 3, 2024 at 2:56 am

    Interesting trip down your Memory Lane! Where I grew up, in North Carolina, there were hundreds of textile mills — for wovens and knits. Dad was a barber, there were four of us children … so we wore lots of hand-me-downs and discount-store clothing. Ma sewed many of her own clothes, and also for the family. I particularly remember a two-piece bathing suit made of toweling. It closed with a metal zipper. That suit nearly drowned me: it absorbed so much water when you swam! And the metal zipper got really hot when you basked in the sun to dry out.

    • lizhaywood on April 3, 2024 at 11:29 am

      Many thanks for sharing your memories. Did your Ma buy fabric direct from the mills for sewing? Your swimsuit sounds very much of its era, although clearly with a few “design issues” to resolve!

      • LinB on April 5, 2024 at 1:17 am

        Yes, most likely she did … there were at least five fabric “outlet” stores just outside town that sold odd bolts from all over. Much of the 1970s original doubleknit was fashioned in a factory six miles from our house. And Cone Denim was still cranking out about 90% of the world’s denim at its Revolution Mill on Textile Drive. Almost all of those acres of abandoned buildings have been plowed under, in the past to years.

    • Tonie Rash on May 28, 2024 at 9:45 pm

      Revolution Mill has been turned into high class apartments, stores, office space. White Oak is still here and listed for sale. Cone left the wonderful USA and moved overseas.
      In the 60’s my mom made almost all our mine and my sister’s clothes. No sharing clothes because we were all totally different sizes, shapes. She constructed the garment however we were responsible for the hemming, which upon inspection if it didn’t measure up to Mom’s standards, she pull it out and have you do it again… great memories.

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