Heirlooms in hand-me-downs

Heirlooms in hand-me-downs

Since we became parents almost seven years ago, my wife and I have had the pleasure of not buying many clothes for our children.

With two daughters separated by just a small gap of three years, we were in a prime position to play pretty matchy-matchy dress-up with them at every chance.

But my wife and I have not used them as live-action Barbie dolls. Not because we think it's too cutesy, tacky or vain, but for a more mundane reason: We have received bags and bags of hand-me-downs from my sister and cousin, whose daughters are much older.

What a bundle we have saved from not buying tees, jackets, pants, shorts and skirts that would be worn for a couple of years at most. So what if a button or two are missing, the occasional zipper is a little wonky or the colours have lost their lustre?

The clothes are free and incredibly comfy. Fabric softeners cannot do what actual living in a T-shirt can do to make it drape over you like a second skin. Even the slightest rough seams have been worn smooth, occupying that wonderful space just before fraying occurs.

Another benefit of our dressing up Faith and Sarah in hand-me-downs is that they are not vain and fussy about looking less than perfectly turned out. (If I'm the one picking out clothes to dress them in, there's even less chance of any kind of fashion co-ordination - I just take whatever is on top of the pile or on the drying rack.)

I'm hoping that this means the narcissism that seems to afflict most teenaged girls will be slightly reined in in my daughters.

Lately, Sarah has even been wearing the hand-me-downs of Faith's hand- me-downs, as Faith, who's coming to seven, moves on to new old clothes.

Seeing my younger girl in outfits she was once too small for gives me a frisson of nostalgia mixed with hope, thoughts of the past enmeshed with anticipation of the future.

Hand-me-downs are not only environment- and pocket-friendly, but they are also slices of lived-in history. Like Proust's tasting of a madeleine, when I see Sarah wearing a tee or a dress she has inherited from her elder sister, I am instantaneously reminded of the time when Faith wore the same garment.

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