The Unexpected Joy of Hand-Me-Down Clothing

Same sex mothers getting their baby daughter dressed on the bedroom floor.

We were in the side yard smiling in the sunshine and watching my growing toddler explore the world with the excitement of the very young. My friend gestured towards my front porch, where she had left a box of clothing her three-year-old had already outgrown.

“I don’t even remember what’s in there, to be honest, I packed it up a few months ago…” she said, apologetically. “Hopefully none of it is already too small for him. If it is, you know, just pass it along.”

In the time since I became a parent, the near-constant trading of clothing has become a constant feature of my life. I have learned that when my kid outgrows all of his clothes suddenly (and doesn’t it always happen suddenly?) I can easily go to my friends with older children and ask, “Okay, who’s got stuff for us?” Usually someone does. Usually people are thrilled to get these boxes and bags of old clothes out of their homes. As my own child outgrows his wardrobe, I place the too-small items in an old diaper box until it’s full and I go hunting for someone to take it off my hands. I never have to hunt very far.

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I turned to my friend. “If it doesn’t fit, there’s a neighbor baby just down there,” I said, pointing two houses down, while still keeping half an eye on my kid on his wobbly legs. “He’s only five months younger and takes most of our hand-me-downs.”

This was the point in which my friend beamed at me. Grinning ear to ear she said, “Oh, that’s so wonderful, then you get to see them again!” I suddenly knew that there’s way more to hand-me-down clothing than I previously imagined.

My own childhood experience with “handed down” clothing was less than idyllic. The secondhand stuff always came from the kids of my mom’s friend, or else a distant cousin, and it was always woefully out of style. To make matters worse, it was usually picked over by one or two other children before landing at me, so the good stuff was already gone. And while my mother would remind me not to be snobbish about wearing clothing I didn’t love, she also had her own issues around the implications of a secondhand wardrobe. Because she hadn’t had brand new clothing growing up, she made a big point of making sure my sister and I often did. No wonder I was predisposed to dislike the cast-offs of family friends! To add insult to injury, these articles of clothing always arrived in a big, ugly, black garbage bag.

In my little kid brain, the symbolism was stark and clear. I could never imagine myself having an affinity for hand-me-downs.

My own child, now…

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