Wearing the Clothes of the Dead

I love thrift shops. It’s a rare occasion when I buy my clothes retail. Why would you, when there are perfectly good clothes out there for one tenth of the price? I must say, though, it’s getting harder for me as I get bigger. Thrift stores are for skinny people. And that only stands to reason, because people tend to cast off their old clothing as their waistlines expand.

When you get to be my size, though, I can only think of a few possible scenarios for the clothes that are available in the thrift store.

  • The clothes are hopelessly out of style, in which case I’m getting what I’m paying for.
  • Someone lost weight and they are confident that the pounds will stay off. Then, yay! Good karma for me!
  • They’ve gained even more weight and have given up hope of ever losing it, which is sad to contemplate.
  • But even sadder to contemplate is that they died and their family gave the clothing away.

Of course, there is no way to ever know. The reason I’m thinking about this today is that while unpacking I came across my mother’s raincoat. When she passed away 24 years ago (my God, how time flies) it was one of the things I asked to have, because I had given it to her.

She once told me that she always wanted a London Fog raincoat, and when I went off to college I was rooting around in a thrift store and I found one. What are the odds? It was in perfect condition except for a tear in the lining, so I paid 50 cents for it, sewed up the lining and gave it to her for Christmas. She loved that raincoat. It’s been sitting in a box on my closet shelf ever since she passed away.

I may just have to take it out and try it on, because it’s possible that I’ll be moving soon to the Pacific Northwest, in which case a good raincoat will come in handy. Odds are pretty long that it will fit me. (My mother weighed 100 pounds soaking wet.) But it will be hard to take it out of the box to find out. The first thing that always assails me when I do, even after all these years, is the smell of cigarette smoke. (Cigarettes where what ultimately killed her.) But then come images of her wearing it, looking quite pleased with herself. That is a nice memory, so I’ll power through that cigarette smell.

The funny thing to contemplate is that someday I will leave behind that raincoat, and no one will know its history. It will most likely wind up in a thrift shop once again. The next person who wears it will have no idea of its significance. That’s the way of things. Inanimate objects are filled with emotions and memories by their owners, but they mean absolutely nothing to other people. It’s as if our own stuff is endowed with some sort of magic that is lost on those around us.

I often wonder about the history of the outfits I’m looking at in thrift stores. How often am I wearing the clothes of the dead? Have I ever worn something and passed a relative on the street, causing them to have painful memories of a loved one whom they’ve lost? I hope not. And I hope if there is some form of afterlife, that person is looking down and is pleased that his or her wardrobe is being put to good use.


[Image credit: ecommerceboy.net]

10 thoughts on “Wearing the Clothes of the Dead

  1. KerikM

    I get so sick of the mentality that there has to be a new style every 6 mo. or whatever the interval is. It’s just a ploy by the industry to get people to spend money. Exactly who gets to make the rules, and why do so many people obey without any thought?
    I’ve put a few self-appointed fashion critics in their places over the years. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it. I’ve found a style that works for me and don’t really give a crap what others think.
    Of course this culture’s stupid obsession with fat as some sort of sin or crime, rather than just a problematic medical condition with myriad causes, is just as bad. You might see if the thrift store or the library has a copy of “Health at Every Size”.
    Here in the Great Pacific North Wet, a rain poncho will work fine. Cheap red or yellow ones can be strengthened with matching duct-tape, but an expensive one from REI might be worth the outlay.
    I hope you can join us here, but I hope even more that you find a happy place, wherever.

    1. Thanks! And I agree with you, for the most part, about style. But on the other hand, I’m forever grateful that our fashion sense did not come to a standstill in the 1970’s, or I’d still be wearing green polyester bell bottoms with little purple flowers. Ugh.

  2. I LOVE thrift stores. Just last weekend I managed to find four pairs of magnificent shoes. They were all brand new, so I hope whoever donated them did so because they didn’t like them, not because they died before having a chance to wear them.

    My philosophy about used clothes is that they’ve already proven themselves – they’ve been washed and worn and not fallen apart, while so many new things are made of sleazy materials that start to decay the moment you put them in the bag to bring them home. I’m not a fan of “fashion” or one-use-only clothes.

      1. I’m fairly picky about shoes – they have to be new or almost new. You can tell by looking inside if the former owner wore socks or not. If not, well, I leave them behind. Most people wear socks in the kind of shoes that I like, so the inside is in great shape. The soles must not be worn – not at all, if possible, but certainly not in any discernible pattern that won’t match the way I normally wear out my shoes.

        As for clothes, I wash them all before wearing and store them away from my other clothes before they get that first wash. I’ve never had a problem, but I don’t buy used underwear 🙂

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