I brought wine to this clothing swap. And so did everyone else. I also brought fresh cigarettes, old clothes and me, dressed in something especially ladylike and sweet.
There’s a girl at this party who keeps handing me things she thinks I will like based on her understanding of my style. She gets me, she keeps saying. Because I have never met this girl before, this understanding blossomed entirely from my current outfit; a departure, honestly. I keep accepting the clothes because I don’t want to insult her instincts. I will never wear this sundress. I will never wear this blouse.
This is my first clothing swap and I was nervous in the lead up. In my mind’s eye I saw faceless girls looking at the clothes I’d brought silently and waiting for them to disappear; all of them yawning in fashionable unison. This is the adult female equivalent to getting picked last in gym.
I am second to arrive but one look at the clothing pile forming in the centre of the living room and already I can tell that I’ve been a fool. I have nice clothes and even the ones I’m discarding are desirable. Before the party I’d gone through my closet and selected a handful of sartorial lambs to the slaughter. They never felt much like my style so it was easy to part with them. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to bring damaged or very-worn clothes to a swap but as girls arrive and add their contributions to the pile, I can see I am alone in this.
I made the decision to show up at this party dressed in my best impression of a lovely lady. I don’t make a practice of dressing this way but presumably, as a girl with a pretty small roster of female friends, I approached this occasion like a girl-themed party. I reached for the long polka dot skirt and little black blouse so to not be exposed for what I am: judgemental and particular not to mention new to this apparently essential female experience.
The hostess of this party is one of my handful of girlfriends but manages to have a veritable nation of strong female friendships for herself. This having-girls thing comes more naturally to her and she is constantly forced to correct my friendship missteps, though warmly. You’ll figure it out soon, you beautiful asshole.
And I do hope she’s right.
The other hostess of this party is the girl who has wrongly decided she completely gets my style. I learn that she used to work at Urban Outfitters and assume that watching people buy clothes all day is where this notion of wisdom comes from. I haven’t shopped at Urban Outfitters in years and feel oddly smug about this for a moment. She is wearing a lot of rings and complicated bracelets and her bangs are so long they graze her eyelashes and draw attention to the odd way she holds her mouth.
At first the party is intimate. Just a few girls sitting on a deck, some smoking, all drinking the sangria the hostess prepared. My friend is the kind of girl who uses lace tablecloths as wall hangings, has more than one Christmas apron and will pull over on road trips to pick wildflowers. This means that the sangria is delicious, that there’s cinnamon in it and that we all take turns cooing in appreciation as we drink it. Slowly more girls arrive and the energy rises with each new face. You can hardly see the kitchen table for bottles of red wine, brought with the sangria in mind. People have already started apologizing for their discarded clothes.
I listen to the patter around me and for a while, I am all the way in it.
When a girl tells me to smell her hair, I do it and say it smells amazing. She just had it treated that day. I say it looks amazing too. I speak supportively when the hostess, my friend, talks about her new romance (“He really is lovely. Good job.”). I ask a girl in a sheer blouse where she got her bra. I have a moment where I remember that this is not a normal question until thankfully, she reacts well to this and tells me. We share a blissful two minute conversation about lingerie before I worry about my own conversational stamina and excuse myself. Playing the part of wild-one enabler, I encourage the girl who likes the sangria the most to drink more of it. This makes us, in her mind, the fun team. I’ll take it. I ask about apartments and neighbourhoods and food allergies and jobs. I notice that these girls care very much what the house cat is doing at all times and know the names of each other’s pets. I can’t even muster something on this one. I draw the line at the animals of others, it seems.
And then it’s time to swap. We all filter into the living room, eyeing the massive pile of clothes and taking seats around the room. I perch on a wooden kitchen chair near a plate off-brand cookies I consider eating but don’t. Most of the girls pile together onto the loveseat and laugh at how tightly they are packed. They never seem to consider sitting apart.
I had assumed that each girl would have to talk about the clothes she brought to the party; take responsibility for what she was foisting on her friends. I had braced myself for the embarrassment of having to watch ten girls I do not know apologize for jersey dresses and elastic belts. I imagined saying over and over, “No, it’s really quite nice. Not my style though.”
Thankfully, sheer blouse-girl accepts the role as presenter of the all clothes. It’s all very anonymous unless someone needs to weigh in with notes on fit or why in god’s name she’s getting rid of something so heavenly.
The clothing part is not difficult. We are all different shapes and sizes and tastes not to mention quite friendly. Almost immediately, a pair of lace up boots appear that are my size and that I would certainly wear in the fall. I claim them sweetly and nobody protests. Nobody ever protests actually. Even when the girls want the same item of clothing (mine, often and ironically) they are civil and even talk of sharing. It’s all very fine.
Early in the night I make the mistake of mentioning that I have a wedding coming up that I need a dress for. This ensures that every dress baring flowers or extending below the knee is held up in my direction, forcing me to have to invent more and more reasons why each isn’t suitable. By the end of the night, I have painted this wedding as a crazy occasion to which I can only wear, well, nothing.
There is a cheerful girl sitting beside me in a bright orange homemade skirt who claims most of the clothes. She clearly has specific tastes, the complete opposite to my own, but she also seems to want things she might wear if she were a different girl. For no reason, I decide that she probably likes Katherine Heigl movies.
I observe that some girls leave the room to try on clothes and others do it right in the middle of things. There is a lot of talk about how different our bodies are. When a dress doesn’t flatter, the girl who really gets my style explains to me that I do not have the hips I think I do. “I promise you they’re only hiding,” I say to no response.
Quickly, I get tired. I have a low tolerance for this unfamiliar communication. Everything looks good on everyone. Everything could be good for work, a wedding, a rap career or whatever the person mentioned they were looking for. Everything that didn’t fit could be made to fit or the person could totally pull it off.
In real life, I know few yes-men and am certainly not this blindly supportive.
During a smoke break, I talk to sheer-blouse girl about lingerie some more. She tells me about this shop that sells a line I would really like and I think she’s probably correct. Being understood reminds me that I want that other girl to stop telling me beaded cardigans trimmed with sparkly fur are so very me with that knowing look.
I am in a secret costume right now, maam. If you must know, I prefer my clothes dark and loose; kind of hanging off my bones like a tent that broadcasts how little I give a fuck when I actually give an incredible fuck.
We finally make it through the pile and my eyes are heavy from wine and chatter. I look down at my own haul of new/old clothes and note that exactly two items are things I will wear and the others are things I’d been strong-armed into. I would rather leave with them and donate to Goodwill later than face even this minor a confrontation.
I want to leave so badly. I watch the girls, still trying things on and making outfits and eating cookies and I try to gauge how much time has to pass before I can politely leave. I decide it’s something like three minutes and begin to gather up my things into my worn leather backpack. I whisper to my friend that I’m leaving; she is fine with this. With my backpack on, I notice that sheer-blouse girl is smoking on the back deck. I consider saying goodbye but decide not to. I hate having to say “It was nice to meet you” and meaning it.
I walk home and once there, I pull the clothes from my backpack and lay them out on my bed. Among them is a strapless, black and white gingham dress that I was told I would love by that know-it-all. I try it on in front of my bathroom mirror and laugh to myself. It honestly isn’t my style but, I have to admit, would be pretty good to wear to a wedding.