I remember the first full-price clothing item I ever bought. No discounts. No coupon. It was my first semester at Wesleyan, and I had to get a black dress for my WesWinds concert. My mom and I had gone to Zara to check their overwhelmingly black aesthetic, and I found a black dress with a lace top. I thought it was the perfect dress until I checked the price tag. $50. We both knew that we would have to wait forever for that dress to go on sale, and I didn’t own an appropriate dress for my concert, which was quickly approaching.
My mom gave me a look and said hadi, which translates into a bunch of things in English. It can mean come on, let’s, but in this situation, it meant, we’re going to ignore the price because this is a pretty dress. Screw it, let’s buy it. It also meant, let’s do this quickly before my wallet changes its mind.
For most of my life, I’ve been much more accustomed to hand-me-downs and clearance rack finds than full-price fashions and expensive trends. Growing up, my favorite outfit was a sequined denim jumpsuit that had been passed down to me. This was, in retrospect, absolutely ridiculous and marginally over-the-top for a pre-teen to wear, but it was special to me. Our hand-me-down system was cross-continental: my friend’s mom would pass down her daughter’s clothes to me, where I would get some use out of it, and then those clothes were packed away to be brought to my cousins in Turkey, where the cascade of hand-me-downs began again: starting with one of the middle cousins, to the one slightly younger, to the second-cousin-twice-removed-or-what-we-just-call-cousin down the line. As long as it was in wearable condition, it was passed down.
Upon one of my visits back home, I saw one of my cousins wearing a dress that I remember wearing in elementary school: white, with some red, orange, and yellow flowers scattered along the hem and waistline. It was one of my favorite dresses; now, it had been passed down two bodies before reaching my cousin’s closet.
The topic of clothing within a low-income family is complex: a web of societal standards of dress combined with financial barriers. I had learned quickly that my mom and I could not afford regular-priced clothing, so our trips to the Gap consisted of darting toward the sale section, calculating sales tax on each item, never crossing the line between clearance and regular-priced, avoiding lusting over a dress that we couldn’t afford. My wardrobe’s guiding logic was out of season: we bought summer clothes in the winter when it went on sale and winter clothes at the beginning of summer, estimating how much I would grow in the meantime. On the few occasions my mom and I went through the in-season section, we would take a mental note on the clothes we would wait to go on clearance, eventually buying them a few months later. This was our process; we waited for coupons, for credit card rewards, for the hand-me-downs supplementing my needs in the meantime.