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Guys, It’s Time to Experience the Magic of the Clothing Swap

Cis men haven’t been socialized to embrace the wonders of fashion free-for-alls — and the loss is all theirs

When it comes to getting dressed, men today have plenty of resources. Dudes be thrift shopping, posting #fitpics on Instagram or bidding on the latest Supreme drop. (Whether any of this translates into looking more put together is TBD; see the rise of sleazecore, or the fall of Jack Dorsey-induced tech-bro schlubbiness.) But from hypebeast to garden variety dirtbag to start-up square, their sartorial savvy has yet to tap one obvious market: each other’s closets.

For some reason, the concept of the clothing swap — a casual meetup in which friends exchange items they no longer want, in the service of closet clearing and in the hopes of finding a diamond among your buds’ duds — eludes men.

After attending a recent swap at a female friend’s house that was a smash hit, it occurred to me that guys are conspicuously absent from these affairs. I’ve certainly never heard them talk about meeting up to drink beer and try on each other’s jorts. This, despite the fact that most of the men I’m friends with are budget-conscious; wear a similar uniform of denim jackets, flannels and Converse that they source at local thrift shops; and like to hang out at each other’s apartments.

So why aren’t they in on this life hack?

When I start asking around, the majority of dudes I talk to had either never heard of a clothing swap or never been invited to one. “I don’t think it’s something men have ever seen modeled for themselves, so they don’t think to do it,” says Daniel Silverstein, aka Zero Waste Daniel, a designer who makes clothes from repurposed textile scraps and who now owns a retail shop in Brooklyn. Despite being active in the zero waste and fashion communities, he says he’s never known men to participate in swaps. “I’ve known lots of different bloggers and sustainable activists for years, but I remember being left out of the clothing swaps because they’re ladies’ clothing swaps. I never even thought, Oh, I should do one for me and my guy friends,” he says. “My boyfriend and I share clothes all the time, and I have several other friends who have great style and are of similar sizing, so it would be super fun to do that.”

At L Train Vintage, the NYC-based thrift store chain that’s reliably packed to the racks with basketball jerseys, denim and more staples of hipster dude urban-wear, male shoppers are bemused at the notion of a clothing swap, although not necessarily opposed to it. “It’s like a flea market?” responds Alex, 21, when I ask him if he’d ever swapped with friends. “I’ve never heard of it. If they’re clean, I wouldn’t mind. And if they have good taste in fashion, I’d try it. If it don’t hurt the pocket, why not?” Another thrifter I approach adds quizzically, “I’ve never done it. Never heard of it. Is it popular in Bushwick? I’m assuming it’s popular in Bushwick.”

According to Lawrence Schlossman, men are getting together to poach from each other’s closets, but it’s much more transactional, compared to the socialist-minded free-for-all swaps women do. As the brand director of Grailed, the online buy/sell/trade platform geared toward guys looking to cop rare or high-end items (jawnz, as he calls ‘em) from Supreme or Raf Simons, Schlossman is front and center to the culture of “enthusiast communities” of sneakerheads and streetwear fanatics who find each other online, or IRL, via meetups and conventions. “I don’t think dudes are doing this ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,’” says Schlossman. “If anything, it’s like, ‘Hey, you bring your treasure chest, I bring my treasure chest. Let’s all make money or get cool shit.’”

The stats on consumer spending support this quantifiable enthusiasm: growth in menswear sales has outpaced women’s markets since 2016. But even if men are purchasing more clothes than women, they may be less eager to part with their prized wardrobe items (although, those with a Y chromosome were just as susceptible to this year’s Netflix-induced Marie Kondo craze, despite blaming it on their wives and girlfriends).

There are a few reasons as to why. Some guys, once they lock down their look and figure out the sizing and styling that works for them, don’t want to have to stress about it ever again. We all know men who wear the same thing all the time, like a Ken Doll with only one outfit. If you peek inside their closets, you’d find them filled with multiples of the same exact jeans and shirts, like Elizabeth Holmes with her turtlenecks. (In my opinion, they’re only scamming themselves!)

Sam Huntington, a musician and model who has worked at environmental NGOs, describes what he calls a “buy for life” mentality among waste-conscious men, which he says is more appealing than swapping clothes. “They try to cut down on their purchases, reduce their overall volume of clothes and maintain a modest selection of practical clothing that’s suitable for multiple situations,” he says.

