Being the youngest of three girls growing up, I’ve always been on the receiving end of my sisters’ clothing cast offs. I also grew so fast as a child that my legs ached just trying to keep up. My second sister’s clothes from when she was eleven, fit me when I was I was eight. We were a family of six, by no means well-off, but always comfortable – at least as far as I remember. My mom made a lot of our clothes when she had time, but after she went back to work, we learned to make things last. So, if it wasn’t falling apart, any outfit was still a viable option for me.
This led to an unfortunate fashion style of always being slightly out of sync with the times. Besides occasional annoyance of having cast offs again, I really didn’t mind too much. Clothes were simply a way to have a bit of modesty, protect from the elements, and above all, be comfortable – no scratchy fabrics, no binding elastic, nothing around my throat. Colors could maybe match, but who cared about patterns? I guess it was bad enough that at one point when I was a pre-teen, my big brother went through my packing choices before a family trip and weeded out anything he thought was “gross.”
It wasn’t just my siblings’ clothing. My mother had a couple of beautiful prom dresses and her chic wedding dress, just to the knee. I could wear the wedding dress when I was thirteen. Despite its nuptial color it was a great semi-formal dress, and although I didn’t have much opportunity to wear it, I loved the story of it. I outgrew it by the next year. I used to play dress-up with the prom dresses when I visited my grandmother, but eventually Mom gave them to my more petite cousin, annoying me greatly.
Anyway, by that point in my life, I had my own style and chose my own clothes, thank you. My parents had split and my mom and I were budget-conscious. I’d hunt for quirky bargains at thrift stores, splurge on the very occasional label buy, and share my clothes with my girlfriends. By then, I’d grown taller than my sisters and mother and didn’t want their cast offs anymore.
When my eldest sister passed away and my grandmother just months later in what was a Truly Crap Year, I was given some of their clothes. Bundles of socks – both labeled, my sister’s in bubble paint, my grandmother’s with Sharpie, and in colors I wouldn’t usually wear. A plain black skirt from my grandmother that was somehow not too short for me. A few easy “house dresses” that the facility staff who looked after my sister put her in every day. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have much use for muumuus, I took whatever I was given.
I love having these clothes. Instead of being annoyed by hand-me-downs, I can’t let these go. I don’t care if they are out of style or that they may clutter up my closet a bit – they still spark joy, dammit. I like knowing they are there. I like to see the lemon yellow or pale pink ankle socks from my grandmother when I open my drawer and am always sad when the elastic goes on them. I love seeing my sister’s name written on her clothes in my mother’s handwriting. Although I do hate to see the fabric paint wear away from the soles of my sister’s socks. She hadn’t walked in a long time. To have these reminders of my loved ones makes me happy. To reuse their belongings, holding their stories in my head, brings me closer to them. And on some days, strictly around the house or out in the garden, I even wear the muumuus.