I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes. (I suspect this shows.) If I drop $50 in one year on improving my wardrobe, that’s a pricy year. My closet, you see, is a burgeoning testament to the beauty of hand-me-downs.
From a young age, I was taught to embrace this phenomenon. After all, my older sister Kim is known for her keen fashion sense. So her hand-me-downs were a desired thing. Add to this my cousins, aunts, great-aunts, and my goodness, I didn’t have to buy a thing! As an adult, I’ve culled hand-me-downs from coworkers, in-laws, and most recently, my mother’s best friend, Noreen. Noreen’s castoffs are especially coveted, because she’s the only person on this list that I’ve mentioned so far besides my sister who isn’t short. When you get a pair of pants from Noreen, the hemline is guaranteed to actually fall below the ankle.
The hand-me-down process of refreshing one’s wardrobe is, admittedly, a flawed method. This is twofold: one, as I mentioned, is length. My mother’s family is filled with petites, and I am decidedly not. The other is size. The beauty of life is that people come in all sizes, and the castoffs that come my way reflect that variety. You’d think I’d turn down the stuff that doesn’t quite fit, but you’d be wrong. My weight has yo-yoed so much over time that I’ve worn everything from a size six to a size twelve in the past ten years. So if someone has a bag of twelves and I’m an eight, this doesn’t immediately exclude those hand-me-downs from consideration, because chances are good that I’ll be back in a twelve someday. As a result, I currently have exactly one pair of jeans that are actually my size (a gift from Kim).
My hand-me-down wardrobe is probably most evident in winter. I have one pair of winter pants that is close to fitting. The other twelve (because the beauty of keeping hand-me-downs until they literally disintegrate is that I have a lot of clothes) have earned me the nickname Droopy Drawers. I also can’t stand the way even the most modest of belt buckles feel, and have taken to using a bungee cord instead to hold my pants up. I suspect there’s a word out there for this style. (No, not “quirky.” Maybe “trashy.”) But there’s another bonus to wearing secondhand clothes: you quickly learn not to care what others think of your fashion acumen. Go ahead and judge me for my droopy corduroys and bungee cord: I’m warm and my pants are staying up.
Special occasions are when I break out the good stuff. Social events and public appearances call for Noreen pants. See, here’s the beauty of Noreen, besides the long pants: she shops at nice stores, and when she finds a style of trousers she likes, she buys them in a variety of colors. We’re currently close to the same size, and we have similar taste in clothes. So when she cleans out her closet, it’s a holiday for me: I know I’m going to get pants I really like, that fit, in a few different colors. So if you see me somewhere and I actually look kind of stylish, guaranteed I’m in a new-to-me Noreen outfit.
If you’re going to adopt the hand-me-down lifestyle, there are a few things I’d advise: one, you need to lose the ego. Sometimes, people will offer you their “fat” clothes after they’ve lost weight. The first time this happened, I was insulted. But the woman had started as a ten and dropped to a four, and the stuff she was offering was really cute, so I swallowed my self-esteem and agreed. Like I said, people come in a variety of shapes. Her “fat” tens were some of the best-fitting pants I’ve owned.
Two, you do need to learn when to say no. If the clothes being offered are more than ten sizes too big or too small, you have to politely refuse. There’s baggy, and then there’s ridiculous. Also, if this is the first time they’ve cleaned out their closet since 1974, it’s okay to decline the offer. Just because the outfits are free does not mean it’s acceptable to walk around dressed as an extra from the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. This is the bungee-cord-belt chick talking: have some pride.
Three, if you don’t do a little clothes-weeding yourself, you’ll quickly find yourself unable to wade through the trousers to get to your closet. Pay it forward. The only way to make room for new hand-me-downs is to get rid of some of the old ones.
I wish you luck in your hand-me-down endeavors. The practice has certainly served me well, and I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re truly lucky, you’ll find your own Noreen. Just don’t steal mine.