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Make Kids Happy with Hand-Me-Downs

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A hand-me-down swap in action.

© Whitney Ferrall
Kids grow fast, play hard and change their style on a whim, so hand-me-downs can be a blessing to parents. Unfortunately, kids often see them as a curse. Here's how to make everyone happy:

Only Offer the Best

Don't subject your child to pilled tees and stained shorts, but don't throw them out just yet, either. You may be able to salvage worn clothing, and have fun in the process.

Get Crafty

If you're feeling creative, upcycle less than stellar items into fresh looks custom designed to please your child.
  • Embellishments - Novelty is always popular with kids, and an afternoon of crafting can produce a fun new wardrobe. Materials to try include ribbon, fabric markers, embroidery floss, and lace.

  • Appliqué - Kids also like to cut fabric swatches into letters, numbers and symbols for appliqué. Apply elements strategically to cover stains and other imperfections, or just to add some flair to plain clothing. Use fabric glue or simple stitching (hand or machine) to attach adornments to clothes; just be sure to slide a sheet of cardboard between fabric layers if gluing.

Take a look at some of your favorite kids' fashion lines for inspiration. J. Crew’s children’s line, Crewcuts, is a great source. The catalogs include alteration ideas from time to time, like crinoline poufs on a sweater, and grafitti on khaki pants.

Keep It Current

Vintage is one thing, outdated is another. Keep timeless charm and graphics in the family, but don't let your child step out of the door as if it were a time machine. Take note of what's in style now, and move qualifying items to the front of the closet.

Mix and Match


Pair separates with something new for a fresh look with character. Kids get a creativity boost attempting to work hand-me-downs into an existing wardrobe and planning select purchases to pull everything together. Their ultimate look will be unique and more interesting than pulling a complete outfit straight from a catalog, but they can still showcase their awareness of trends.

Teach Lessons in Respect

Here's to well-balanced kids! In addition to turning out presentable kids with good fashion sense, hand-me-downs can also serve as the catalyst for teaching valuable lessons in respect. Here are a few:

  • Respect for the Past - Encourage your kids to honor family, tradition and craftsmanship by presenting hand-me-downs as heirlooms. Kids are especially open to clothes that once belonged to a "cool" friend or family member. Play up the fact that cousin Sarah or neighbor Sam loved the clothes.

  • Respect for the Earth - Congratulate the kids on protecting the environment by reusing valuable goods and reducing natural resources consumed in production.

  • Respect for a Dollar - Give the kids a little lesson in economics by asking what else they might be able to do with the money saved on clothes this season. If your kid is brand sensitive, explain the concept of high-low fashion. Saving on generic basics may enable them to splurge on distinctive pieces. Alternatively, a great hand-me-down may be the key piece, allowing your denim addict to bring home the faded flares and the dark wash jeggings.

No hand-me-downs coming your way? Try garage sales, consignment and thrift stores, eBay and Craigslist for great deals. The hunt can be a thrill, and given that they will be the recipients of your finds, the kids may even get into it.
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