Clothing Swapaholics: A Bitersweet Tale

The women in my family have a way of speaking. It’s a prattle, a finished shopping list of things. Deals. Everything is a deal. Everyone wants to make a deal. A language of huntresses and conquest. This shirt? $2. That coat? $40, marked down from $200. Can you believe it? Pennies.

“Peanuts,” my mother always says.

I’m so aware of this prattle, I don’t participate in it even though I too enjoy the hunt. Because it’s in my blood. But I hide my shopping bags within other bags so no one knows I’ve been shopping.

Because I don’t want anyone to know that I am a shopper.

Because I can’t think of anything worse.

My behavior reminds me of articles I used to read when I was a teenager about bulimics hiding candy bars and cookies for their purge sessions.

To support my habit, I swap.

In my early 20’s, a girl I knew at the time threw the first swap I had ever been to in her Manhattan loft. This young woman was very savvy and gathered all her friends in media (people who worked for magazines got lots of free stuff) as well as all of her friends working as underlings in the fashion industry (another population that acquires more free designer clothing than they will ever know what to do with).

But this swap was no free-for-all.

Every article of clothing was sorted and then presented to the room. If a woman was interested in a piece of clothing, she had to raise her hand. If more than one did, EVERYONE got the chance to try it on and then the room would vote on whom it looked the best.

Yes, this was a scene straight out of Heathers & Mean Girls and not one girlfriend I had at the time outside of this particular coven was willing to participate.

To be honest, it wasn’t that bad but just telling people about it seemed to bring such unimaginable horror to people’s faces.

I remember once a whole room gave me a jeans intervention because I was convinced they were flattering. I was wrong. No one wanted them, but no one was going to let me leave with them either.

“Please, no really, this is not how you want your ass to look.”

“Try these instead.”

“You’re right, these are so much better.”

This is a prattle I can get behind. I guess because money is not at the foundation. It reminds me more of little birds clacking at each other, making sure they are being taken care of. I blame Alicia Silverstone for this metaphor.

Because of this project, I now go to swaps all over where women from all walks of life  participate. But it’s never quite the same. The women stick to their own and never try to make friends. Eyes dart around the room assessing bags, what people are laying out — and even what people are wearing — to get a sense of whether or not you might have like-minded aesthetics.

It’s competitive and vaguely dehumanizing in the same way that excessive shopping is.

Photo courtesy of shop it to me.

In fact, all of the swapping and clothes talk is getting to me in general.

The other day I went to get my taxes done and my accountant Rus told me how he had a friend in the fashion industry who said he would be willing to organize a male clothing swap (I should back up by saying that Rus is super into this project and has been encouraging a male clothing swap segment in my film ever since I threw out idea — yes, I have the coolest accountant in the world).

His male assistant then chimed in, “I would love to do that but I have the weirdest body.”

For the past few days, I have been thinking about goofy boyish enthusiasm and thinking that maybe a different kind of prattle along the same theme might break me out of my rut.

What do you think, dear male IBC readers? If there was an all male clothing swap in your town, would you go ? What would be your concerns ? Please comment widely.


About cat_tyc

Cat Tyc is a Brooklyn based filmmaker/video artist making a documentary about style & exchange called SWAP. She gets weepy watching "Project Runway" marathons and loves her Marc Jacobs skirt more than you.


  1. You nailed exactly how I feel about the swaps I’ve been to. It’s gotten to the point where it’s changed how I relate to certain friends based on their unexpected behavior at past swaps. They kind of turn into animals. Now I have this weird situation where I have bags of old but cool clothes in my basement that I know would be snatched up at a swap, but I can’t make myself attend one when it rolls around. The other thing is that women will see an article of clothing I’m wearing and tell me to bring it to the next swap so they can get it from me. Dehumanizing is the right word. Which is too bad, because in theory, a clothing swap is such a fantastic idea.

  2. cat_tyc

    I totally forgot about that. People have asked me to bring things I am actually wearing to swaps which is so weird to me that I just block it all out but its nice to know I am not the only one that has gone through that.

  3. hallee

    i have had nothing but amazing clothing swap experiences. i have hosted quite a few, and attended even more, and all the ones i have been to have been all about the love. you make new friends, and collect compliments. (“Oooohhh! That looks so cute on you!” “I’m glad you like that dress. I could never pull it off, but it looks great on you!” “Damn, you have a nice booty.”) As much as I love the thrifty, environmentally friendly aspects of clothing swaps, I love them even more for bringing women together to compliment and raise each other up in the context of fashion and beauty which usually causes us to be judgy and cut each other (and ourselves) down. just sayin’.

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: