I was introduced to the power of the hand-me-down early in life.

It started with my older brother’s playclothes, most of which were destined to become mine once he was done with them. I happily discovered that by trading in the frills, tights, and sugar and spice that little girls wore a la 1968 for a couple collarless knit tops, monochrome sweatshirts, and straight-legged jeans (“dungarees” in those days), I was better equipped to keep up with my brother and his buddies.

My excitement over acquiring more practical garb was only dimmed by the imagined indignity of rolled-up sleeves and cuffed pant legs — obvious hallmarks of the secondhand. After I grew into and then out of these ensembles, what I didn’t tear, stain, or wear out at the knees was destined to be sent down to the end of the line — our rough and tumble younger brother, the destroyer of the previously somewhat gently worn.

While in college, I got a lot of mileage out of select gems of my mother’s single-gal couture. Her summery blouses and full- and pencil-cut skirts were the pride of my vintage collection, which led one unsuccessful pick-up artist to glibly label me a “bohemian,” ages ahead of boho chic.

Continuing into full-fledged adulthood, I never hesitated to make the most of hand-me-downs. Many of my nicest maternity clothes were given to me pre-worn by friends and relatives. These expandable wonders saw me through three pregnancies before being duly shipped out to other expectant mothers following my retirement from the baby-making business.

Once I became a career work-from-homer, much of my dressier wardrobe was passed along for my use by my classy sister-in-law, who’s always had an eye for practical fashion. In time her largess was rightfully transferred to our daughters, who vied for first pick when a bag or two from Auntie K. showed up.

After a good run of giving to us, it appears the flow may finally be reversing, as sometimes happens in the time-honored tradition of hand-me-downs. A few weeks ago my sister-in-law called dibs on some odds and ends hanging on a rack in our middle child’s bedroom, should her niece eventually decide to part with them.

And why not?

I’ve already been upgrading and refreshing my own look with items outgrown, intentionally cast off, or left behind by our kids. They buy the kinds of higher-end brand names and au courant fashions I rarely splurge on for myself. Among recent acquisitions are a couple colorful sundresses, a quilted The North Face athletic jacket, a crisp medium blue oxford button-down, and a two-tone Under Armor hoodie, which I believe our daughter appropriated from her husband in their courting days.

Wearing the things they used to wear helps me feel closer to our much-missed kids, now that they’ve moved out. It’s the same way wrapping myself in my favorite uncle’s thinning plaid flannel shirt, using my dad’s polyester police uniform as a smock, and slipping into my mother’s fleecy PJ bottoms all keep me connected to those long gone, but never forgotten.

However they come to me, these secondhand bits and pieces support my theory it really is an “Everything old is new again,” “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle,” “What goes around comes around” kind of world — especially in my closet.

Gently used enthusiast and Woodsboro resident Susan Writer can be reached at susanthinkingoutloud@yahoo.com. You can also visit her at Uexpress.com’s Ask Someone Else’s Mom.

(3) comments


"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without"


Yes, I was buying 40s swing jackets with vintage buttons in the 80s, and I had a muskrat coat, all since donated to a theatre costume department. Still have brooches and clip on earrings, but realized in my fifties that I needed to curate the “quirky” touches since it was getting too easy to evoke a “bag lady” vibe instead.


“Everything old is new again,” seems quite true now. As I age I do find it all to be very new.

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