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FASHION : Shareable Wearables : With the high cost of children’s clothing, why not consider giving outgrown but nice items to a friend instead of to charity.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The other morning, as I was taking the recyclables out to the curb for collection, I saw something that jolted me.

I was setting down the box of aluminum cans, plastic containers and everything else I repeatedly tell my kids can be used again to help save the planet, when I stopped dead in my tracks.

My neighbor was standing on the sidewalk, waving brightly to me. At the same time, she was getting rid of something in a way I found hard to believe.

No, it wasn’t used car oil that can seep into the ground water and contaminate our drinking supply. It wasn’t empty paint cans, eroding batteries or dangerous chemicals she was putting into the trash. In fact, it wasn’t even anything toxic.

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It was a little girl’s dress.

As soon as my neighbor was gone, I walked over to the box where it lay and saw it up close--pink satin with a delicate, lacy overlay. Amazingly, there wasn’t a spot on it. Not a tear, not a stain, not a missing button.

Later, I learned that my neighbor’s little girl had outgrown it. This had been her beloved special occasion outfit. The dress, along with some bric-a-brac and broken toys, was being donated to a local charity.

Now, before you get all riled up and think I’m some tightfisted misanthrope who doesn’t believe in donating to charities, let me explain.

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The fact is, I’d love to donate my sons’ clothing. The only problem is, most charities would probably drive in the opposite direction or charge me a pickup fee if they saw the jeans with ripped knees, sweaters with Kool-Aid stains and brightly initialed shirts, courtesy of Magic Markers.

And this, I admit, has been the norm for as long as I can remember. Since they were toddlers, the rule in my house has been simple: Three changes of clothes each day is a maximum; after that, kids, get used to the mud.

But what bothered me most about the incident with my neighbor wasn’t that she had more civilized children than I, which she does.

It was just that, unlike everyday clothes such as jeans and shirts that have no particular meaning, this dress was special. Its wearer, a darling little girl with saucer blue eyes and sunflower yellow hair, had pranced in it. She had preened. She had LOVED this dress.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that anything that beautiful is too good to donate to charity. But there is something sad to me about the anonymity of something once held so dear landing on top of bric-a-brac.

Apparently, there are other mothers out there who feel the same way.

“I have a suit someone gave me at my baby shower, and it is so precious. Something like that I can’t throw away and I can’t give it away,” Jacqueline Sacks of Fillmore said.

“I have a bag of clothes that I’m donating, but this I would have to give to someone special. When you give something like that (to charity), you don’t know if it will be special for them. It’s impersonal. Something like that, I’d want to pass on to a very good friend when she had a baby.”

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Obviously, there is another side to the whole issue. The cost of special-occasion clothes for children--whether it’s a party dress, a boy’s suit or even a sporting-goods item like a snowsuit or parka--generally is right up there with designer labels for adults. And you can count on most of those items being outgrown before they are worn out.

At just about any kids’ clothing store I have visited lately, I’ve seen things such as christening dresses that start at $75, little boys’ suits for $90 and parkas for $80. At Great Pacific Ironworks in Ventura, a Patagonia outlet, a kid’s nylon jumpsuit--to be worn, perhaps, on some annual sailboat outing--goes for a mere $78.

When that much care and money is put into choosing something special for a child, it seems to me the same care should go into deciding where the item ends up later on.

That’s why I like the solution that a friend of mine came up with. After he bought an expensive snowsuit for his 1-year-old nephew, he sent it along with a note to the parents: “Please return this when you’re done. It will be recycled.”

Any fears he had that the gift recipient would take offense were soon allayed. A few months later, he told me, the snowsuit came back to him, along with a note about where it was worn. He then passed it on--in near-new condition--to the young son of a colleague.

In a way, he said, it connected them.

* THE PREMISE

Ventura County is teeming with the fashionable and not so fashionable. There are trend-makers and trend-breakers. There are those with style--personal and off the rack--and those making fashion statements better left unsaid. Twice a month, we’ll be taking a look at fashion in Ventura County--trends, styles and ideas--and asking you what you think. If you have a fashion problem, sighting or suggestion; if you know a fashion success or a fashion victim, let us know. We want to hear from you.

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