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My elderly aunt is quite reclusive, although she gets herself to the store and doctor appointments by herself. We try hard to include her in special outings (though she often begs off at the last moment, I'd say 90% of time). When she does agree to come, unfortunately she tends to dress like a bag lady -- we're talking not just shabby clothes, but severely ripped T-shirts (her bra often completely visible), stained (though clean) pants, and shoes that are absolutely falling apart. The problem really isn't hygiene as she keeps herself and her laundry quite clean. Nor does she seem attached to one particular "outfit." It's just that everything she chooses to wear is full of holes.


We give her new and used clothes as gifts - the sort she likes (T-shirts, jeans, etc) and also gift certificates to local clothing stores she can easily drive to - but she never wears them. My sister has stopped asking her to things because she's embarrassed to be seen with her. On at least one occasion, my aunt's entrance into an ordinary restaurant caused murmurs.


My aunt doesn't seem to notice (or care) that anything is wrong with what she chooses to wear... and consistently won't wear the things we give her... any ideas what we can do? (oh, she's also very sensitive and you never know when bringing things up will cause her to stop answering her phone for weeks...)

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I assume this is a little joke? Taking away somebody's property - even if you do think it's awful tat - with the intention permanently to deprive them of it is the definition of theft. Not really to be recommended.
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I presume you are not able to take your aunt out shopping for clothes, and the time for giving clothes openly is probably past - it has created a resentment that will not disappear. (I made that mistake once - it was a tough lesson.) So instead, try buying clothes for her, keeping to the same colours and guessing the correct dress sizes. Then visit her, maybe set out a meal and keep her distracted while you slip into her bedroom, open her closets and drawers, and quietly remove any ripped T shirts or blouses (the most obvious cause of embarassment) and replace with new T shirts carefully precrumpled and aired so that they do not look or smell new). If you make your replacement clothes look like the ones you are replacing, maybe your aunt won't notice when she puts out a hand to pull out something to wear. If you don't mind doing so, you can also investigate her laundry basket, pull out anything you consider unwearable and just chuck in the new clothing in the same colour and approximate style. If it comes out of the washing machine, she'll probably think it's hers anyway. As for shoes, you can swap old for new only if you stick to same style and throw the new ones in among the old ones.
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I have to laugh. My husband would do the same thing, wear t-shirts with holes or pants with holes. He had a closet full of "nice" t-shirts and jeans. When I asked him to wear one of the t-shirts without holes when he went to work, he would say..Oh, those are my good t-shirts.
At some point try to go through her closet and pull out torn, stained shirts and pants. Tell her you will mend them and return them. After you leave find one of the donation boxes that turn all the unusable clothes into rags or toss them out.
She will ask about them, maybe, just tell her you have not finished mending them.
Eventually she will forget them.

My husband began to wear the same clothes each day. He would lay them out and just pick them up in the morning and after a shower (thank goodness that was never a problem) he would put on the dirty clothes. Rather than argue about it or make a big deal of it after he went to bed I would pick up the dirty clothes and replace them all with clean clothes. He never said anything about it, nor did I. It was not worth the time and energy to argue about it.
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I also had this problem with my mom and stepdad. When we would take they out..I was kind of embarrassed how they were dressed..shabby..dirty..dirty hair. I too bought them nice clothes...sensitive subject...i finally told mom...to throw stepdads clothes in the wash every night..and lay out clean things..it worked....then I got her back in the habit of getting her hair done weekly. Step dad passed away..and mom lived with me awhile..I did the same thing...took her clothes and laid out clean ones....I think there's a touch of dementia...depression...not caring about their appearance as they are overwhelming with managing every day life. I began to check her frig and found moldy food. Now she's in a senior apt..with peers that she wants to look nice for...and no more stress of managing a home. Hope this helps you! Hugs
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IMO, its seems that a large part of this "problem" is the embarrassment on behalf of the original poster because her aunt is acting in ways that are socially inappropriate in her eyes. It seems that she might fear of being judged based on her aunt's appearance. While I agree with the substitution approach suggested by many, I also find it controlling behavior that suits the needs of the other persons rather than the person who wears clothes that are not pristine in appearance.
My attitude about appearance has shifted as I gain a greater appreciation of those in their 80s. I feel the most important priority for the aunt is the safety of her person, safety within her home and her personal safety as she moves about in her community. After safety, I see her dignity and self-worth as the next highest in importance. I wonder if she would be less reluctant to attend family events if the aunt knew people wanted her to attend regardless of her appearance.
The poster might remind her aunt, in the gentlest way possible, about appropriate clothing for occasions when appearance is truly important, such as medical appointments and extremely important family occasions. Otherwise, if her clothes are clean, she should consider letting her aunt be her own person.
As several posters noted, it is hard to grasp the impact of the Depression on aging persons' behaviors. Most of us cannot grasp the extent of the scarcity and the seemingly unending nature of it. The Depression era was a formative experience for many. Children worked in victory gardens, collected scrap metal and did without because it was required of them.
The poster should enjoy her aunt's company while she still has the opportunity to do so.
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Just another comical thought...when gram passed away we found all the nice things we had boughten over the years...with the tags still on in the back of her closet ..lol...that generation saved things for special times....my lesson take away...live in today...not tomorrow!
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Ellen657, iIf your Aunt was a child of the Great Depression things like this can happen. Same with my parents, they would wear clothing until it finally made it into the rag box. They wanted to get as many years out of a garment.

Some clothing my Mom would give to me to donate I had to toss away as there were too many rips and stains. My folks were very fugal and thankfully they were as the money they saved was a lifesaver when it came to paying for senior living.

Your Aunt probably feels people are more important than what they wear. If she has a great personality then the torn clothes will be ignored by many people.

Thank goodness she's not obsessed with designer clothing and has the need to only wear $200 jeans with a $150 top. That could eventually wipe out her retirement fund.

I would just let her be.
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There seems to be comfort in the tried and true for some people.
I like to wear what I know. I do not like to wear anything the first time. After I wore it once, it is elevated to "favorite".
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If you have access to her home when she's at an appointment start to slowly get rid of her clothes a few items at a time. Or if you're visiting her, take a large purse and stuff a few of the worst items in it. Over time you'll be able to weed out the worst things in her wardrobe. And play dumb if she asks you about it!
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My mom does this and I walk proudly next to her because it is one of her last abilities to choose in a world where she has lost many of her capabilities. She will ask if she looks ok to go out and my feeling is that if she wants me to help her pick out clothes I will, but we are nearing the end and comfortable familiar clothes - even with holes - really can help to ground them in an increasingly alien world due to aging problems.

As other pointed out - depression era rooted deep for many. Those who survived and prospered seemed to maintain restoration & mastery of their "things" as compared to today's world of losing that mastery...we tend to toss things.

Acceptance is a huge thing and dressing is the least of my battles and hers with dementia and advanced heart disease. She has a closet full of clothes that are simply beautiful - but she wants familiar humility and thats fine
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