Every time the seasons changed, a garbage bag full of second-hand clothes was dumped in the middle of our living room. It was the mid-2000s, time of the bedazzled camisole and as-seen-on-Lizzie-McGuire muscle tee, and my sister and I got the pick of the lot.
The hand-me-downs were always at the heart of a preteen struggle between excitement and pride. I hesitated to wear the clothes of the long-lost cousins and little-known family friends who had come before me. Choosing which clothes to wear was supposed to be practice in building an identity, but when the clothes were pulled from a formerly unwanted wardrobe, my identity felt borrowed and worn.
A: Did you ever get anything material passed down?
B: I got this ring from my great grandmother, Alice—and that’s why my middle name is Alice. She passed away a year after I was born. Everyone in my family says I’m like Alice… My family’s quite curvy, and then there’s me, tiny, little blonde stick figure. But my nana Alice was a really short, Irish redhead.
Sometimes I’d cut the clothes into pieces, trying, with limited sewing experience, to make the clothes just unfamiliar enough to be mine again. It’s textbook. Teen thrashes against expectations, taking perfectly good clothes down with her, leaving a trail of loose thread in her wake. I never wore these disasters in public, but when I was young I took scissors to t-shirts whenever I felt too familiar to myself—whenever I felt too comfortable, too expectable. I was finding distance. I was trying to put space between other people and me, one DIY halter top at a time.
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Illustration by Benedict Leader