It is that time of year once again – the kids are back in school, the temperatures are dropping, and just as the leaves fall from the tree, so too must the storage boxes of clothes descend from the attic.
here’s always a bit of a thrill in the shift from summer to autumn and the ceremonial opening of the boxes – that rediscovery of knitwear of yore, seeing things you forgot you owned, or even knowing that as a doughy middle-aged man who would be classified as ‘winter stock’ you can now hide your hideous form from the world in a parka. But aside from being able to disguise my Michelin Man-esque physique, the attic clothing stash also contains that most treasured item of all – the hand-me-down.
Our eldest son has grown at such a rate that we have boxes and boxes of his old clothes, all primed and ready as the younger two grow into them. As a notorious cheapskate, I love hand-me-downs, because it means fewer clothes will be bought, something which is good for my pocket and also for the planet. I would never say I am snobbish about where I shop, but having made some purchases in a well-known high-street fast fashion emporium, I can say that in my experience, cheap clothes are not the bargain they appear to be. They shrink, they rip, they do not fit right. The rain jackets do not keep out the rain, the denim tears, the shirts rapidly become shapeless. Obviously, I am also shapeless, but we are shapeless in incompatible ways. It’s the same for the kids, except the clothes disintegrate at a faster rate – knees appear within days, elbows soon after, buttons pop and trousers shrink in the wash, leaving the kids looking like they’re wearing a hastily assembled homemade Incredible Hulk costume. Fast fashion, for a large family like ours, can be viewed either as a quick fix or a short con.
You can buy reams of clothes for very little, but, in my experience, not much of it will last. And with a virus on the loose we are all meant to be washing our clothes more, which in turn creates its own negative effects on the environment, whilst also causing clothes to age faster, and fast fashion is even less of a draw.
Ethics, of course, cost money, but there comes a point where you realise that on balance, it doesn’t cost that much more to shop smart. Even the sassy teen in our house has largely given up on fast fashion and now prefers to shop in charity shops, with mixed results. Sometimes she scores some decent vintage wear, but a lot of the time she looks like she stole her clothes from the old guy in Pixar’s Up. Still, her smugness at being able to look down on us anytime we come home with a bag filled with Myanmar’s finest needlework keeps her warm when her mothball-smelling Farah slacks do not.
Decent clothes wear better and last through cycles of wear – we pass on our eldest boy’s clothes to a nephew, then they come back to us and on to the middle son and then the youngest, and from there to any friend or relative who might have a child of suitable size.
Eventually they will end up in a clothing bank, and potentially from there in the markets in sub-Saharan Africa, but at least we can say we wrung all the value from them that we could before we jettisoned them.
There is no real moral high ground here, just a best worst-case scenario.
Just as with our food shopping, we try to achieve a balance between what we would like to do – support producers by paying the right amount for a product of quality – and what we can realistically afford.
It has become increasingly apparent that the ultimate hand-me-down is the planet we live on, and that thus far we have left it in a fairly awful state.