Hand-Me-Down: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
December 23, 2023

The term "hand-me-down" is often used to talk about items, especially clothes, that are passed on from one person to another after they've been used. Usually, these items go from an older sibling or family member to a younger one. This term is common in family settings but can also be used in other contexts, like among friends or even for used cars and gadgets.

In short:

  • It refers to used items passed on to another person.
  • These items are often, but not always, clothes and are usually given to younger family members.

What Does "Hand-Me-Down" Mean?

When someone talks about a "hand-me-down," they're discussing an item that has been used by someone else before and is now being given to them. This often happens in families where younger siblings get clothes, toys, or even cars their older siblings no longer need. For example, you might hear someone say, "This jacket is a hand-me-down from my older brother.

Here are some key points about the term:

  • It's a way to describe getting something that someone else no longer needs or uses.
  • The term often comes up in families but can also be used among friends or other settings.
  • Using "hand-me-down" items is a way to save money and reuse things, making it eco-friendly.
  • Other words that express the same idea are "second-hand," "pre-owned," and "used."

Where Does "Hand-Me-Down" Come From?

First recorded in 1826, the phrase typically refers to items passed down to a younger sibling or family member once the original owner has outgrown them or no longer requires them. This term mirrors a long-standing family practice, especially prevalent among those aiming to maximize their resources.

10 Examples of "Hand-Me-Down" in Sentences

To make it easier for you to understand how to use "hand-me-down," let's look at some examples from everyday life:

  • Get over it; those hand-me-down jeans still look good on you.
  • He wore hand-me-down shoes from his cousin for the school year.
  • Checking in with my sister, I found out she has hand-me-down toys for my kids.
  • She didn't mind using a hand-me-down laptop for her studies.
  • The hand-me-down recipe book from his grandma was his cooking bible.
  • These hand-me-down books will tide me over until I can afford new releases.
  • Her hand-me-down bike was still in good condition after all these years.
  • The kids played with hand-me-down toys from their neighbors.
  • As a result of my cousin outgrowing his clothes, I scored some cool hand-me-downs.
  • On the street, I met a man who built a business by refurbishing hand-me-down furniture.

Examples of "Hand-Me-Down" in Pop Culture

This term also shows up in pop culture, usually to highlight the sharing or passing down of items:

  • People magazine's article "Prince Louis Wears a Hand-Me-Down from Prince George in Newly Released Photo with Queen Elizabeth" discusses the royal tradition of wearing hand-me-down clothes
  • Literary Hub's article "What I Wish My Children Could Learn From My Rural Upbringing" discusses the experience of wearing hand-me-down jeans.
  • "A Poet With A Camera In Tow," an article in The New York Times, discusses the concept of hand-me-downs in the context of television programming.

Synonyms: Other Ways to Say "Hand-Me-Down"

If you're looking for different ways to talk about the same idea, here they are:

  • Passed down
  • Second-hand
  • Used
  • Pre-owned
  • Inherited
  • Old but gold
  • Previously loved
  • Recycled
  • Gifted
  • From someone else

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Hand-Me-Down":

  • What does "hand-me-down" mean?

"Hand-me-down" refers to an item that has been passed from one person to another, typically within a family or circle of friends. These items can range from clothes and accessories to furniture and cars.

  • How can I use "hand-me-down" in a sentence?

You can use "hand-me-down" as a noun to talk about something that's been given to you by someone else who no longer needs it. For example, "I'm wearing a hand-me-down jacket from my brother" or "This is a hand-me-down recipe from my grandma."

  • Is it considered socially acceptable to use hand-me-downs?

Yes, using hand-me-downs is generally considered okay and is even praised as a sustainable practice. It's a way to save money and reduce waste.

  • Can "hand-me-down" refer to non-material things?

Yes, the term can also apply to non-material things like knowledge, traditions, or even recipes. It's about the act of passing something from one person to another.

  • Is it more commonly used for kids or adults?

While the term is often associated with children's items, like clothes and toys, adults can also use or give hand-me-downs, such as furniture, cars, or family recipes.

  • How do people feel about receiving hand-me-downs?

Feelings about hand-me-downs can vary. Some people appreciate the cost savings and the sentiment, while others might prefer new items. It often depends on the individual and the item itself.

  • Are hand-me-downs always in used condition?

No, sometimes hand-me-downs can be items that were never used by the person who first owned them. These items are still considered hand-me-downs because they're being passed along.

  • What's the opposite of a hand-me-down?

The opposite of a hand-me-down would be a brand-new item, bought for the first-time use by the owner.

  • Can it be used in a derogatory way?

Yes, in some contexts, "hand-me-down" might be used to imply that something is inferior or second-rate because it's not new. The meaning can change based on tone and context.

  • Is it related to thrift culture?

Yes, hand-me-downs are often a part of thrift culture, which values reusing and recycling items to save money and resources.

Final Thoughts About "Hand-Me-Down"

The term "hand-me-down" serves as a useful way to talk about items or even ideas and traditions that are passed from one person to another. It's embraced in both a literal and figurative sense, an essential part of sustainable living and family tradition.

Here's a quick recap:

  • Hand-me-downs can be material items like clothes or non-material like knowledge or traditions.
  • They are generally accepted in society, especially as a way to be resourceful.
  • The term can apply to both kids and adults for a wide range of items.
  • While usually seen as positive, the term can be derogatory based on tone and context.

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