Twenty Something

The Thrifting Catholic: Giving New Life to Old Things

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Emily Hannon was surprised by the children’s clothes she saw at big-box stores and popular websites when she became a mom. And not in a good way.

Obnoxious graphics, offensive messages, neon colors.

It fell short of her long-held beliefs as a Catholic and her powerful new emotions as a mother. It didn’t suit her newborn son with his peach-fuzz and bright eyes.

The 29-year-old Pittsburgh photographer had always sought beauty in hidden places. She’d taken to heart St. John Paul II’s words in his 1999 letter to artists and quoted a passage in her Instagram profile: “beauty that stirs you to wonder…to the sense of eternal.”

Now she was choosing how to dress her son, Jack, and feeling compelled to look beyond the mall.

“The loud graphics and words all over clothing take away from the beauty and dignity of the person wearing them,” Emily said. “God made us each with such intricacy and complexity, and our clothing shouldn’t detract from that but should simply point to it.”

Outfits saved from her childhood and her husband’s seemed like the answer, which led Emily to visit consignment stores. Oh, was she in for a treat! Peter Pan collars! Smocked dresses! Knit sweaters! Corduroy overalls!

Vintage children’s clothing felt timeless, like her baby himself: not dated or defined by one era, but rather, shimmering with a transcendent beauty, rising above.

“It reflects the joy that a new baby brings into the world just by their very existence,” Emily said. “They are perfectly pure and deserving of all our love.”

As Emily and Sean were blessed with another son, Peter, and then a daughter, Lucy, the young mom’s appreciation for classic children’s clothing has grown. The thrill of a great find spurs her along, prodding her to frequent a few favorite thrift shops.

Some discoveries seem meant to be, like a high-end European brand tucked between modern dresses. “Beauty is always there – you just have to open your eyes to find it!” she said.

Thrifting feels countercultural, in keeping with Pope Francis’ caution about a “throwaway culture.” It feels Catholic.

“Our culture is constantly pressuring us to buy more, spend more, accumulate more. We’ve lost a sense of reusing things from the past or passing down things that may not be brand new but still hold tremendous value.”

Searching for secondhand finds cultivates a loving disposition. It fosters a forgiving and unrushed eye, the ability to slow down and sift through, recognizing the potential in something old and overlooked. It feels spiritual. Emily can give an old dress another chance, another child.

Emily couldn’t keep her thrifted finds to herself – nor did she need them all. Four months ago, she opened an online shop to sell her secondhand purchases: vintage children’s clothing, heirloom toys and antique homewares. She named it The Simple Daisy, a nod to the St. Therese quote about the “simple charm” of a daisy, and secured the domain thesimpledaisyshop.com.

She has sold hundreds of pieces. Thanks to savvy marketing on social media, sharing glimpses of what’s to come, many pieces sell three to five minutes after a “drop,” or online release.

Stepping into a new year surrounded by old clothing feels like a hug from the past.

“I love that each piece tells a story, often one we don’t know,” Emily said. “I sometimes imagine other children who are now fully grown playing with the toys my children play with. It makes me feel connected to others, even those I’ll never meet, like we’re all part of something bigger.”

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