Thursday, November 5, 2009


One of the advantages of having a uniform is that you don’t have to worry about what to wear. When you are the poorest kid in the school bringing homemade popcorn for lunch, that’s a relief.

To make things worse, my mother used to sew most of my clothes and I hated having to wear a purple jumper made just for me when all the other kids were wearing balloon skirts.

But I didn’t hate everything I wore. I also had hand-me-downs.

I have a cousin who is very close to me in age. Her father worked in fashion, her mother loved clothes, and every few months I’d get to rifle through huge garbage bags filled with my cousin’s discarded clothing. Things I had coveted a month ago and had seen her wear only once or twice were there. Piles and piles of almost new store bought and even imported clothing up for grabs. For me! Skirts, dresses, bows, ribbons, pockets, all the extra details my mother didn’t bother sewing were there. And I didn’t have to share with my brother. The only thing better than those bags was when the school library received book shipments.

But all that ended when we hit puberty and my cousin stopped growing. I didn’t. At almost 5'4 I'm the tallest woman in my family by at least four inches and now I have no cousin giving me hand-me-downs.

Sometimes I get them from friends, but it's rare and often awkward. It’s hard to explain that I’m not being sarcastic – I’m really that excited.

Fortunately for me, Brooklyn is a great place for hand-me-downs from strangers. A walk down the brownstone belt is better than a trip to a mall. Clothing on railings better than on racks. I’ve gotten cashmere sweaters from boxes by stoops and three weeks ago, just as the weather was starting to turn, I picked up a J-Crew black wool pea coat.

Last Monday I was riding my bike back from an early co-op shift. I was tired – still recovering from Halloween excesses. I passed a black lump on the road. It was wet from the rain and it looked like it might have been run over by a bike or two, but it was still recognizable.

I checked for oncoming traffic and circled back to take a better look. It was a pair of elbow length black gloves with jeweled wrists – the kind of thing I would never buy, but have always wanted to have. Without hesitating I placed the limp wet gloves in my basket and sped off, hoping no Audrey Hepburn would come out chasing after them.

She didn’t. I hand washed in the tub and it took them about a day and a half to dry before I could try them on. They fit like a glove and I can’t wait for an excuse to wear them.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s brunch party anyone?


  1. In Australia we all wear uniforms at school and I can't thank uniforms enough for helping me stay sane throughout those turbulent years. The mere thought of what students have to go through to get ready each morning, without uniforms, scares me.

  2. It's a scary thought. Figuring out weekend clothing was bad enough - having to go through that daily would have been horrible. I'm so lucky I don't have to worry about that now.