The Joy of Hand-me-downs

Call me a skinflint, but I’m a sucker for hand me-downs, an aficionado of all things second-hand. I enjoy nothing more than a rummage in a good old fashioned jumble sale and am much more drawn to charity shops than I am to boutiques. There may be sound economic reasons for this behaviour, but it is not just because I am a)mean or b) broke or c)have too many kids.

Obviously I do have some new clothes – and occasionally buy them for the kids as well – but I feel genuine delight if I find something I like that already had a previous owner.

Today I went to meet a friend to give some her some baby clothes – babies grow so fast that their clothes are marked things like 0-3months; 3-6 months and so on. I gave her the clothes and it made her happy. I’d cleared out some space in my house – that made me happy. My own baby was wearing clothes (some of which I’d bought second-hand) worn by his older brother. His older brother was wearing a coat given him by a neighbour and a jumper given to me by an old school friend. The oldest brother was wearing clothes given to me by my friend Karen who has twins and therefore has lots of old clothes that need new homes. He was wearing a coat I bought from ebay – the one I bought new was very poor quality and was trashed after a few weeks in the hurly-burly of the school playground.

I’m an older parent and a child of the 70s when second-hand clothes were the norm and new things were for special occasions.

Even new clothes had a certain “make-do-and-mend” quality to them, typified by Clothkits – new clothes that you had to sew yourself. These were hugely popular amongst the beardy end of the middle-classes and have such potent nostalgia value that they were recently revived for a modern audience. I bought a friend of mine a Clothkits bag for her 40th birthday and she nearly cried!

Sorry if this all seems a bit whimsical, or just hideously twee in a kind of Kirstie Allsopp: “Bally heck I’m the daughter of a Duke but I still crochet all my own knickers – ok yah?”.

If Reese were in charge, Kirstie would not be allowed on telly; in fact Kirstie would just not be allowed.

But there is a point to my ramblings – I’m just taking my time getting to it, probably because I genuinely enjoy thinking about and writing about old clothes. I like the way they feel a bit softer and smell of someone else’s washing powder. Or maybe they’re a little bit frayed round the edges or have a button that doesn’t quite match.

Anyway. Second-hand clothes are good because they save you money and most us need to do this in a time when the cost of living is on the up, wages are stagnant and loads of people are losing their jobs. Second-hand clothes are good because they are re-using resources rather than burning up vast amounts of oil in their manufacture. This is kind of important as we pass peak oil and face the real possibility that the energy sources we’ve taken for granted just won’t be there any more. Second-hand clothes are not imported from Bangladesh or China but usually taken by a local person to a local charity shop or jumble sale. Or given from friend to friend. Their carbon footprint is a baby step.

Second-hand clothes take us out of the insane loop of consumption and ask us to appreciate things for a) what they are and b)whether we need them. There is no marketing involved – OK, you get the odd super poncey ‘vintage’ shop in Chelsea or Notting Hill – but I’ve never seen ads for second-hand clothes on telly. You can’t buy them in Tesco – though you  can buy them in horrid Philip Green’s horrid Top Shop, where they have stupid price tags on and are gussied up as ‘vintage’ again.

If you’re really into second-hand clothes (and second-hand stuff in general) but don’t want to pay for it, check out your local Freecycle or Freegle website. You can offer stuff or ask for stuff and see what happens. I’ve got rid of loads of books, clothes, toys and God knows what else (I’m a chucker), while a friend of mine has equipped most of her flat from it.  Sometimes you get people who you feel are on the make to get stuff they can sell, but you don’t have to give them stuff if you don’t feel happy with them.

The only downside with Freecycle/Freegle is that it can be a bit of a pain transporting larger items if you don’t have a car or a van. And sometimes people have to go a long way to get their free stuff.

I don’t want Freecycle/Freegle to become some sort of Government department – that would kill it – but I would like to see local councils being encouraged to support it more. Maybe they could help people out with transport or offer space in community centres for people to drop off/pick up? It would stop people from chucking loads of good stuff into landfills, save people money and bring communities closer together. A genuinely good thing.

But this kind of policy would acknowledge the fact that our addiction to consumption is a bad thing and I can’t see the Government’s supporters in big business really going for this real version of the ‘Big Society’ as opposed to the toxic buzz word version used to dress-up savage public spending cuts as something more meaningful. Although they might make the odd feeble noise about sustainability, governments of all complexions want us to buy MORE NEW STUFF now. And advertiser funded TV, magazines and websites aren’t going to ask you to quit the consumption habit any time now.

So wear your second-hand clothes with pride – and see your thrifty ways as the ultimate act of defiance, or even revolution.



This entry was published on January 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “The Joy of Hand-me-downs

  1. Great post Lucy! I’ve often thought that’s the one negative of Freecycle ( I’m a non driver) and that would be a great way to solve the problem.

    I’d like to put in a plea that if people do buy new clothes for kids, that they consider buying organic or recycled ones. But hand me downs are fabulous and Eco friendly!

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