When Charity Shop Chic Isn't Chic

Kids are cruel at the best of times. So what the hell was American Republican senator Bruce Caswell thinking, when he suggested that foster children should be forced to dress exclusively in second-hand clothes.
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Kids are cruel at the best of times. So what the hell was American Republican senator Bruce Caswell thinking, when he suggested that foster children should be forced to dress exclusively in second-hand clothes.

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We all make decisions that we live to regret. Mine was not taking the brief seriously, when instructed to select an appropriate fabric for my home economics class. If I'm honest, I didn't take anything in home economics seriously. Given the emphasis my parents placed on 'academic' subjects, home-ec just seemed like a chance to fuck about with catering-sized tins of mixed fruit jam. Remember, 1988 was a simpler time - these days kids are learning how to make potato fondant and red wine jus. We considered ourselves lucky the week we got to bake brown bread.

So when the subject suddenly moved away from cookery in favour of a new focus on clothes-making, my thirteen year-old self became even less engaged. For our summer project, we were told we'd be making a shorts and t-shirt ensemble, which excited me even less than the prospect of two hours of geography in the classroom next door.

Sensing my indifference, my mum marched me into the haberdashery in town. I stood there like the petulant teen I was, refusing to engage with the saleswoman who rattled through a variety of garish fabrics. Realising that the longer this took, the less time I'd have to browse in Our Price, I chose the loudest one I could see. Black and purple, covered in neon watermelon slices and crudely illustrated palm trees. The kind of pattern that would make Ray Charles thankful for small mercies.

The photos that were taken that summer betray my shame and disappointment - onlookers would have been forgiven for assuming that I'd just received a stern 'no' from the Make-A-Wish foundation.

Over the next couple of months, I took my heinous cloth and half-heartedly fashioned a rudimentary two-piece out of it, foolishly assuming that it'd only ever be used for dusters. However, my frugal parents had other ideas, insisting that I wear my Bermudan folly on our holiday to Florida.

The photos that were taken that summer betray my shame and disappointment - onlookers would have been forgiven for assuming that I'd just received a stern 'no' from the Make-A-Wish foundation. It takes a special kind of effort to be singled out for poor fashion sense in Orlando, and yet somehow, even the schlubs dressed as Mickey and Goofy seemed to be looking at me with pitying despair.

But when you're a kid, appearance is everything. As you enter your teens, you become painfully aware of fashion and the role it plays in helping to form your fledging identity. So I can only wonder what the hell American senator Bruce Caswell was thinking, when he suggested that some children should be forced to dress exclusively in clothes from second-hand stores.

According to his proposal, children in the state's foster care system would be given special gift cards only redeemable in places like the Salvation Army and Goodwill. Asked to explain what made him the modern-day equivalent of Cinderella's lesser-known stepbrother, Caswell said that he'd grown up wearing clothes from the Salvation Army: "Once you’re out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes.” Although the flared collars and excess of paisley may give something away.

In theory, this was supposed to be a surefire way of helping the state of Michigan save some money. But really, isn't it just another example of Republicans looking to kick someone while they're down? Mummy and Daddy can't look after you anymore, so we think that you ought to spend the next few months wearing someone else's trainers. Then again, if you're having to make do with someone else's parents, why not take a similarly sanguine approach to your wardrobe?

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