The Magic of Hand-Me-Downs | Seventh Generation
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The Magic of Hand-Me-Downs

Author: abbybrooks

I was lucky enough to have an entire wardrobe for the first year of my daughter's life before she was a month old! How can that be? Ah, the magic of hand-me-downs.

I'll admit that I wasn't very excited about this option at first -- after all, my daughter was brand new, didn't she deserve new clothes? I'd already gotten a bunch of new stuff at my baby shower, so when my sister-in-law offered me a couple bags of baby clothes I took them "just to check them out." I remember sitting on my couch as I displayed each garment to my husband. I couldn't believe it -- everything was practically brand new! Most were even better than brand new; the stiffness was gone, nice and soft for my daughter's tender skin. Soon a new batch came from a cousin, and I realized I was set. I divided the bounty up according to age and stashed it in the closet, ready to go when I needed it. I was so excited, a whole wardrobe at no cost to me and no new consumption! Every time her baby garb grew a little snug I couldn't wait to pull out the next bag of clothes; what a deal!

I realize how lucky I was to be a part of this hand-me-down circle. Diaper leaks and an endless fountain of spit up (is she keeping ANYTHING down?!) drive countless wardrobe changes, so a hardy supply of basics is a must. And as every new mother realizes, by the time you carefully select the cutest coordinated outfit, pay more for it than a new shirt for yourself, get it home and wash it, she'll already have outgrown it! So, keep an eye out for relatives and friends with kids a bit older than yours and accept their discards with a smile!

