Trash or Keep: Hand-Me-Downs from the Late 90s to Early 2000s

By Olubanke Agunloye

Before thrifting or vintage clothing became such a popular pursuit, growing up with older siblings equated to hand-me-downs for the majority of my childhood. I recall searching through baskets and bags of old unwanted clothes every time a new season began. As a young kid, I was able to watch the experiences and memories made in each of these pieces. These early 2000s hand-me-downs became my first “going out” get-ups, my first mature pieces, and my first work clothes, and I was able to see the lives they lived before they fell into my possession. These days’ vestiges of the first part of a millennium characterized by “cultural hand-me-downs” have been creeping back up into pop culture and fashion. Now pieces that, for a period of time, were seen as frumpy are appearing in more recent collections of high-end clothing companies for tons of cash. Although some of these pieces are long gone and are sent to the Salvation Army for the next person to find, should I regret not preserving all these pieces I’ve seen cycle through my household over the years?

Trash or Keep_ Hand-Me-Downs from the early 2000s - Stephanie Carmody
Art by Stephanie Carmodie

The Puffer Coat:

When Vogue was still mostly in print, brands like Eko and Baby Phat would advertise these elaborate puffer coats with fur, gold accents, and mixed fabrics. I recall being 5 and watching my eldest sister beg for a black and white Baby Phat puffer coat from Macy’s during our annual back to school shopping trips. All their friends had the same oversized coat for the next couple of winters. Amongst the guys the bigger the coat the cooler they seemed to be. These oversized coats would drown kids in bright colored nylon material. But because Kimora Lee Simmons and Ashanti were wearing them it was a valid piece in our wardrobe.  

 Low Rise Jeans:

“The bigger the mid-drift the better” was the mantra a lot of teen girls seemed to live by. The mid-section exposure accompanied by thong straps peeping out just over the brim of the jeans was the ideal get-up for the angsty female teen. Movies like Thirteen elevated this trend. Scenes from Degrassi where Mindy wore the thong and low rise pants combo set the precedent for what “sexy” should look like. Influences from the girls in this media made getting dressed for school a battle. My sister would overdo the low-rise look and my mom would threaten to throw the “haggard pants” in the trash.

Owl Sunglasses:

An image of the Olsen Twins wearing these shades that covered a good 30 percent of their faces was plastered in the middle of my sister’s collage of Vogue magazine cutouts. It was the first time I saw this seemingly burdensome eyewear. These glasses went to work, the beach, and outings with friends. It always seemed as though as soon as you had these specs on you, you were somebody. I begrudgingly remember the days where the terrible combination of the duck face and the owl glasses could be featured on our AIM, MySpace, or Facebook profile pics. Though they were a hit back then, today, these oversized specs can mostly be seen on cute suburban middle-aged women.    

Graphic Tees and Pants Too Inappropriate for School Dress Codes:

Another emblem of teenage angst through clothing was the oversized graphic tees that had a curse word or two, a naked girl, or maybe some very realistic looking guns, or anything of that nature that could get us sent home early from school. The shirts were bought at Zumiez or Spencers, stores we might spend a good hour loitering in as we goofed off with our friends. For the girls, it was the draw-attention-to-my-butt phrases written in cheesy cursive fonts: words like “Cutie,” “Baby,” “Juicy,” and “Off Limits.” My favorite hand-me-downs of this kind were these booty shorts with “Good luck” plastered on the back. 



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