At three years old, do children care where their clothes come from? Does it matter if they are in designer gear that costs hundreds or were given a well loved piece for free? Personally I don’t think so but clearly not everyone agrees. Recently, I came away from a conversation with a perfect stranger feeling completely baffled.
Following a local playgroup, I was holding up Jessica’s coat for her to put on. Jess pointed out the name written inside. It says Erin. “What does that say?” She asked. At the moment, she’s asking what everything says. Her favourites are safety warning and street signs. I reminded her that the coat used to belong to a little girl called Erin but it didn’t fit her anymore. Her mum gave it to the charity shop so someone else could have it.
Making her opinion known
This isn’t a new conversation and Jessica was satisfied with the answer quickly slipping her arms into the sleeves. However, another mum standing nearby was obviously not quite so happy. “You really should cover that up” she remarked looking really quite concerned. I tried to dismiss her and explained they didn’t care and just like to point it out every now and then.
In fact, I really believe that by purchasing from charity shops, car boots and Facebook groups I’m teaching my girls to give appropriate value to clothing. In my opinion, barely worn items that cost a fraction of new save our family money that we can spend on fun things. They also reduce waste that may otherwise have gone straight to a landfill.
I wasn’t about to launch into a huge debate over consumerism and recycling and thought she’d stop there. Oh no. She definitely thought that by leaving a name in a second hand coat, it would affect me daughter’s sense of identity. She tried to convince me that my daughter deserved her own things and that at the very least I shouldn’t tell my girls that clothes were used by someone before them.
Time for a rethink
Her argument came unstuck when I asked if I shouldn’t hand down clothes within my own family. My girls are what are affectionately know as ‘wonky twins’. They don’t wear the same size clothing and so like many other parents, when Jess grows out of something, it gets passed to Emily. Obviously Emily does get new (or new for her) clothes too but I’m not going to throw away perfectly good clothes either.
Emily has already got her eyes on Jessica’s wellies. They are silver sparkly ones and she knows soon they’ll be hers. This is something I’ve encouraged. If they are wearing second hand clothes, does it matter where they come from? This lady told me her son outright refused to wear a pair of trousers because he knew they were from another child. She also bought a second hand high chair but said she made sure her son never knew as otherwise he wouldn’t sit in it.
From my perspective, this has less to do with self worth or a child’s sense of identity and more to do with her values as a parent and how she’s projected this onto her son. Why would a two or three year old care or even know there is an alternative unless they’ve learnt they have some control over their parent’s purchases.
For us, it’s not a one way street. We also pass on clothes and toys to friends or donate them. I’ve tried hard to involve my girls in this from a young age. Before every birthday and Christmas, we have a good sort and I ask them which toys they think younger children would like. They understand that they are getting bigger and know they will be getting new (or new to them) toys too.
Working for now
As my girls get older, I’m sure I’ll face more issues on purchasing second hand. When they start school, it’s guaranteed that some would think less of them for wearing charity shop stuff. That’s a bridge I’ll have to cross when I get to it. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that values frugality and recycling and instead places much higher value on labels and brands. For now, they quite enjoy the story of where their things come from. It’s much more interesting than just a shop.
Do you shop in charity shops or buy second hand on eBay? Is this something you hide?