photo: Mark Pilgrim


tracymakeup picture
I truly believe there are enough baby/kid clothes that if the industry shut down for a year (or more) and there were no more new clothes to buy, that there are enough in existence to cloth a generation. I was fortunate to have a cousin with twin boys about a year older than my boy. At six the only clothes I have bought for him have been the occasional special occasion outfit, genally from a second hand place. I then had enough for clothes to pass down to 3 other moms! its been awesome. I keep 3 paper bags and toss things into them when they get to small. when the bag is too full it gets dropped on a porch.
nionasteul picture
A great way to use "hand me downs" if you don't have anyone to hand them down to is to sew a quilt out of the clothing. Just think of all the memories of your children wearing the item, learning to crawl or walk or even ride a bike (if you can wait long enough)while your warm and snuggly ~ a hug from the past!! Even better if you have the Mom's baby clothes in a quilt for her baby shower!!!! Loving memories!!!!!
embiggers picture
I used to wear hand me downs from my older sister growing up. Now I have 2 daughters and her daughter is between the ages of mine. In our family clothes go from my oldest to her daughter them back to my youngest. I love seeing pics of all three girls wearing the same outfits. You can really see the family resemblance then.
mamamolli picture
With four kids I wouldn't survive w/o hand-me-downs! And I love seeing each of my boys wearing an outfit their older sibling worn - makes me smile to remember the older ones as babies. Or seeing them in the cute outfits I bought for an older cousin. We also have a HUGE consignment sale in my area twice a year - I actually get a little thrill trying to find the best deals and seeing how much great stuff I can get for the least amount of money. :)
g... picture
After buying all second-hand clothing for both our children in their infancy, we discovered they are sensitive to fabric softners and many detergents - even some of the fragrance-free brands. And I tell you this: Everyone uses fabric softener, oblivious to the really nasty chemicals - most known to cause CNS disorders and/or cancer, not to mention the simple fact that they are irritants. And fabric softener DOES NOT wash out. Believe me, I've soaked these clothes in tubs in the yard for days with vinegar and soap, and you get this fatty layer on the surface of the water, but the clothes still smell perfumey and still feel greasy, even after repeated washings. I've also discovered that old fabric softener residue gunks our washing machine, and we have had to take it apart and clean it after washing used clothes. Gross. But an earlier post was correct in pointing out the woes of new clothing. Formaldehyde, incorrect ph, heavy metals, the list of chemicals in new clothing goes on and on. My kids have reacted to new clothing as well - so badly in one instance that the company (Old Navy/Gap) was forced to take back the clothing. Although they swore they'd test it and get back to me, they became unreachable after the refund was issued. What gets me is that it's not just our children - those of us who are fortunate enough to have choice - who are exposed to this junk, it's the moms and dads and children of people in poor countries who work for slave wages, get poisoned on the job, and then have these chemicals dumped in their waterways so they get a double whammy with their drinking water and their food which irrigated with toxic water. It's mind-boggling the far-reaching effects of these decisions. The only vaguely preferable alternative I've found is buying organic from reputable countries and/or Oeko-Tex 100 certified. It's not cheap, and it's not readily available in this country. I still do buy used on E-Bay after quizzing people about their washing and drying habits. Which gets old and often gets terse responses. I've also discovered that even when people buy organic and certified low-toxicity clothing that they wash it in toxins in about 95 out of 100 cases.
dmettam picture
I was thrilled with the secondhand clothes I received from my cousin when I was growing up. My family was never well enough off to donate anything to a thrift shop. I still have zippers and buttons that were carefully removed from clothing that was too worn to be used by anyone before being relegated to the rag box. In today's economy, people in other countries are forced into near slavery to make the shoddy clothing we buy. If we can pass that clothing on (baby clothing is rarely worn out before it is outgrown), we can slow down the demand for merchandise from sweatshops. If we combine that slowdown with our verbal demands for living wages and decent working conditions for our brothers and sisters around the world, economic justice might be achieved in our lifetime. Walmart and its ilk are making billions on the backs of hardworking mothers, fathers and children. By passing on clothing (and by looking for clothing made under decent conditions, see: we can have a positive impact on the world and our kids.
we9hogk picture
Yard sales are another excellent way to cycle baby/infant/kids clothes, books, furniture and toys sometimes cheaper than thrift stores and always cheaper than consignment stores.
J. Johnson picture
J. Johnson
I've learned some valuable lessons from my grandmother who lived through the great depression. Hand-me-downs is one of them. We have been able to use hand-me-downs for our 5 and 2 year old boys since birth. Thanks to friends, friends of friends, relatives and Craigslist, we have purchased very few pieces of clothing. My wife has given people clothing that our youngest one has grown out of. We do get a kick out of seeing pictures of our friends kids with the same outfits our boy wore in the past. In addition, we have purchased very few new toys for our boys, but instead purchase nearly new toys off of websites.
kimmiewimmie picture
My mother clothed me in hand-me-downs and thrift store finds from the time I was born. (I had a cousin who was 1 yr older and lived next door!). I did the same for all four of my kids, and have always shopped thrift stores, garage sales & consignment stores for myself, as well. I'm now 51. Since I was unemployed in January, I have not purchased one new clothing item, and although it was originally intended as a way to save money, I now see it as a personal achievement. I love that I am not generating anything else that will eventually end up in a landfill. I bought a huge box full of adorable baby clothes at a garage sale this summer for my new granddaughter for $20...Alas, my daughter-in-law has not adopted the habit as yet, and apparently thinks "used" means "inferior". I will keep working on her; I think eventually her pocketbook will be the deciding factor. I love the idea of the "Recylced Gifts" baby shower and will suggest it next time!
KotosaMom picture
Consignment sales are also another excellent way to find gently used baby & children's clothes. There are lots of these sales in my area, and usually I'm able to almost completely stock my three children's wardrobes from consignment sales and hand-me-downs. A preschool, church, or other child-related charity will host a sale for at least a weekend to raise money for their programs. Not only are you getting great deals for your kids' wardrobes (and sometimes Mommy's, too!), but you're also helping to support a great cause & the families that consign their old clothes. Check out to search for consignment sales in your local area.
