Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Clothes on Your Back

My six year old put on her favorite shoes yesterday and found that they were a little tight. She tried another pair--also too small. And so on. Her shoe wardrobe dwindled overnight from an excessive 9 pairs (!!!) to a barely adequate 2. Don't ask me how her feet can grow more than one size in twelve hours. It seems to be the general growth pattern in my home, but it never ceases to amaze me.

Usually when my children outgrow something, I go to the boxes of clothing in our boiler room and find a replacement. We call it 'shopping in the basement'. As I find good deals throughout the year, I stash them in boxes for when we need them. There are a few new things in there, but it's mainly hand-me-downs and thrift store bargains. Anyway, there were no cold weather shoes in Grace's new size. Because it would be a small miracle to find a suitable, like-new pair of size 12 girl's athletic shoes in one of Yakima's three thrift stores this weekend, I may actually be forced to buy something new.

I don't often have to buy new things for my kids, so this is an unusual situation for me. Buying used absolves me of being socially or environmentally responsible for the who, what, when and how of our garments. Now I have to wonder: Should I buy leather shoes, which tend to be more durable and comfortable, when the entire leather industry is more than a little disturbing? How can I make sure Grace's shoes and the materials with which they are made are not produced in some sweatshop manned by third world toddlers?

Then there is the economic aspect of the situation. High quality shoes in my area seem to run in the forty dollar or more range, a small fortune compared to the five dollar limit I normally impose on children's clothing. People look at me like I am a crazy woman when I tell them this, but my most recent under-five bargains include a like new Columbia parka with zip-in fleece liner and new-with-tags Stride Rite shoes for my son that someone apparently bought for sixty dollars but never wore. The average American family spends $624 per year on one child's clothing and even more for adults. We spend somewhere between $50 and $100 per month total for six of us. This includes everything from school clothes to shoes to ski clothing.

If I have to buy Grace's shoes brand new, it will make the third new clothing item I have bought her since her birthday last June. This seems to be the trend in my family. Rachael has received a brand new pair of ski pants and two winter hats this year, while Tyler needed a pair of PE shorts and two pairs of new shoes. Malcolm didn't get anything new; he's still even wearing last year's socks and underwear. Everything else is used, often free. We try to keep things in nice shape and be generous with our hand-me-downs to keep the circle of giving in good working order.