School shopping in my childhood was an event just as it is today, except ours meant cleaning out closets and passing the outgrown clothes down to the next child in line. The oldest child’s wardrobe became “new” from a second hand store or from someone else in our church family who were almost as poor as we. A new “hand me down” was as cherished as buying a new store outfit.
Having had five children, our own family continued the tradition of passing clothes down to the next one in line. It seemed logical when clothes were not worn out by an older child, a younger one should wear it. This doesn’t mean, however, the younger ones did not get new clothes. Our family had the means, so each child had some new outfits when school began each Fall, but not before closets were cleaned to see what was needed.
My youngest daughter, in her twenties, loved shopping for clothes. She didn’t buy the most expensive brands but she bought in abundance. Her closet overflowed even after her two older sisters no longer gave her their “hand me downs.” She didn’t outgrow them any longer, but her tastes changed. So occasionally she still had reason to clean her closet. It was always she who was the last in line for her sister’s “hand me downs.” Now, since she was the taller of the three, she had the opportunity to give “hand me downs” to them.
When my second oldest daughter left for an eight week summer school program at a college in another state, she took with her three suitcases, a box and travel bag full of her things including jeans, shorts, shirts, dresses, skirts and more. Certainly she had an outfit for any situation that might arise. This is a startling contrast to when I married and left home 41 years ago. I took with me a rather small suitcase and two paper bags filled with all I owned.
Was the lifestyle I led as a child all that tragic? Clothes, while an important commodity was not a fundamental issue to who I was. Granted, a person was defined to some degree according to what he wore. It was easy to identify the poorest child in the class or the richest. Still, qualities that made a person such as kindness, honesty, attitude, and friendliness, still prevailed.
Today’s children, on the other hand, are obsessed with the myth that clothes make them who they are. They are convinced they must costume themselves in Levi, Gitano, Dockers, Old Navy, Gap, Claiborne, Club Monaco, L.L. Bean, Tommy Hilfiger or other brand names. Generic brands are the kiss of death! Friends are chosen according to their outfits rather than their qualities. Young people have been physically beaten by other youth for the clothes or shoes they were wearing, and some have even been killed.
Admittedly, dressing nicely does make a person feel better about himself. But somewhere along the way, we’ve crossed over the line of rationality about clothes. What we put on our bodies today seems to say more about us than our character and personality. Clothes should not define us. Our attitude, good judgment, kindness, loyalty and other commendable character traits should be the reason another person chooses our company and friendship. I hope that is how someone would choose me as a friend.