By Jasmine Jones
Clothing is made up of lines: Threads weave into fabric. Pieces connect by stitches. Hems tidy the ends, neatly bordering wrists and ankles. Our wardrobes are piles and rows and drawers full of lines. In certain items — the hand-me-downs — another form of line exists: that of our lineage.
These items that have not always been ours are much more than fashion pieces. They are stories from those before us, evidence of their experiences and adventures. When I open my own closet door, I see the stories of my mother, gramma and great-grandmother displayed on hangers. When I dress for the day, I pick one of the hand-me-downs, put it on and carry its history with me:
Pink crossbody purse
Leather, real as the sun or completely manufactured — I have no idea. There’s no tag on the purse to tell me what it’s made of. It just is. The front looks like an envelope, so I always feel I am delivering some important message. It’s all clasped together with one brass button that constantly unsnaps, revealing the contents of my purse to the world. It’s the most perfectly imperfect purse.
It is my great-grandmother Anna Mae Hahs’s purse. Anna Mae passed away when I was young, so I don’t have any personal memories of her. What I do know from others’ memories of her is that Anna Mae loved Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and took inspiration from the first lady’s elegant, yet simple, style. Anna Mae wore gorgeous and intricate hats almost every day, to church and the grocery store. She wore pink suits, pink shoes, pink purses — maybe not all together, but she could have pulled it off. She wore gloves, the decorative kind princesses wear, not the kind meant for snow and cold. She made no compromises with style; even my great-grandfather had to match his outfits to hers. Anna Mae treated fashion like an everyday art form. She found joy in pretty things.
When I wear her pink crossbody purse, I am reminded to pay attention to the details, enjoy beauty and embrace fun.
Three mini skirts
Burgundy plaid, black with white pinstripes, blue plaid; no slit, one slit, two slits — one to show a subtle peek of each leg. My gramma, Pamela Jones, calls them her Parisian skirts, although they were not bought in France. To her, “Parisian” is an adjective for describing anything she finds beautiful. Plates. Books. Paintings. Flowers. They can all be Parisian.
She wore the mini skirts when she visited Paris with my grandpa. They meandered through art museums and walked so much Gramma thought she broke her feet. She ordered meals in mediocre French, and the waiters were extra nice to her. Gramma talks about Paris, and it’s like she’s reading me a novel with the love her and Grandpa shared as the central plot, the theme which all narratives filter through in her stories.
My gramma puts family and love at the center of her life. Every year, she makes a photo album filled with memories from every child and grandchild in the family. If my cousin Grace went to the beach with her friends in 2021, there’s going to be a photo of it in Gramma’s 2021 album. She documents it all and is just as invested in our lives as she is in her own.
When I wear her three mini skirts, I am reminded to hold on to every moment, cherish family and love deeply.
Purple suit jacket
Specifically, dusty purple. Faded from time, sun or washing. Or perhaps, the jacket was always this gentle color, the type that hugs your vision, ventures softly into being. The jacket fits me perfectly, except for the long sleeves that are slightly too short for my long arms.
The jacket is part of a suit my mother, Shirlee Wilson, bought when she moved from Utah to Los Angeles on a whim. She was in her early twenties and didn’t have a job or place to stay lined up, but she knew what she wanted: to be a film director. Los Angeles was where that happened, so she moved. She ended up working at an advertising agency in the accounting department and hated it. Too much math, she said.
So, she quit her job and moved back to Utah to get her master’s degree in film. She never lost sight of her dream, despite the challenges of the film industry. Last year, she directed her first feature film with my dad. She never stopped when reaching her dream felt like climbing up an endless crumbling wall. She kept climbing.
When I wear her purple suit jacket, I put on her bravery. I remember to trust in life’s process, to be patient and persistent in pursuing my goals, and to never doubt my worth.
The hand-me-downs in my wardrobe are a physical representation of the history of the women before me, and now, those pieces carry my history, too. I look forward to the day when my own clothing items have transformed into hand-me-downs.
I wore a brown tank top and black tennis skirt when I moved into my first apartment, and someday, that outfit will not be mine; I will pass it down to my daughter or niece or granddaughter. I will tell her the story. I hope she envisions me dancing on my studio apartment floor in disbelief, staring out the windows, smiling wildly. I hope she imagines her own place: the drawer where her forks will go, the order of books on her shelves, the placement of pillows on her bed. I hope when she wears that skirt and tank top, she can’t help but dance, too.
Three tips for styling your hand-me-downs
- Layer fits. The “Big Pants/Little Shirt” rule applies to much more than baggy jeans and crop tops. If one of your clothing pieces fits tight, pair it with something looser. This adds balance and texture to your outfit.
- Mix and match decades. Pair blazers from the ‘80s with mini skirts from the ‘90s. Wear long, flowy bohemian skirts with band tees. Try Doc Martens with an A-line ‘60s-style dress. The options are truly limitless.
- Play with color. Don’t be afraid to use two different shades of one color in your ensemble. Or three. Or four. Colorblock it out, and try combinations you never would have considered before. You may find a new favorite!