I know parents whose children (the same ages as mine) stopped needing bibs on or before their second birthday. We are not among them. My friends in our Wednesday Mom's group/playgroup thought I was going overboard when I stripped Kal-El down to his diaper to eat a cupcake at a summer birthday party. After they saw him eat it, they changed their tune and laughed as I hosed him down at the water table afterwards. We need bibs. Due to both the wide assortment of bibs we own (the ones we use and the ones we tried and rejected) and the even wider assortment of bibs all the other moms in the Mom's group own, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the bib market.
I'll tell you right now, there is no such thing as the perfect bib. There is no such thing as "the only bib you ever need to own."
Over time, we have settled in on a two bib system for at home use. My favorite bib and the most mom-friendly bib available (in my opinion) is the BabyBjörn Soft Bib.
Most of the time all you need to do is run it under some running water and it is clean. You do not have to flip a "pocket" inside out or dig around in the corners of a plastic pouch on the front of the bib to get the nasty out. It is easy to put on and off. My kids have never pulled one off of themselves. There is no gap around the collar to get full of banana. It catches almost everything before it can hit the floor. In the event that they become stained by spaghetti sauce I just put them in a bleach/water solution for five minutes and they are like brand new. An added bonus is that when their plate is empty your kids can spoon out everything that fell into their bib just like out of a bowl and you won't have to get up from the table to get them seconds.
In my opinion, the Bumkins bib which most parents consider a good runner-up are not as good. My boys can pull them off. The pocket doesn't stay open enough all the time to catch the food, and I think it's gross to have to use my hands to get stuff out of the corners of the pocket even after it's been turned inside out. I also found I had to wipe those off with a rag as opposed to two a couple seconds under running water. They do have the added advantage of being available with full sleeves, but I feel I found a better solution.
The BabyBjörn Soft Bib is all you need at home until the baby starts feeding itself. Then I found I needed more coverage. After trying several bibs with sleeves I was lucky enough to find the Baby Bjorn Eat & Play Smock. I was even luckier to find it when it was on sale.
This smock covers from the neck to the wrists to the knees. It is soft and can be thrown right in the washer or dryer. It has elastic at the wrists so there are no surprises in there after a meal. I put this smock on first and the Baby Bjorn Soft Bib on top. Here's a picture of Kal-El double-bibbed.
I use the smock in combination with the soft bib with the pocket because the pocket keeps the floors and chairs cleaner. The pocket bib also keeps the smock a little cleaner which is good because if you run the smock under the faucet it gets clean but it also gets a little too wet to use again immediately. I wipe any major messes off of the smock with a rag but I don't worry about getting it perfectly clean. I just run it through the washing machine about twice a week...once with my darks and again a couple of days later when I do my kitchen towels.
The smock is also great for cutting their hair and for doing art projects. You can see in this picture of Kal-El (who is 3 and in the 99th percentile for height) that it goes down to at least his knees.
I really wish I had two extra smocks because we do art frequently right before dinner and I don't like to put them at the table to eat covered in finger paint. It would be nice to have a second set to use when the first set is covered in paint. However, at $25 each we won't be getting a set anytime soon. When I bought mine they were on sale somewhere for $15 each. A friend of mine knows I want more and recently sent me this link for what looks to be a similar product available at Ikea for $3.99! Unfortunately it can only bought at the store and we are about two hours from the closest Ikea. Therefore, I cannot attest to the actual size and feel of that bib compared to the Bjorn. I did checkout the other smocks available on the market (Alex Toys, Bumkins, Crayola) and they were too small and too stiff.
Just when you would think I would be done talking about bibs...I have to talk about one more. The Baby Bjorn Soft Bibs do not travel well. They get smashed in the diaper bag/luggage. (Although I was able to restore the shape by filling the pocket with very hot water and letting it sit for five minutes). For "on the go" we use the Dex Dura Bib.
This bib starts out as completely flat and you use little snaps to make the bottom into a pocket. It is a great feature not only for storage (it can be folded or rolled in the diaper bag) but also for cleaning...you just unsnap and run it under water. My beef with this bib is that it is made out of what I would call "oilcloth" and the back of the bib stains. This may seem silly but the back of the bib becomes the front of the pocket when it is snapped together so the stains can be visible.
Here's a picture of Kal-El having his very first ice cream cone in his durabib. It comes in two sizes (stage one and stage two). In this picture he is 17 months old and had just started wearing stage two.
Now, I know there are some die-hard Montessorians out there who not only won't like the idea of bibs the kids can't take on and off by themselves. If I think about Montessori philosophy I can also imagine someone saying that if the kids weren't wearing waterproof body suits and had more responsibility for cleaning themselves up they might become more conscious of the mess they are making and improve. Take a look at this picture:
UHG2BK! Even if they made 75% improvement they would still need a bib (or two).