Monday, April 9, 2012

Swap Meat

"Where did you get this?" my friend or boyfriend will ask, pointing to a new bracelet, a swanky new sweater, or a hitherto-unseen pair of jeans. I'll hem and haw for a minute and then admit, with some reluctance, that I found the bracelet on the sidewalk. The jeans? Piled with other clothing discards in front of a sorority house. The sweater came from a clothing swap. My whole outfit has come from other people's leavings. This exchange happens all the time.

Look, I'm not going to lie - I'm basically a hobo, and nowhere is this more apparent than in my wardrobe. My clothes come not from a florescent-lit shelf at the Gap, or from a well-curated boutique in a swish part of town. They come from church basements and school auditoriums - the holy places of clothing swaps - and from second-hand emporia like the Salvation Army. A lot of it is lifted from literally the side of road, set out by folks who can't be arsed to walk it over to a donation box. My friends give me clothes. So does my mom: gently used additions to my wardrobe that gives me nostalgia pangs for the 1980s.

This is mostly an economic choice. Why pay for one pair of pants at the mall when I can get four at the thrift shop? There's also a deeper-seated issue with changerooms, sizing, and self-loathing that comes roaring out in new clothing stores; that's more muted in a second-hand situation. Shopping is annoying and full of strangers, and I am lazy and easily enraged.

Plus, there's the thrill of the hunt. Found clothes feel like a gift from the universe; finding a good-looking pair of pants in a swap meet feels like bagging a trophy. Knowing your personal look makes clothing swaps much easier to handle - if all you wear is black, then your eyes can skip right over all the blue-and-coral striped sweaters. Similarly, I have a major jones for mini-skirts and booty shorts; combined with the purchase of new tights (even I have my swap-meet limits), I can reinvigorate my wardrobe. You have to wade through piles of pearl-encrusted mohair sweaters and baggy office-drone khakis, but fortune favours the quirky: if you can make a white-and-gold tunic work for you, grab it. You end up with a wardrobe full of unusual and interesting clothes for a fraction of the price that you would pay new.

There's a game I sometimes play called What's New? I usually rock an even split of new, gifted, used and found. Today: swapped jeans, gifted socks, a tank top that my mom threw at me one day and said, "All you wear is black tank tops, ever, do you want this?" (cue vigorous nodding), a bra that was delivered in a similar fashion, and a pair of Blundstones that I actually bought new. I love playing this game. Each piece of clothing has a little story - I got the jeans at a swap with my sister, who scored a dress made by a company called Gold Digger (hilar!) - and taken all together, they make me feel confident, stylish, and hot. Good clothes, no matter where they come from, should do that.