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Yes, there is definitely a difference between boy and girl jackets. In the case of a boy's jacket, the zipper pull is on the right hand side of the jacket opening. In the case of a girl's jacket, the zipper pull is on the left side.
This means you shouldn't get a boy's jacket for a girl, or vice versa. Of course, it will still function fine as a jacket if it's on the opposite gender, but it can cause confusion when a child is still learning how to do zippers.
If there's a spare jacket that's being used temporarily for an opposite gender child while you're waiting to get a new jacket, that's fine. But if you're buying a new jacket, stick with the intended gender if at all possible.
How to tell if an existing jacket is a boys or a girls jacket
If you have an existing jacket, for example a hand-me-down from a relative with older kids, the easiest way to tell is it's a boys or girls jacket is as follows:
- Unzip the jacket completely
- Pretend like you're putting it on yourself, OR put it on your child and stand behind your child (important!) - and leave it unzipped
- If the main zipper pull tab apparatus is on your right hand side, then it's a boy's jacket. If it's on the left hand side, it's a girl's jacket
Where to buy cheap yet good quality children's jackets
You don't have to spend a lot of money to get a great jacket for your child, if you know where to shop. One of my favorite places for this is Carter's and its slightly fancier sibling store OshKosh B'gosh. You can get great deals on everything from cold weather puffer jackets to autumn hoodies at both of those stores. For jackets I recommend shopping online at those stores since you then don't have to worry about whether your local store has it in stock in your child's size.
My next favorite place is a bit of a hidden gem - Old Navy! It's not the first place most people think of when they're looking to buy a child's jacket, but they do have surprisingly cheap yet great quality children's jackets. And because it's not everyone's first thought, you're more likely to have an easier time having the colors or sizes in stock that you wanted.
If you've struck out at both of those places, then take a look at The Children's Place. They tend to only have a few designs that they sell out of pretty quickly, so you can't always get what you're looking for. It's still worth a try, particularly if you're shopping at the start of the winter season when they're more likely to have plenty in stock.
If you live in a very cold area and/or want to splurge on a really top quality jacket, then Columbia Sportswear is the place for you. Their children's department has jackets for kids of all ages, from baby all the way to high school. You can also find every imaginable type and weight of jacket there. However, if it doesn't get particularly cold in winter where you live and if budget is an issue, it might not be worth the price for something that your child will likely only be able to wear for 1 season before he or she grows out of it. Any of the other stores I mentioned above are cheaper.
If this is for a winter jacket, you'll want to check out my tips for what to look for in a child's winter jacket.
To sum up, it doesn't make a lot of sense that men's and women's zippers are on different sides to each other, but that's just how it is. And jackets for boys and girls follow the same rule as for men's and women's, so you'll need to ensure you buy the correct gender jacket for your child. This means you shouldn't pass down a boy's jacket to a girl, or vice versa.