The impact of being a girl dressed in my brothers’ hand-me-downs

Nobody thinks their parents are normal; there’s always something that they are chippily resentful about – convinced it was the most mortifying/traumatic experience for them. And believe me, I could reel off quite a few (sorry Dad, I know you read my blog).

But you know, the pictures of tranquil landscapes with motivating quotes on them that dot social media feeds (maybe I have the world’s most zen or incredibly angry friends, I can’t decide) tell me it’s best to look on the bright side. When life gives you lemons, made lemonade, or something like that. So I’m going to do that in this blog post.

A combination of not being particularly well off growing up as well as having an Asian mother for whom thriftiness is an art form, meant I spent a lot of my formative primary school age years wearing my brothers’ old clothes. Mostly shirts, teamed with black leggings bought from QD that always seemed to have bits of white elastic sticking out of the crotch area. Given that the alternative was horrible frocks that hadn’t adorned a live child since the Edwardian period, which my mother thought was acceptable party wear for an English child, it’s no wonder that I took the ‘tomboyish clothes’ with relatively good grace.

It wasn’t just clothes I inherited from my brothers, it was toys too, plastic cricket sets, battered Gameboys, old comics. No Barbies for me (I’m not entirely sure my parents know what Barbie is) or furbies or tamagotchis, or the make up targeted at young girls or anything particularly girly or indeed sold in toy shops since the 80s as far as I could tell. Neither of my parents really engage with modern culture. So my brothers got toys my dad could remember from his youth and I got them along with their clothes because my mother just doesn’t engage with western female culture.

While this left me savagely unprepared for interactions with white kids my age with parents in tune with popular culture (I still cringe at birthday parties where I’d turn up with gifts you wouldn’t give your gran tor the time I turned up at a Spice Girls themed party in a long denim dress and a big yellow jumper, which my brother kindly deemed may let me pass off as ‘Baby Spice’), you know what, there was a good side. So thank you, Mum and Dad.

And that good side was I was not indoctrinated into the pink, sparkly culture that pervades the girls section of clothes and toy shops. I didn’t wear clothing that told me I was a princess or played much with toys aimed at showing me my future place was in the kitchen. I was pretty feral climbing trees around Suffolk in my lumpy leggings and far too boxy shirts. I got gloriously muddy and dirty in my not nice clothes that didn’t restrict me from throwing myself around adventure playgrounds or roller skating rinks. I think partly as a result I didn’t feel like I couldn’t sign myself up for various sporting clubs or that anything really was out of my bounds.

And yes, as my friends will attest, I’m now a pretty fashion conscious-person, but I dress for me and the aesthetic I like. I love how different textures and shapes can come together to express a person’s body and personality, and also because I like beautiful things. And often, that’s the last thing a man will find attractive – come on, men would dress us all in bodycon dresses and super high heels and that’s as imaginative as it would get. So being dressed in my brothers’ hand me downs has not had an adverse effect on my ability to express myself through clothes and has instead helped me to be gloriously selfish in my dressing habits because I was never ‘dressed up to be pretty’ as a child.

And, given that my brothers were dressed in night dresses as young boys, not everything I inherited made me feel too out of place as a kid anyway…


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