Shopping Secondhand as Spiritual Practice

A few weeks before Christmas, two of my party animal friends* and I met for a hot ladies’ night out: to the local Goodwill.

And let me say, we shut that joint down. (Seriously, though, we weren’t the last ones out: there was definitely a night owl Mennonite family in line behind us.)

The only rule was this: we could shop for clothes for ourselves BUT NOT FOR OUR KIDS. (Because everyone knows I love baby clothes.)

It turns out shopping for yourself, especially when your body is perpetually in flux, can often get pushed to the back burner. But recently I had been thinking of fun college afternoons when my roommates and I would storm the Goodwill Emporium and prowl the aisles looking for clothing for ourselves and each other, one friend insisting on making me try miniskirts I’d never wear out, another trying to talk me down from candy apple green kitten heels I still harbor in my closet now. (See, I was a party animal even then.)

But as I’ve gotten older, and as I find myself in that place of perpetual size change, I’ve come to really rely on thrifting as an ethical way to get clothes for my constantly transitioning body. I can’t afford local or fair trade or ethically made clothing in the considerable range of sizes through which I travel, but I can opt for clothing that doesn’t profit fast fashion or encourage irresponsible factory conditions.

I like what Margaret Peterson Kim has to say on the issue:

“Buying clothing that is used rather than new can be a way to excuse ourselves from the glitzy party that so much of contemporary shopping has become while affirming our membership in the broader human community, in which if we share with one another, we can all be decently clad.”

Aside from thrifting, there are always hand me downs (I can count on my hugely generous little sister for the occasional fresh influx of jeans), and ThredUP when I’m looking for a very specific wardrobe staple — like the red J. Crew peacoat I picked up through their service a couple winters ago when I finally needed to phase out my 2003 number.

I’ve mostly been thrifting in recent years, but I hadn’t clothing shopped communally in years, except with my mom and maybe my sister. That evening in December, three moms, each of us a little uncomfortable in our changing bodies, ventured again and again out of our fitting rooms to laugh, to cock our heads with a quizzical, appraising look, to advise and encourage. We each left with a few lovely things, some of them items we wouldn’t have taken off the shelves ourselves but which now get trotted out when we want to feel especially pretty or put together. It wasn’t our usual Tuesday night prayer, but maybe it was spiritual enough: just a few moms treating each other with care, encouraging each other, taking a small step in a good direction.

*prayer group friends, actually.

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