The Case For Dressing Your Kids In Secondhand Clothing

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
secondhand clothing
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My kids might be wearing your kids’ clothes. That is, if you drop them off at certain Goodwill and consignment shops. When I was a kid, wearing secondhand clothing was shameful. I always worried it would be like every “used prom dress” episode on TV ever — when the girl wearing the dress she got at Goodwill is destroyed with embarrassment because the rich bitch realizes it was hers and tells everyone. My kids? Not so much of a worry. Clothes are produced in much larger batches now and easily stratified: You get them at Walmart and Target, or you get them somewhere more high-end.

Other than the clearance rack at Target and the clearance rack on the Phish website, my kids’ clothes come exclusively from resale stores. Or came from resale stores — because since we have three boys, each two years apart, the younger two have spent their entire lives in hand-me-downs. It means we can date our lives by T-shirts. We can look back at pictures and say, “Oh my gosh, I remember when Blaise was in that green Phish shirt, and now the baby’s wearing it.”

We don’t buy secondhand clothing just because we can though. There are several important reasons we rely primarily on our local resale stores for everything from new shoes to winter coats. First, we’re poor. Okay, we’re not really poor, but we don’t have a lot of extra cash sitting around. My husband is a teacher, so you can extrapolate what his paycheck looks like (i.e., tiny). I’m a freelance writer, so you can extrapolate what my paycheck looks like (i.e., tinier).

Take into account the massive student loan debt we accrued, the food allergies that demand my kids and I have specialty bread and pasta and cereals and desserts, and the expensive psychiatric meds prescribed by the expensive psychiatric doc that keep me sane, and that tiny pile of cash gets even tinier. We turn off lights. We unplug appliances. And we shop at used clothing stores.

Moreover, have you shopped at some of those resale shops lately? I could afford to dress my kids in new Walmart togs. But by buying used, I can deck them out in Mini Boden, in vintage Ewok shirts, in Kenneth Cole, and in Scooby-Doo/Mace Windu/Spiderman/Captain America — of good quality, too, not crap.

They wear button-downs and Ralph Lauren with khakis more often than not. Last year, I actually wrangled them matching Christmas pajamas at the local kids’ clothing resale shop. I don’t doubt I’ll manage the same feat again this year. I’ve had people tell me they love how well I dress my kids. I take it as an enormous compliment.

There’s another reason we wear used (me included, as much as possible). The garment industry is out of control. Many major brands use sweatshop labor, and I don’t want to put my money into a system that’s exploiting poor workers in underdeveloped nations.

Sweatshop labor and poor working conditions aren’t the only problems with new garments, however. China’s textile industry alone produces about 3 billion tons of soot per year. It discards millions of tons of garments each year because they were simply dyed the wrong color. Rivers run with toxic dye from unrestrained mill run-off. And the textile industry uses a mind-boggling amount of water. According to the Wall Street Journal, it takes 505 gallons of water to produce one pair of Levi’s 501 jeans. Think of all the jeans Levis makes in a year. Then think of all the clothing in your local mall, your local Target, your local Walmart. Multiply that by every mall and every Target and every Walmart. The textile industry is actually the third biggest user of water in the world.

So we shop used. In the process, most of our money goes to charities, and the cash that doesn’t go there is used to support locally based businesses. My kids are dressed better than I could dress them new. And they have never complained, not once, of wearing secondhand clothing a stranger has worn, or wearing clothes their brothers have worn before them.

You can keep your mall. I’m headed to Goodwill, to Roundabouts, to the local cancer charity thrift store. I’ll go on eBay to get specialty items, like kids’ wetsuits. And then, when I’m finished, I’ll head over to an online consignment shop for myself. I need my own used wardrobe, after all, and personally, I’d prefer gently used Guess and Marc Jacobs to brand new Walmart.

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