In my youngest child's closet right now there is a mix of clothing from a number of different sources. The majority of it is from his older brother, some from his older sister, some from his cousins, and a few pieces from his uncles. The rest is from consignment shops, local consignment sales and then of course some new pieces I've bought at stores or online. The overwhelming majority though, is hand me downs, and I have to say, those are my favorites. Finn, the oldest child, has finally gotten big enough to fit into my collection of vintage Witte family t-shirts that my mom has saved over the years, doling out little piles to the grandchildren as they get old enough. Last year she gave me a little stack she had saved especially for me, and in it was a t-shirt that my oldest brother Chris wore in the early 80s from our elementary school, Mackay School in Tenafly, NJ. It is the softest t-shirt on the planet, now a faded, washed out robin's egg blue. Also in the pile was a Tenafly Recreation Camp t-shirt with the mascot on it, a monkey with the super creative name of "Recky". Not only did I attend the day camp when I was a child, it was also my first real job as a thirteen year old as a junior camper. The t-shirt is also from the early 80s and is one of Finn's favorites, and every time he wears it I tell him another little story from when I was a camper or when I was a counselor.
Also in our hand-me-down arsenal are a few pairs of Adidas Sambas, worn now by all three kids as their first "real shoes", as well as a few pairs of Adidas track pants (I grew up in a soccer family). The kids spot them in photos of them growing up and they love that they all had the same sneakers, not just the same brand, the same exact pair. All three kids came home in the same Petit Bateau onesie (it's so teeny), and all three have splashed in puddles wearing the same yellow raincoat.
It is regular practice in our family to send boxes of hand me downs across the country as cousins get older and kids outgrow stuff. Usually little treasures are tucked in alongside the practical pants and button down shirts, little books or trinkets that kids forgot about our got too old for, photos and little notes. My mom is the best though, and her extremely tidy yet borderline hoarding pays off when she whips out something like a tissue thin t-shirt I hand painted with flowers when I was a Brownie which she had carefully saved.
As a girl growing up, I owe part of my occasional tomboy style to my mom, who would regularly hand down my brothers polo shirts to me to wear. Anything that wasn't too overly boyish I got to wear, and I didn't really think too much of the fact that navy and white polo shirts made up a good chunk of my childhood wardrobe. Although I liked dresses and rainbows and unicorns, I also loved my brothers old soccer shirts and jeans, which would eventually end their lives as cut off shorts for me.
One of the great parts about hand me downs? They're free. Clothing rapidly growing children is expensive and there is nothing better than a box of gently worn clothes arriving on your doorstep from a sister in law. That's why I love consignment sales and shops as well. Kids outgrow stuff so fast they sometimes don't have the time to rough the clothes up, and you can find stuff in perfect condition, ready to wear, at an absolute fraction of the price. The Katrina Trask sales are my absolute favorites, and I stock up at their twice yearly sales (and btw, their consigners have great taste, I have gotten everything from Burberry coats to Lilly Pulitzer dresses there for a STEAL).
My favorite part though, is the powerful memories that come back with these little clothes. Being able to all of a sudden remember when Finn was that little when Jack wears that favorite Adidas shirt of mine, or remembering a favorite childhood holiday memory when Finn wears the camel coat that my brothers wore. It helps the kids grasp the idea that they are part of something bigger, this big extended family that has already had countless memories and will continue to create more. Hanging on to these little t-shirts and sneakers and rain coats and dresses helps me create a little family team uniform, our own family vintage, one that we all get to share. It's a tangible memory that the kids get to learn about, and then they get to add their own memories and pass it on down the line. In a lot of cases with the clothing, it's a one of a kind item. A baseball team t-shirt from a Little League team with past glories of great catches and long summer days, a sailor dress brought over from Europe that made a cameo in photos with great great grandmothers they will never have the chance to meet, Halloween costumes that at one point were considered the coolest thing that child had ever owned.
I have to admit, one of the first things I did when I found out I was having another little girl was to go downstairs and open up my bin of clothing I saved from when Levy was a baby. Unfolding the tiny dresses and matching diaper covers I could hardly believe my five year old kindergartner was ever that tiny, and I also could hardly believe I would once again have a baby that tiny. I have her little red espadrilles that my mother bought for her, and sweet little handmade smock dresses I wore as a baby that have also made appearances as stuffed animal fashions. Holding her teeny tiny Petit Bateau bikini I could instantly remember that chubby legged, round baby belly stage, and it flooded back more clearly than if I was looking at a photograph. I could remember clasping the bikini and thinking it was so tiny I would lose it in the laundry. I remember putting the big orange swimmies over her tiny arms, swimming in the pool with her on a family vacation to Palm Springs.
The clothes that I don't keep and hand down I donate, and it always reminds me of a volunteer trip my mother and I went on to Guatemala. She was there as a nurse to help out at a free clinic and I tagged along to help out. The organization that started the mission in the small village we stayed in was from Minnesota (where I was born and where my mother is from) and she and I started to notice that a lot of the kids there had Minnesota t-shirts on. Tons of Minnesota Twins baseball shirts, Little League t-shirts with small town business names, all kinds of Minnesota stuff, donated from local Minnesotans connected to the mission. One day I was riding in the back of a pickup truck with one of the village members who was helping us on site that day, he was about 18 or so. He spoke a little English and we struck up a conversation about his t-shirt, a Kirby Puckett (Minnesota Twins player) shirt. "You like the Twins?" I asked him, telling him that Kirby Puckett was my brother's favorite Twins player of all time. "I never seen American baseball," he said, smiling, "but this is a great shirt. It's my favorite", he said, smiling widely. I shared my limited Kirby Puckett knowledge with him, which he seemed to get a kick out of. For the two weeks we were there, every time I saw this kid wearing the t-shirt, which was quite often, we would wave and he would tug on the shirt, "Kirby Puckett!" he would shout, smiling.
I remember thinking, man, if I could find the kid or parent that donated this simple, inexpensive t-shirt, they would be blown away by the journey it has had and how much this kid got out of it. It stayed with me, this idea of passing things down, on and on, keeping it going, the incredible value it winds up having. It doesn't matter if your shirt costs $1 or $100, it can be what you wind up doing with it that gives it the most value. xoxo