Tender loving wear: the beauty of hand-me-downs
Most of our clothes, once bought, are of very little importance to us, but this is not the case with precious items handed down by loved ones
Sarah Greene wears a coat handed down to her by her grandmother. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Emma Manley with her mother’s shoes and bag. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Ella de Guzman outside her shop Siopaella in Temple Bar. Photograph: David Sleator
Aisling Finnegan wearing a jacket her grandmother passed down to her mother and then to her. Photograph: Alan Betson
I have owned a large number of scarves. At a guess and say I’ve owned a few dozen, but the exact number could be closer to 100. But there is one that stands out. I could draw it from memory. I would recognise it, blindfolded, by touch, or even by smell.
It belonged – she would say “belongs” – to my mother, and some of my earliest childhood memories are of her wearing it, in the winter, with a camel-coloured coat. It would be the first thing I saw as I came out through the school gates to find her, waiting to bring me home. I would see it in the supermarket, in the distance, as I returned from my quest to find the Frosties. I would watch it on the line from my bedroom window, fraying slightly more with every billow.
Now it is (kind of) mine. I wear it as often as I can, sometimes when I shouldn’t. In my first ever byline photograph, it obscures any neck I ever had and gives me an eerie, floating-head appearance. On Facebook, I’m wearing it at house parties, at festivals and on the street in the snow – though it is not particularly warm, I find it helps keep out the cold.
I am not alone in my attachment to this one item; ask anyone, and they will each have at least one piece of clothing, handed down through one or more generations, to which they cling like a child’s blankie. What is it about these heirlooms that makes them so special?
Ella de Guzman is an expert in hand-me-downs; she co-owns Siopaella, a consignment shop in Temple Bar that resells other people’s cast-offs, giving a portion of the profits back to the seller. Buying new items, says de Guzman, was never attractive to her – something she blames on her upbringing.
“My parents were quite poor growing up and, being from the Philippines, it was in their nature to make stuff rather than buying it in the store,” says de Guzman. “If I saw something in a magazine, my mom would be like, ‘okay, I’ll make that’. I was the coolest kid in town – in Penticton, a small town in British Columbia, in Canada – so it was very hard to get high-fashion stuff.”
Today, de Guzman’s wardrobe is 100 per cent made up of secondhand items, with several that she has appropriated from her parents’ wardrobes.
“I’ve stolen a couple of things from my mom,” she says. “My Seiko silver watch is my mom’s, a little vintage watch I took. I’ve taken Levis from my dad, a denim jacket from my dad and this 1970s butterfly-collar wedding shirt that I still have – it’s insane. I also have my mom’s wedding dress. Everyone has their mom’s wedding dress, right?”
In Siopaella’s Temple Lane location, de Guzman’s grandmother’s sewing stool takes pride of place in front of the shop counter.