My friend Tim, who thrifts at L Train like it’s his job, and thinks about sustainability like it’s his second job, follows a similar pattern. “I keep a very light wardrobe in general — just the few things I’m going to use regularly. Then I clear out my closet periodically to bring the unused stuff directly to Goodwill/put it on the curb for people to take, which they always do.” He says he’s open to the idea of a bro clothing swap, but “my caveat would be wondering whether everyone else wears things like I do, which is down to their threadbare and useless state, before replacing them.”

When I inquire over on Reddit’s AskMen, commenters seem pretty closed off to the idea of attending a clothing swap with their male friends. Several express concern that their body types are too different, and if they attempted a swap, they wouldn’t be able to find clothes that fit [sic throughout]:

  • “Never heard of that before but I’m going to say no. I have hell just finding anything that fits in the jeans and t shirts flavor, much less my office clothes. Guys clothes are pretty generic in look but a bitch and a half in fit. I am not swapping anything I found that actually fits.”
  • I have a very particular body type, so I doubt other mens clothes would look good on me.”
  • “No, I dress for my own body shape and get what I like myself.”

Of course, finding clothes that fit right, feel good and look good is a challenge for anyone. You can’t really make the case that men’s clothing is designed to be more finicky than women’s — opting for a tighter or more relaxed fit is more an issue of personal preference. And female bodies are certainly no less varied than male ones, they might even exhibit more variety when you account for curves. Personally speaking, having smaller boobs or being shorter than a friend wouldn’t deter me from attending the same swap as her, because I’d bet, with enough people attending, I’d find something in the pile anyway. It’s luck of the draw, and even if I walk away with only a couple of new items, it’s still worth it, especially if a friend finds a winner in what I’ve brought to the table.

The fact that clothing swaps are common in gender nonconforming and trans communities, where you have a full spectrum of bodies, makes a good case that swaps might be more about the community support and social aspect than the potential haul. Elizabeth Rules, who organizes Queer Clothing Swap at the Dungeon East in L.A., says that the clothing selection ends up being “such a variety of sizes, you never know,” but whatever’s leftover gets donated to the [email protected] and the L.A. LGBT Center. More importantly, Rules says she “started [the swap] because I like bottomless mimosas and vegan donuts and seeing my friends mostly naked, but then it got so big it became this thing where people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I met my best friend here.’”

There’s an easy intimacy to clothing swaps that reminds me of being in high school or college, getting ready for a party at a friend’s house and convincing them to let me borrow an outfit, or spending the night and being handed pajama pants and a super soft T-shirt to crash in. As an adult, it’s rare to spend time like that in other people’s bedrooms, unless you’re fucking.

The typical guy, growing up, probably didn’t have this experience of getting dressed together with his friends while they pre-gamed. The closest analogy might be the men’s locker room, which isn’t exactly the best environment for fostering casual body acceptance. Or maybe they did: Schlossman recalls doing this in college during his fraternity days. And in Everybody Wants Some, Richard Linklater’s ode to undergrad Texan baseball bros, there’s a montage of the guys pampering themselves at the baseball house before going out; or the scene in which the vain upperclassman raids the new freshman pitcher’s closet, while checking himself out in the mirror, saying, “Oh, I got the best cheese on campus.”

Maybe it’s that they’re more focused on themselves. After all, men typically don’t compliment each other’s appearance like women do. The last swap I went to was filled with half-naked women telling each other how good they looked. It was so fun to tromp around my friend’s living room, pulling a dress off my head and handing it to my friend because I thought it would look better on her, or feeling as satisfied that the too-big bodysuit I’d brought was exactly what another friend was looking for, as I was about the new strappy sandals I nabbed.

While body image is fraught for anyone, regardless of gender, perhaps cis dudes don’t have the same comfort level around talking about it, and that could be a barrier to entry for convening in a room together, subjecting themselves to scrutiny over how their friends’ shirt fits on their torso. Schlossman, however, thinks those attitudes might be changing faster than we realize. “Thanks to the rise of men’s fashion communities, thanks to the internet, there are so many more men now than a decade ago talking about how clothing looks on them, how to put an outfit together,” he says. “They’re more open and willing to share their outfits and get feedback from other men than ever before.”

And when they’re ready to take it to the next level with a clothing swap, the hashtag #BrothingSwap is ready and waiting.