I grew up wearing hand-me-downs because I happened to have cousins a bit older than me, and my parents had little money to spend on a new wardrobe every time I outgrew the old one—something children tend to do. When I received the boxes full of clothes, I knew that my style future was already sealed; it was rarely an option not to wear something just because I didn’t care for the color or cut. Clothes had little to do with my self-perception or personal style; if they fit and were in good condition, I would wear them, period. Fortunately, my cousins had good taste, so I ended up with clothing I was happy to wear.
There was an expression people used, when they saw someone wearing worn-out or mismatched clothes: “Looks like she got that from a missionary box.” This referred to the boxes of cast-off clothing church people would sometimes donate for missionaries to take to far-off places to clothe the people they served. I guess the well-meaning Christians considered that the foreign needy were already poor and would be grateful for anything they could get. Also, style didn’t matter off in the jungle, did it?
But charity looks at the whole person, and you don’t have to be intelligent or insightful to know that how we dress has an impact on how we see ourselves and how we feel among other people—and also on how others see us. My mother would cringe when she saw the neighbor girl, one of my classmates, wearing a wrinkled dress. Her parents were poor, but the real issue was the mother’s lack of concern over whether her children were clean or their clothing presentable. Mom wanted to just bring the girl in (she played with us sometimes) and press her clothing for her, but that would have insulted the girl and her family. So we had to ignore the wrinkles, and sometimes the smell, and just welcome her so that she wouldn’t feel self-conscious about it.
I don’t buy lots of clothes, but I buy more clothes than I really need. I do this with a clear conscience because every six months or so, I clean out the closets, and anything I don’t wear a lot gets put in the bag for the thrift store. This means that I am regularly giving away clothing that is fairly new and in good condition. Maybe when I bought that blouse, I thought it would go well with that pair of slacks but it didn’t really. Maybe I knew within a week or two that this purchase wasn’t my best choice. Rather than run back for a refund or exchange, it goes in the giveaway pile. At the thrift store, someone will pay a few dollars for a blouse that’s quite nice and that doesn’t look as if someone has been wearing it for a decade. In fact, if an item of clothing is too worn or has significant flaws, I might put it in the alley in case someone wants to scavenge it, but I won’t donate it to a thrift store.
Charity is not just about giving; it’s about honoring the dignity of others.
What are your experiences with clothing and its effects?