Hand Me the Hand-Me-Downs

We often hear about recycling paper, plastic and metal to preserve our environment. Nowadays, we’re advised to take our conservation efforts up a notch by recycling clothing.

My family has carried on this practice for generations, never suspecting we were going green. My mother, the youngest of 12 children, lived with seven — yes, seven — older sisters’ hand-me-downs. If ever a girl preserved the planet for posterity, Mom did.

She brought this ecological mindset to her five children. With infallible mother-radar, she hunted my brothers down. Mom threatened them with death or extra baths to coerce them into trying on last year’s kneeless pants. She re-patched, rolled up, let down and let out. Mom stressed, guessed and pressed, shifting jeans from one brother to another.

My sister and I scorned our brothers’ childishness. We loved trying on clothes! We dug into boxes, throwing skirts, sweaters, and dresses like confetti, reviving friendships with favorite outfits. Until I discovered I could no longer button my beautiful ruffled green dress, purchased with last year’s precious birthday money.

Obviously, my mother had shrunk my dress. Why couldn’t she do laundry right?

My sister tried it on. Good for a couple more years’ wear, Mom said — on her. Sigh.

By all rights, I, as the oldest girl, should have enjoyed life without hand-me-downs. Instead, I wore them throughout my childhood. Something was always better than nothing. But the main reason I didn’t mind: I fell heir to my friend Angela’s glorious castoffs.

A year older than I, Angela never wore hand-me-downs; therefore, she was rich. Angela lived in the Big Town near the swimming pool, a glamorous existence I, surrounded by cornfields, could only dream about. She read trendy teen magazines and knew what clothes were hip. I read Alice in Wonderland and Little House on the Prairie. When my dad would have kept me dressed like my favorite characters, Angela helped me live in the 20th century, offering an annual treasure bag of school clothes.

One fateful year, though, my uncooperative body not only caved where hers curved, but, after one summer’s growth, I topped her by four inches. Recycling would have to take a different turn.

No one in our area held garage sales during the ’60s. However, my mother discovered an odd new business, a consignment shop. Mom bought me a red corduroy jumper and ruffled blouse to console me for the loss of my fashion pipeline.

I’m proud to say my family continues the recycling tradition. My sister and I still trade clothes when we get together. We practice globally responsible shopping, stimulating the U.S. economy as well. (Are we patriotic or what?)

Recycling can be a beautiful thing.

Me and my sister in 1970. We still swap outfits after all these years.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you “recycle” clothes?

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