Comarish59 picture
I grew up in hand-me-downs. The only time I had something new was when my mom or grandma made it. And even then it was often made from the recycling of another garment. I remember when I was about 7, my aunt and uncle were in a car wreck and the dress my aunt was wearing was ruined, at least the top half was. This was back in the mid 60's and it was one of those shirt-waist dresses. the top half is like a tailored blouse and the bottom half is a very full gathered skirt. It was a very feminine floral print (not suitable for a shirt for any of her boys) so my aunt gave the dress to my mom. There was enough material in the skirt to make a dress for both me and my little sister. Nothing went to waste in our household. We didn't buy paper towels either. Clothes that were too stained or torn to wear or pass down were disassembled and any good pieces went into the scrap bag to be sewn into quilts, potholders and other small items. The stained and torn parts went into the rag bin to be used for cleaning, dusting, and all the thing most people use a paper towel for nowadays. This is something I still do to this day. My husband works in apt maint and is the make-ready guy. This means he's the one who has to clean out the apt if the former tenants leave anything behind. We take a load to Goodwill every week almost, though sometimes we keep an item or 2 for ourselves. Last month someone moved out and left almost 3 garbage bags full of kids clothes that were perfectly good, no stains or tears, her kids had just out-grown them. She told my husband she didn't have time to pack'm up for charity and he could do what he wanted with them. We have a neighbor struggling to make ends meet who was more than happy to take the clothes for her 2 daughters who were happy to get them. Some are a little too big but they'll grow into them. We don't have kids ourselves. My husband didn't grow up with as many-hand-me downs as I did and it took him a while to adjust to the idea that second (or third) hand is OK. He's fully converted now though. When my mom died last year my sis didn't want any of her clothes so I took them It was easier that way anyway. We wore the same size and frequently traded back and forth. Two weeks ago I went through my closet looking for things for my BFF's sister. Her house had burned to the ground and she only had the clothes on her back. I just pulled aside a few favorites and told her to pick what she wanted from the rest. She found enough to keep her going for a while and almost all mom's office attire fit her so she has clothes for work and home. I was glad I hadn't got rid of the office stuff ( had no use for it, just hadn't gotten around to getting rid of it). We made an agreement to notify each other when we want to clean out our closets. Like my mom and me, she likes classic styles that last. We're looking for a third person to join our trading. When you're a plus size clothes are more expensive so having a friend or relative that you can trade back and forth with can really help your budget.
cogold picture
I started a Mom to Mom Sale in our community a few years back. We rent tables to local parents who in turn sell their kids clothes, toys, gear, etc. It has become a huge success. I do most of my shopping from there now too. I sell off my old stuff and buy new stuff that the kids need. its way cheaper than going to consignment stores also!
meghangerrity picture
I really love the idea of having a second-hand shower. I felt so guilty receiving all of the new items at my wedding shower when I felt that used items would have worked just as well. I also feel that all of my vintage and thrift clothes that I buy for myself usually hold up much better than the newer store bought items. I will definitely recommend to my friends and family who are planning showers to use this idea (and hopefully I can plan one for myself one day)!
mlutz picture
A girlfriend of mine just had a baby shower for her baby boy, and the theme was "Recycled Gifts". Guests were encouraged to pass on items we used for our kids, or to buy from consignment/thrift stores. She got SO MANY cute, gently-used baby gifts, especially clothing. Everyone attending commented how much fun they had shopping for gifts and how their gift money went further, compared to buying new!
sarasoko picture
Another important thing to remember is to pass them on once they are outgrown. I create boxes for each of my friends with smaller kids than mine, and try to keep them moving before their kids outgrow them. Not only does it keep my attic from becoming overstuffed, but it also creates a system that everyone appreciates and latches on to. Now we have as many as 20 friends participating in a great circle of re-use! We've even discussed renting a storage space where clothing, toys and baby items could be dropped off, organized and picked up at will. A great way to make a difference that gets passed on within the community!
abbybrooks picture
Thanks so muchf or your point E.J.Starbuck! You're absolutely right! Sure makes you feel good about "not-new"!!
E.J.Starbuck picture
I loved this article, but found one major point missing. New clothes are usually completely TOXIC! From the fabric dyes to the finishings, to the flame retardants (yes, that's right, all baby clothes are required to be coated in formaldehyde so that your baby doesn't spontaneously combust) that are FDA required. So in fact, NEW baby clothes are totally toxic to your baby! The biggest benefit of hand me down garments is that they've been washed enough times to have the toxic chemicals washed away that are the most are likely to sink into your skin, or worse come off when a baby sucks on their clothes. But as you mentioned above, people tend to think newer is better and want new things. There's this misconception that second hand is dirtier or has a lower value. Case and point, I was in a second hand consignment baby store in my neighborhood with my mother the other day and she was complaining that the prices were too high, she had paid these prices for clothes that were new! I had to stop and explain to her that second hand was actually more desirable and less toxic for baby, so if it cost the same, then you were getting a bargain (even better if you're getting hand me downs)! I mentioned to her that in order to remove the loose surface chemicals on garments, you would have to wash them 10 times. With baby clothes, this is a particularly big issue, because by the time you've washed the item 10 times, baby does not fit the clothes any longer! So relish those hand me downs and when you can't get those, buy second hand! Eliza Starbuck of Bright Young Things
shsc82 picture
Most of the stuff I used for my son was secondhand, still would be, but he outgrew all the kids he was getting handmedowns from. I love stocking up at thrift stores when I see stuff in his size and once upon a child is a godsend (and way better organized than all the thrift stores here!) there is also now a great site called thredup that is a clothing recycling movement of sorts!
alternativehousewife picture
What I didn't get secondhand from other people with babies we found at thrift shops for literally cents. I'm not huge on baby clothes and I wear secondhand items a lot myself so it was not a sacrifice at all. It's true, it's been laundered and broken in for you and is extra soft and baby-ready. Getting something for free or spending a quarter on something that was originally $20 is thrilling! And leaves the extra money for more fun stuff.