01/08/2014 12:17 EST | Updated 03/10/2014 05:59 EDT

Overcoming My Fear of Second Hand Clothing

They were called 'jumble sales' and I loathed them. They were the used clothing sales where my mom bought most of our outfits when we lived in England.

When the sale began on a Saturday morning, the pre-loved garments were neatly laid out on tables in the church hall. But 20 minutes in, dozens of hands picking through the piles left them well-and-truly 'jumbled.'

After we moved to Canada, money was still tight for my family. Hand-me-downs from friends were the new threat. Some of them fit okay, but colour was a whole other issue. Much of the light clothing had taken on a grayish tint, from being washed too often with the darks. Most of the dark clothing was faded.

Working at an international aid agency today, I now know how lucky I was to have so many clothes of any kind. But as a young girl, very few of the outfits were what I'd have chosen for myself.

Buying brand new

As soon as I got my first job, I began buying my own things -- new. I remember the excitement of filling my closet with straight-from-the-factory items that no one else had worn!

Running my hands over the row of clothes on the hangers, I reveled in the true colours of the dye, and the crispness of the fabric. I often left the tags on until the last minute before wearing, to remind myself that these were no one else's hand-me-downs.

I grew up figuring that used clothes were an unfortunate function of low income and tight budgets. I would never have imaged that, as an adult in a home with two incomes, I'd be happily choosing to buy them. Yet at 44, I buy most of my outfits in second-hand stores. And I love wearing these clothes to work, out to dinner, and even to special events like parties and weddings.

Returning to second-hand

My change of heart didn't happen overnight; it was a gradual transformation. It began after the birth of our first child, as we tried to pay for daycare while keeping up with his constant growth spurts. But perusing the adult racks one day while the baby slept in his stroller, a whole new world opened up.

Here are five things that surprised me about buying second-hand:

  • The quality and selection are much better than they used to be. I'm constantly amazed by what I find in second-hand stores. Some of the items still have the original store tags on them, and many have clearly been worn only once or twice. The colours are true, and the fabric, crisp.
  • I dress better than I would if I bought retail. At $12 -15 for an entire outfit ($6 to 10 for my son) I can buy brand names I could never afford new. I can try out new looks or colour combinations without breaking the bank or regretting my choices.
  • I don't have to fear losing or gaining weight. I discovered this during my two pregnancies, and realize it anew whenever I drop or gain 10 lbs. With the cheaper cost of buying second-hand, I don't have to be afraid that a successful New Year's fitness regimen will leave me with nothing to wear.
  • It's often quicker than heading to the mall. Clothing in many second hand stores is laid out according to item and size. If it's sweaters I'm after, I can flip through an entire rack devoted to nothing but sweaters in size Medium. I used to walk through an entire mall to see the same selection.
  • I feel better about not buying cheap new clothing. In my work at World Vision on the No Child For Sale campaign, learned that the 'deals' we find on that brand new t-shirt or jeans are too often funded by poor labour practices, including child labour. I travelled to Asia recently to meet children working in factories from dawn to dusk, under dangerous conditions. It's no life for a child, and having seen child labour, I don't want to be a part of it.
  • So this New Year, why not reach out of your comfort zone and into the racks of a second-hand store? You may be surprised by what you find there.

    Learn more about No Child For Sale, and how considering new shopping habits can help children.