I've been asked about this by three different people in about the last month. Not sure that I have many answers but maybe some ideas that might be useful and many of you may have more and better ideas.
There are two problems:
-stores that produce beautiful clothes for girls up to the age of about eight and maybe even for women but what older girls are meant to wear is a mystery.
-clothes do exist for older girls but they are often too low, too short, too tight or have inappropriate logos.
Before I really start it is only fair to set out our principles for clothes as if yours are different this may not be useful. We have three basic principles:
-clothing must be modest and not likely to be a stumbling block to others.
-girls' clothes must look like girls clothes and not like boys' clothes. The reverse also applies. We don't believe that this means that girls should never wear trousers providing they look like girls' clothes and are modest.
-preferably, clothes shouldn't look 20 years out-of-date or draw attention by being frumpy.
One other thought is that this isn't an area where major saving is possible. Teenage clothing stores tend to be very cheap, and often poor quality. It is unlikely that even making clothes will be cheaper than this.
-make your own. When my eldest daughter reached this age, we spent a couple of years struggling to find clothes and then I went to a sewing course an evening a week, at an adult education centre. It was very helpful and, at that point, quite reasonable although I understand that prices have gone up since then. I made a few garments but then had a baby, moved house and had another baby so my sewing has not progressed. Now the "baby" is almost two, I don't really have an excuse.
The easiest clothes to make are elasticated skirts. I had a very simple pattern which seems to be out of print but was basically two pieces of fabric with a simple elasticated waist.
There are on line groups which are helpful. Sensibility has some simple girls' patterns with photo instructions for some patterns and a forum for asking questions.
-get someone else to make clothes. Great if you know someone who can make clothes less good otherwise.
-buy clothes from the UK.
Bola is a friend of ours who has recently set up a company making clothing for this age group. She has done research about the type of clothes that this age group would like. Do check out her collections.
-buy clothes from the US. There are a plethora of "modest" sites in the US. They vary and some do have clothes that my eldest daughter finds unacceptable being too "frilly".
We did buy a few clothes from the US and ,successfully, had some made for us there. At the time that we did this the pound was much stronger than it is now so it wasn't as expensive an option as this would be now.
If you take this route, ask for the clothing to be marked as "children's clothing" to avoid having to pay VAT on the import. It is possible to appeal the VAT, handling charges etc but this is a very cumbersome process including having to prove the child's age.
Also remember to be careful about sizing as US sizes are different to UK sizes and by the time the parcel has arrived it will be beyond the time allowed for returns!
-buy from general UK suppliers. Some retailers have a "teen" section. There may be little that is acceptable but you probably don't need to buy the whole shop anyway! Gap and Next both stock teen sizes and we have successfully brought from them. Outlet stores can reduce the cost. This is time consuming process as often there will be nothing that meets the first two principles but sometimes there is.
Don't forget that if a top is too low then a cheap top can be worn underneath.
An elasticated skirt can be worn on the hips, with a long top, rather than on the waist.
Forget the idea of letting down hems, these clothes don't have much in the way of hems.
In the last couple of years, Landsend have sold their children's clothes in the UK. Previously, they were only obtainable from the US. Landsend girls' clothes go up to larger sizes and are usually very well made as well as generally not being skimpy.
-second hand/hand me down. Older girls clothes date rapidly so this may not be possible but encourage your daughter to like more classical clothes which may be found this way. Don't forget to hand outgrown clothes onto other families-their daughters may like some and the mothers may be very grateful for some acceptable clothes for older daughters.
Edited 7/1/11 to add link.