A Wardrobe Comprised of Other People’s Clothing

by Ben Kassoy

I kind of stole someone else’s jacket, and I’m not giving it back.

It’s a slick black Patagonia, waterproof with durable lining and a hood. Someone left it at my apartment after a party I threw three years ago. No one came back for it, and my former roommates didn’t claim it, so when they moved out, I scooped it up.

This jacket — which everyone compliments and is apparently worth around $300 — is, like so much of my wardrobe, serendipitously scavenged. At the moment, I’m wearing a:

• Giant flannel shirt my mom wore during her pregnancy with me.
• Pair of jeans I found in my trash can, discarded by my former roommate and covered in coffee grinds.
• Friend’s intramural softball jersey I snagged from a clothing swap-themed birthday party I threw. “Who is ‘Gern’?” people ask when they read the back.
• Pair of boxer briefs a startup sent me as a promotion.
• Black Steve Jobs-ian turtleneck I borrowed from a friend to wear ironically for a costume. He insisted I keep it; it was clutch this winter.

When I get home, I’ll slip into something more comfortable, which will likely include:

• Clothing swapped pair of red, white, and blue linen shorts from a friend, whose boyfriend was glad to see them go.
• Friend’s ex-boyfriend’s sweatshirt — both of which she was glad to see go.
• Pair of my ex-girlfriend’s long, thick sparkly socks (think “Billie Jean”). She knew I loved to wear them; when we broke up, she wouldn’t let me let them go.

There are more of these abandoned and adoptive items, which don’t even include a myriad of gifts, thrift-shop gems, high school tennis gear, fraternity apparel, and bar mitzvah party favors.

Yes, I am cheerfully cheap. Also, my office — and standards of self-respect — don’t have a dress code, so unlike most adults, I can afford to regularly wear strangers’ pajamas and maternity wear.

I’ve never enjoyed actually purchasing clothes, but whenever I scrounge and stockpile a random item that at least kind of fits, it feels like a victory of opportunism and individuality, not to mention frugality.

I don’t have great fashion sense nor a real understanding of what “matching” means, exactly. My look is eighth grader on laundry day meets extra in Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo meets pregnant lesbian. And while no one would describe me as “trendy,” I’ve cultivated personal style not by the clothes I (don’t) buy, but by how I acquire, resurrect, and re-imagine them as my own.

There’s the short-sleeved flower-patterned chambray button-down. My friend, who works for a men’s clothing company, gifted the sample to me after I stood in as a (wildly unqualified) model for an Instagram photo shoot/Fourth of July cookout on a Bed-Stuy industrial rooftop/aerosol gallery.

There’s the faux-rain slicker, which is yellow and masquerades as waterproof, but very much isn’t. It was my mom’s in her first job, as a middle school home ec. teacher and high-school gymnastics coach. Some families pass down jewelry; mine apparently passes down bootleg versions of something from the Gorton fisherman’s closet.

There’s the pair of pants my former boss gave me after he permanently gained too much weight one Thanksgiving.

Even my go-to Halloween costume, a tank-top splatter-paint onesie (with footies!), is a hand-me-up (that I also kind of stole) from my little sister. As an eight-year-old, she wore it with a smock and beret and trick-or-treated as “an artist.” Now, every Halloween, I forgo buying a costume and instead rock the onesie by itself and tell people I’m “a Jackson Pollock painting.”

Of all the items I’ve recovered from others, this is the only one anyone actually wants back. Sorry, Mal: it’s kind of mine now. Same goes for the person who’s been missing their Patagonia for the last three years. You’re too late.

Ben Kassoy is the Managing Editor of DoSomething.org, the coauthor of eight books, and a former columnist for Details.com and Glamour.com. He’s also written for Maxim, Glamour, Women’s Health online, and Medium’s Human Parts collection. Ben tweets here.

Photo: Debbie

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