I love a good hand-me-down. Straight up, simple as. Free clothes in wearable condition? Electronics or furniture without the huge price-tag? You had me at free! I’ve grown up in hand-me-downs: from my brother’s school clothes to pitying gifts from family friends; passed on items just don’t get the appreciation they deserve.
My family just didn’t have a lot of money. I’m not ashamed to say that whilst my mum worked three jobs, we still relied on benefits to help us live. We never had branded things, we didn’t have internet or cable TV- the TV itself was pre-owned (from my grandma) and the boxy, clunky computer was a fob-off from some wealthier cousins. To this day I remain totally unsure why we had the computer in the first place- the only thing it was capable of doing was running the Lego theme-park game given to us with the machine itself and occasionally start up Windows’ Paint. I think just the concept of having it in the house may have been a way for mum to make me and my brother feel a bit more like our friends.
Friends’ houses were so strange. Having older friends promise their clothes “when they get too small” was the ultimate offer. I remember the pure excitement when I received a bin-bag of clothes from the cupboard of a family friend, being absolutely astounded at the labels of brands I recognised, picking through cupboards of pretty clothes bought straight from a store that me and mum would never so much as walk into. It was like Christmas, being given a pile of clothes that- looking back- I know we couldn’t afford to buy ourselves.
It sounds sad. It sounds like I’m weaving some sob-story of, “oh poor me, I can’t buy designer clothes and wear expensive dresses to the school disco!” Yikes, no. Honestly, it’s just always been a part of my family’s life: we’ve never had any money so we’ve lived in other people’s clothes and with their possessions. The biggest problem I ever encountered with it was when kids pointed it out- my personal favourite memory being the time when I got told I looked “homeless” because I was wearing a coat that was (admittedly) a bit too small and clearly designed for someone several years younger than me; it was only then that my hand-me-down habit became embarrassing.
Now days it’s coming back into trend to shop second-hand or vintage, hearkening back to my days of a wholly handed down wardrobe. This can’t be a bad thing: every year Americans throw away 13 million tons of textiles whilst Brits are doing no better, sending over 200 million items of clothing to the tip. Just think of all the waste and money we would save if we just resold or passed on our unwanted textiles. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure after all; someone somewhere has what you want- I guarantee- without you having to buy it new from a store.
Stores like H&M have tried to launch campaigns encouraging the reuse of textiles, offering £5 off your next purchase if you hand in a bunch of old clothes to be recycled- but it’s all to limited success. We as a society still have a warped idea of reused clothing: it carries a taboo, a stigma that we haven’t managed to erase. If you shop second hand, you’re skint or cheap.
Other stores have tried to avoid this stigma when reselling clothes, one of my favourites being Urban Outfitter’s ‘vintage’ section. On a visit to their Oxford Street store, my boyfriend and I were amused to find a pair of slightly worn out converse that couldn’t have cost more than £40 on first purchase being resold at £60 with a ‘vintage’ label. If those same shoes had been labelled as second hand and sold at £20, instantly they have the semantics of cheapness that just don’t go with vintage. I guess the ‘Urban Outfitters’ tag itself helps with the image, however, it being the epicentre of the rich-kid indie scene.
Let’s all just make an effort to shop more second hand- that’s my request. Accepting handmedowns and buying from charity shops alike work as a way to recycle textiles and begin to break down the idea that used items are characteristic only of groups of people with low self-respect; it’s 2017, we should be past that by now. Pop into your local charity shop, have a look around- and if you do have particularly expensive taste then try a charity shop in an upmarket area; I once found a Ted Baker dress for £10 in a Hertfordshire Oxfam. Amazing.