When I was growing up, there were few thrills to match the arrival of a large parcel of hand-me-downs from cousins, or from friends of my mother who had older girls. (We didn't have a telly.) Once we were sent a batch of clothes from a Canadian girl called Jane. Clothes from abroad! I remember a party frock, a pale pink gauze shift with long sleeves and ruffles down the front and at the cuffs. I adored it (although it was scratchy). And that brown fake fur coat, with a belt and shiny plastic brown leather on the outside! How I loved wearing that (although it creaked when I moved). These were clothes which nobody else in the village had. Jane from Canada, if you are reading this, THANK YOU. You have no idea how impossibly glamorous your cast-offs were to us, back in 1970, in Pitstone, Buckinghamshire.
Do people still send clothes parcels? Maybe your church or favourite charity collects clothes to send to impoverished communities in Africa. But to send them to your peers smacks of charity in the Victorian sense. The kind of charity that the deserving poor were too proud to accept. It was always the poor relations who are in receipt of clothes parcels. Or the poor settlers in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Remember how the pastor gave Laura a little fur cape and muff one Christmas which some rich little girl back in the East had grown out of? And how it was prettier than Nellie Olsen's fur cape? Three cheers, because she was a right cow, that Nellie Olsen.
The obvious exception here is maternity clothes. We hand these on because we are so heartily sick of them after the last 6 months of pregnancy that we never wish to see them again. Pregnant women accept them because they resent having to shell out for a new wardrobe they will only need while pregnant. The other exception is baby clothes. Which first time mum has not been in receipt of a bin liner full of clapped-out babygrows from some harassed but well-meaning mother-of-three? The first-timer is inclined to turn up her nose. Only the very best, the very newest and cutest of teeny-tiny clothes for her newborn, she thinks. This is because the phenomenon of the Exploding Nappy of Doom has yet to impinge upon her consciousness.
But we don't send one another parcels of ordinary clothes. We give the clothes to the charity shop, for fear that a parcel might appear insulting in some way. It might look like a criticism of the friend's dress sense, or worse, she might think you're saying 'Hey, I've lost loads of weight! Want my old clothes, fatty?'
The reason I'm discussing this today is because earlier this week I sent a friend a pair of black boots. (The student of this blog will be aware that I am hardly bootless as a result.) They arrived this morning and she's delighted with them. I think they cheered her up in the midst of this gloomy February. Unless she's hiding it very well, she wasn't a bit insulted. And nor would I be by a well-chosen gift of second hand clothes/footwear/accessories. So I will bear that in mind in future when I'm about to pack up a load of stuff for the charity shop. I commend this practice to you all. Especially if you are my size and have lots of designer clothes you are getting tired of.