As my four year-old son opened his final present on his birthday, he wasn't quite sure what to make of the gifts inside.
'Clothes?' he asked, bemused. 'NEW clothes?'
You see, new T-shirts, new shirts, new shorts, new trousers are all, well, new to him.
He has rarely had anything new in his life, and certainly not in the past year. Because my youngest son's entire wardrobe consists of his soon-to-be-seven-year-old brother's hand-me-downs.
When we had our third child to add to my wife's daughter and our son it was a relief when he was a boy.
We had spent a not-insignificant fortune kitting out my stepadaughter in Hello Kitty and the like, and then another wheelbarrowful of cash on our first son.
It worked rather well. We could pretend to parents of his siblingless friends that he was part of a new eco-wave of recycling.
Many online entrepreneurs make a living out of doing just this. www.handmedowns.org, for example, is a network of like-minded folks who pass on to others items they no longer have use for.
We even convinced the boy himself that he was somehow privileged to be taking ownership of his elder's crusty garments by building up the hype a few weeks in advance of the hand-me-down-over.
We'd show him photos of his big bro wearing the clothes he was soon to inherit; explain to him that they were being kept in a 'special drawer' and that when he was grown up enough, he would get to wear those items that once bedecked the older brother he worships.
'One day, you can wear that T-shirt/those shorts/those jeans,' I'd say.
'I want them now,' the little 'un would wail and stamp his feet.
'No, not now. You have to wait until you're a big boy. Big boys don't wail and
stamp their feet.'
And so the confidence trick was complete. The gullible fool.
By the time it came for his brother's clothes to be handed down, our youngest was almost ecstatic with anticipation. He'd try them on and strut around the room, like a Lord parading his ermine robes.
There's a serious point to this. Clothes so cheap these days (compared to a few years ago) that parents don't think twice about forking out on a regular basis to indulge their children's whimsical fashion desires. The clothes last a few weeks, or a season at best, and they're consigned to the back of the wardrobe or simply binned.
There's no thought for the almost-slave labour that's used to produce this gear in the developing world. Kids have just got to have the latest, and that's that. End of argument.
When I was growing up, you wore what your parents bought for you. End of story.
And as a result of that philosophy, I have never been a fashion victim. In fact, my wife describes me as The Most Stylish Man She's Ever Met – because I have no style.
But we're not in the 1970s. Children are different today. My soon-to-be-seven-year-old has started to care about his appearance. He feels embarrassed about wearing his older sister's old school coat. I don't know why: t's not as if it's pink!
But I have to accept that pretty soon, the older boy is going to want to keep up with his older mates. And that my youngest is going to rumble pretty soon that hand-me-downs aren't actually the height of chic I've been making them out to be.
It's started already, thanks to the presents bought by his loving aunt. He loves his brand new branded Ted Baker shorts and shirt so much that he won't take them off. And I have to confess that he does look all shiny and fresh in his new clobber, as opposed to his usual Dickens' urchin appearance.
It's fast approaching the time when I need to accept that hand-me-downs can only be handed down for so long. I'd better start saving up.