In the fifth grade, one of my classmates came up to me and said, “No offense, but why do you always wear the same clothes?” The short answer was that my family was cheap and that my grandmother had made the majority of my wardrobe, which numbered about six pieces of coordinating skirts and tops. Looking back on this moment (which marked my hatred of people saying “no offense” and then being offensive), I’m proud of my response: “Because I really like them.”
I date my love of vintage, weird, and/or homemade clothing back to around that time, but it didn’t really gain steam until I discovered thrift shopping when I was 13. Regardless of what was happening in my life—because growing up is effortless and fun!-- I always enjoyed the thrill of the score whether it was a vintage Yves Saint Laurent dress, a velvet blazer, or some cork-soled wedgies from the 70’s. Dressing in vintage let me tell everyone that I was very special and unique. After a while, though, it became a habit and a natural part of how I viewed myself. It also did not contribute to the growing demand for sweatshop-made clothing, which I avoided even then. And like my parents, I’m cheap.
Upon my husband and I finding out I was pregnant with a girl, I cautioned myself the way someone with a lifelong passion probably should: Don’t push the kid into loving clothing and thrift-shopping or she will probably resent you. With my luck, I thought ruefully, my daughter will view clothes only for their practicality (very few of my clothes are practical) and not their more . . . artistic qualities. I waddled through my pregnancy wearing tie-died caftans and lace maxi-dresses like a boss and made certain that I would make sure the baby looked normal until she chose not to -- on her own terms.
We built up a small pile of onesies for the baby, gifts from family and friends. All very cute, sweet little outfits. The baby was born, and after I figured out that I could dress her in a footie without breaking her, we were content. All was well until she was three months old, my husband lost his job, and she hit her first really big growth spurt.
I managed to wrangle a few hand-me-downs from friends, but for the most part I was on my own trying to make sure my daughter was adequately clothed. That growth spurt never really stopped (her father is Wookie-sized), resulting in a child who is quite tall. Since she was growing at such a fast clip, I needed access to cheap, readily available clothing. Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and smaller thrift stores provided me with the answer.
There are some serious downsides to thrift-shopping for children that might frustrate someone who is not a seasoned second-hand shopper. The clothes are cheap, yes, but there may not be anything cute for sale the day you go in; or there may not be anything in your kid’s size. And even if you find something stylish it might be seriously stained or falling apart from frequent washings. The key is to hit the same stores every week and snatch up the good stuff. After I got the hang of shopping for her, I realized that I should be grabbing items that were one or two sizes larger. (Light-bulb moment!) She grows fast anyway, and there’s less pressure to make sure it fits right now.
And, lo, what good stuff I’ve found! Hand-made Peter Pan-collared dresses with embroidered flowers. Corduroy jumpers with cute buttons. Psychedelic-print dresses from the sixties. Floral Laura Ashley dresses from the eighties. Corny sweater vests with train and teddy bear motifs. Freaking adorable, barely used stuff from two years ago that someone let go. It’s all there in my daughter’s closet, augmented by the occasional pair of new shorts. And even though my husband found a job (it only took a year, sob) I’m still going strong.
The response from family, friends, and the general public has been positive, although I think it has a lot more to do with her innate cuteness than her outfits. And sometimes I mess up a little. The perfectly faded eighties-era Avengers t-shirt I found? My husband suggested that perhaps it would be best for pajama use only. After targeted questioning, he said that it was too big and a little too barf-colored for his taste, and I agree that perhaps not everyone would appreciate it. Yet. I’ll throw it on her next May when the Avengers sequel comes out and we’ll see then.
Of course, these halcyon days will not last forever. My daughter is already beginning to exert her will in a number of areas, and sometimes she rails against her twee wardrobe. Partially this is because of the heat—here in Texas it’s cooler to hang out wearing only a pull-up. (Try it!) But I know, ultimately, that at some point she will want to choose her own clothing, and it’s not a hill I consider worth dying on. What I am doing now, though, is saving all of my clothing that has just gone out of fashion for her, in case she decides as a teenager that her old mom had it going on fashion-wise. Maybe I'll even let her borrow a piece or two.