Luskin: Other People’s Clothes

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When my children were small, my mother and their godmother both supplied them with lacey slips, fringed shawls, glam shoes and a mink muff. The girls donned this wardrobe to costume their endless games of make-believe. It turns out, this dress-up was good preparation for the steady diet of hand-me-downs they received from their well-heeled suburban cousins. These lightly-worn threads supplied my kids well into middle school.

That’s when my girls shot past their cousins in height. By then, my daughters were so used to wearing hand-me-downs that it simply made sense to them to shop Salvation Armani, Saks Thrift Avenue and other second hand clothing emporiums.

It’s very gratifying to see my children practice thrift – as if I’ve been able to pass on the values my parents learned during the Great Depression of the 1930s and taught me. But for my kids, it’s not just a matter of thrift. It’s also a matter of taking the Three Rs to heart.

They’ve grown up with the mantra, Reduce, Recycle, Reuse. In high school, my youngest daughter resolved not to buy any new clothing for a year – and stuck to it. In college, my middle daughter culled jeans and a pair of practically new shoes dumped in the "Free Box" at the end of the term.

But it’s my oldest daughter who has taken recycled fashion to a new level. She hosts a biannual Clothing Swap for her conservation-minded friends. Twice a year, she invites about twenty-five fashionistas to bring the clothes they’re tired of wearing to her house for a swap. By all accounts, the event is a great success.

The partygoers model their picks for each other – getting immediate feedback about what’s flattering – and what isn’t. Everyone leaves with a new wardrobe, but no one spends a dime, and any garments unclaimed at the end go to charity. They choose a different beneficiary each time.

I’ve never made it to one of these events, though I’ve donated a few times. But my current favorite item of clothing came from the most recent Swap, when my daughter snagged me a pair of unclaimed jeans – in a lovely shade of purple!

I have no way of knowing if those early years of wearing their cousins hand-me-downs influenced my daughters’ penchant for wearing used clothing, or if it’s part of their zeitgeist – part of their environmentalist education.

I do know that the Clothing Swap sounds like fun – and it certainly makes sense. The young women who go are all just a few years out of college, gaining a toe-hold in starter jobs. Many of them work for non-profits, doing good work for little pay. But that doesn’t stop them from looking their best or dressing for success. They just do it wearing other people’s clothes.

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