Hand-Me-Downs, Sustainability, and Love Stories

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Not too long ago, while I was writing this post about the 7 forms of sustainable fashion, I realized that probably every day I wear at least one preloved piece of clothing – either something bought at a second-hand shop, or a hand-me-down swiped from my mom’s closet.

It made me think about how all second-hand clothes – but especially the ones we inherit from family or friends – come with their very own love stories.

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Hand-me-downs and their love stories

I started thrifting in 2018, after I moved to a big city, because my hometown didn’t have second-hand shops.

But for as long as I can remember – and waaay before I knew a thing about sustainable fashion – I’ve been receiving clothes from older family members. You know that bag of clothes from your older cousins that you used to receive at the beginning of every school year.

I have a very large extended family, so there were lots of those big bags full of preloved clothes, and clothing swaps were a family event.

To be honest, I wasn’t always happy to receive old clothes because they weren’t always the newest trend or the coolest piece.

Today, I’m here telling you how much I love hand-me-downs, so obviously I grew to love them. Going through these bags today – now filled with my younger but taller cousin’s clothes – brings back those comforting childhood feelings, and it feels like a privilege.

But I feel that the idea of hand-me-down clothes has bad rap, and that if we’re over 10 years old we seem to feel shame being (quasi)adults and wearing hand-me-downs.

Why does hand-me-down-ing feel wrong?

You know, in 90s movies and tv shows pre-teens make a huge drama out of having to wear hand-me-downs. So traumatic. Not fetch. 

But why? And why when we call second-hand clothing “vintage” we don’t have the same problem? I have some theories:

  1. Maybe the reason is economic or social. Maybe we see a link between second hand clothing and scarcity or financial problems.
  2. Maybe it feels outdated. We might think that wearing hand-me-downs was something normal to do when we didn’t have a fast fashion store in every corner, and something unnecessary now that we have options to look all cute and on-trend.
  3. But maybe it has to do with the fact that we won’t feel like ourselves if we wear clothes that belonged to someone else. Know what I mean? I kind of had this thought in the back of my mind the first time I went thrifting.

But think about it: do you feel that a new fast fashion chain-produced t-shirt that a million other people own represents your style? Probably not much. Then, why wouldn’t a unique pre-loved piece of clothing give you butterflies?

Just because you are not its first owner?

Maybe following pre-existing trends is easier, more practical. But cookie-cutter looks are boring. And dressing in second-hand clothes encourages you to be creative and reinvent each piece.

My hand-me-downs and their love stories

Have I convinced you already about how awesome hand-me-downs are? Let me give you two real-life examples.

And for that you need to know two facts about my mom:

  • She’s always right
  • She never throws clothes away. That’s why she always has the best summer dresses from the 80s and the cutest knitted cardigans on the very back of her closet

Hands down, my favorite part of the beginning of each season is scavenging through the clothes from her youth.

I have done this already a million times, but I always find something that I love: maybe last year those pied-de-poule shorts didn’t catch my attention but this year they will be a staple in my closet (because, surprise! trends always will come back), or my hips were too small for the beautiful dotted dress but now it fits like a glove.

I have done this so, so many times, and every time I get lost in the process: mixing and matching, freaking out over how many outfits I can create with this and that blouse,…

So yeah, these are two examples of me making my mom’s clothes my own, aka got it from my mama F/W 2020-21.

Exhibit #1

hand me down clothes outfit

The “her shortsightedness paid off” sunglasses

These were her prescription glasses sometime in the early 90s. One day, when I was around 16, I was in that room all homes have where we throw all the clutter that the family has ever owned. Among other things – like embarrassing childhood photos and a lovely esparto handbag that I also borrowed –, I ran into these beauties.

I ran to show mom. “Why don’t you get the glass changed and turn them into sunglasses?” She asked. And I did it.

And that’s the story of how I met my favorite sunglasses ever. They had been in my mom’s life for maybe 30 years, and now in mine for 6 and counting.

The “am I wearing it right” beret

Remember how berets became a thing sometime during the winter of 2019? Well, well, I didn’t have to buy mine because mom happened to have a collection of them hidden somewhere=.

When I texted her to ask about its story, she answered: ‘neither you nor your older brother had been born when I bought it! *surprised emoji with crosses for eyes*

Which makes the beret date back to the early 80’s.

The “kinda itchy but worth it” sweater

I had seen this sweater thousands of times in our childhood pics, but it wasn’t until the day I found it in a chest that I saw all its true potential – in the photos it looked too 70s-ish for me.

The best part of it? Guess who made this with her own hands! Of course, mom. That was probably 30 years ago, and it’s still going strong.

I love looking at the little yarn knots she made on the inside to connect the different colors, it’s like looking back in time and seeing her knit it.

Every time I wear it, I get compliments on how original it is, and people ask me where I got it – sorry, limited edition 💁‍♀️

Exhibit #2

This coat is special for two reasons: it’s reworked and it belonged to my great-grandfather.

how to create a capsule wardrobe

I never met him but I like to think he’d get a kick out of seeing a 20-something y/o wear his wool three-quarter coat and take photos in it for the interwebs.

When he owned this coat, it was longer and it didn’t have any faux fur around the neck and pockets. Those were additions one of my aunts – a true visionary, if you ask me – made when she was younger.

Welp. It has become my favorite and most worn coat of all time. It checks all the boxes: comfy, warm, big pockets, versatile, sustainable.


Now it’s your turn to tell the world your clothes’ love stories. Go thrifting, swap, borrow, have fun with clothes – that’s what they’re for.

Fashion isn’t meant to be boring.

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What do you think?

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