By Amanda Rose Adams
Now that my daughter wears adult sized clothes I have bought her Banana Republic sweaters and snow pants at a thrift store.
During a rare car ride with my grandmother in the 1990s she shared the stories of her parents’ deaths when she was a child. It was eerie how she described her excitement about getting her father from the hospital and watching her mother gather up his clothes. When my nine-year-old grandmother grabbed her father’s heavy boots, her mother just shook her head. The clothes they were bringing were for burial, and one of Grandma’s many fully grown brothers could make use of their father’s shoes. Their mother died a few months later.
A few years after this conversation with my grandmother I was pursuing my master’s degree and working at a technology company. During a water cooler moment, I made a comment about buying used clothing at a consignment store. My work-friends were troubled that I wore used clothes. One of my friends was visibly creeped out by the idea and shivered at the thought of wearing “used” clothes. I learned to be more selective about with whom I chose to share my shopping habits and wins.
When I had my daughter in 2004, fast fashion coupled with a child who grows like a weed found me buying her new clothes most of the time. However, I was always a persistent coupon and clearance shopper and strategically bought mix-and-match colors to stay in my budget. Then she grew too tall for children’s clothes and I had to change my approach.
Now that my daughter wears adult sized clothes I have bought her Banana Republic sweaters and snow pants at a thrift store, Asics running shorts in discontinued colors for five dollars on Amazon.com, and slightly worn jeans at consignment shops. We also buy at overstock stores like TJ Maxx where my daughter spent her own money to buy herself a ten dollar dress for her first day of middle school and bragged about the bargain to our hair stylist.
When I was my daughter’s age I wore my brother’s used shoes. In fact most of my clothes were from garage sales or hand-me-downs from a family friend. The rest were hand made by my mother or bought on lay-away at K-mart. Unlike my parents who were raising four kids, I only have two. My son couldn’t give two figs about clothes and usually wears the first thing he can grab out of his closet, whether it matches his pants or not. My daughter is far more interested in expressing herself through her hairstyle and clothing choices. But she is also open to the creativity and flexibility second-hand clothing allows.
When I took her sized 5 ice skates to sell at the consignment store, my daughter looked a little sad, but I reminded her that she now wears a 7.5 and that she could have all the store credit for those skates, and she perked right up. Our community consignment stores are all locally owned. Our community thrift store benefit local charities with the proceeds they make from their sales, and by buying chain store clothes on a secondary market we are buying local, and that’s important to me.
My kids don’t wear used shoes, socks, underwear, or pajamas. When I was buying snow pants at the thrift store, I looked at used snow boots and decided that I could afford to buy my kids shoes that fit their own feet. I will splurge on shoes and bras because nothing makes a person more uncomfortable in their skin than ill-fitting undergarments or shoes. The rest can be washed in hot water with vinegar and given a new life.
Financially, I can afford to buy my daughter expensive clothes, but I don’t want to start that habit. I can’t make the emotional leap. Between my great-grandfather buried in his bare feet, my favorite Levi’s 501 jeans that came from a garage sale with a $5 bill in the coin pocket that I wore throughout middle school, and the hand pieced quilt I made from an old flannel jacket I shared with my father in high school as a form of grieving his death, clothing is more to me than a consumable possession. I am quick to pass on clothing we no longer need and rarely keep a sentimental piece. My approach to clothing, and what I hope I’m passing on to my children, is that while we live in a culture of conspicuous consumption, we have choices and the power to decide for ourselves what matters and how we express that.
Amanda Rose Adams is contributing blogger for Brain, Child, the author of Heart Warriors, A Family Faces Congenital Heart Disease, and her work has been featured in the New York Times Motherlode Blog, The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Bioethics and various literary journals. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaroseadams or visit her blog at www.amandaroseadams.com.