Second Hand, Hand Me Downs and Pre-Loved Uniform – A Love Affair.
My mum spent a lot of time cultivating her relationship with Mrs Drew, the incredibly stern boarding house mistress who waddled around our school grounds in very sensible shoes and calf length skirts that billowed from her generous hips, with her loyal terrier at her heels. She was formidable, but she’d taken a liking to my mum which worked in our favour – more than I knew at the time.
You see, thanks to my mum’s determination to ‘raise me better’ she poured everything she had, and at times even what she didn’t have, into sending me to an all-girls private school. But working 7 days a week; opening our home to foreign language students paying for board and lodging (while we shared a bedroom); and, downsizing our house just sometimes wasn’t enough. Not only were there the fees, school meals and trips to cover, there was also the strict uniform code which covered everything from the wool overcoat for chapel to the thick, navy blue (but still my faves ever) PE knickers.
But Mrs Drew held the keys, not only to the school uniform shop (open Wednesday and Friday afternoons 4-5pm) but also to the second-hand uniform stash. She received, sorted, clean, repaired, priced and sold the items no longer needed by the other girls. Like an upper middle class, 60-something, grey-haired ‘dealer’, Mrs Drew could get you what you wanted, in the size to suit and – for the right person – the best price. Perhaps not the PE knickers though – or at least I hope not?!
So you guessed it, I was decked out, head to toe, in Mrs Drew’s finest. With hand sewn name labels, hand-embroidered initials on my PE skirt and airtex collar in thread to match my house colour (purple for Babington fyi!) and each pleat on my grey, wool knee-length skirt ironed with precision and care. I looked and felt like the bees knees. I also looked exactly the same as all my peers. I felt no less than those who went on their two week ski holiday every year. There was no shame or embarrassment in my pre-loved garms (not that anyone could even tell). My uniform had been assembled with thought, care and love – and luckily, at a fraction of the price!
My mum will still gleefully regale the tale of my beautiful, second-hand wool blazer which Mrs Drew had put by for her, as she knew we were in the market for a ‘new’ one – pretty sure I got a good 3 years out of that before the arms were up by my elbows.
These threads of bargain hunting are woven into my life, into my core. In buying and wearing secondhand clothes, I don’t feel ‘less than’, I feel pride. Pride that relationships have been made, honest stories told and kindness shown. Effort has been applied to seeking out, time spent on rummaging and repairing, and perseverance practiced.
We’re really lucky that our primary school has a fab PTA, who act as a modern-day Mrs Drew (without the stern face and sensible shoes) – taking in no longer needed uniform items and selling them at a fraction of the new price. When the boys started school, 10 years ago, buying from the PTA stall wasn’t an option, I relied on their £1 school jumpers and 50p grey shorts for H to start in reception, then handing them down to Bruno (before he outgrew H!).
In the wider area there is SmarterUniforms, who collect unwanted and outgrown uniform for schools in Brighton & Hove – an initiative with more of a focus on ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’, but with the same purpose as Mrs Drew’s stash of yesteryear.
Admittedly, while my boys couldn’t give two hoots about the provenance of their blazer or the origin of their trousers, teenagers can be slightly trickier customers – ‘needing‘ the £90 AirForce Ones or the £45 Nike backpack. I can’t fib, cos in this respect I have to concede to forking out in the face of “but everyone else has…”. But a few discount codes later and an eBay scour can sometimes turn up a small saving on even the priciest of peer pressure pleasantries. Luckily, this year, the boys have decided that their 2 year old backpacks ‘will do’ – in fairness, thanks to lockdowns, I’m not sure they’ve seen out a full school year yet! I just try to balance it out and like most, just do the best I can, encouraging the boys to make ‘wise’ decisions (no mean feat when it comes to teens!) – whatever that may be.
So whether your kids will be returning in brand new clobber, hand-me-downs from siblings/friends/cousins/next door, pre-loved bargains or a mixture of the lot (yup, that’s my kids) – if they’re anything like me, Hugo and Bruno, they won’t notice and they probably won’t care. They’ll just care if you’ve brought the right snack at the end of the day.