The entire arrangement is rather foolish. To lend a beloved item — one that you’d never, in reality, really want to leave your sight — in exchange for the blind trust that a friend will return it in pristine condition, or even at all. Yet the rotating act of borrowing and lending clothing is a rite of passage for any enduring relationship between best friends, sisters, and mothers and daughters.
For me, there are too many instances to remember: a pair of knee-high leather boots I lent to my college roommate, which complemented her body-con American Apparel dress perfectly (it was 2008) and came back with the heels worn away at a slant. Gold hoops that I let my best friend borrow to spruce up her outfit at a house party, which I still see on her ears every time we go out but have never come back into my possession. A Budweiser denim vest that same best friend left at my house, which has now become mine. A hunter-green trench I took from my mom’s closet a few Christmases ago that I always get compliments on.
This hodgepodge of shuffled clothing is less about possession and more about intimacy. Like the power of physical touch between friends and loved ones, being outfitted in their clothing or wearing their most cherished accessories is a form of comforting love, too. The smells and wear and tear they’ve left behind. The shared memories — good and bad — you create through the exchange of an object. The involuntary act of detachment from your possessions. The simultaneous joy and jealousy that something you bought for yourself might be better suited for your best friend, or sister, or daughter. And the unconditional love you have for them after you realize you’re probably not ever getting your jacket or your handbag or your sweater back — but you know that it’s gone to a good home to live a new life.
Here, seven women share stories about some of their closest relationships and the act of borrowing and lending clothes.
SUSAN ORLEAN, journalist and author
I was going to the Vanity Fair Oscar party. I picked out a dress, but I still didn’t have a handbag. A friend of mine said, “I have a great evening bag if you want to borrow it.” She loans me this little beaded handbag that looked great with my dress. I went to the party, and, you know, you figure, the Vanity Fair Oscar party — all good. It was maybe two feet away from me on a cocktail table, and someone stole the bag.
I called my friend the next day. I expected her not to be happy about it, but I also didn’t know the bag had a special meaning to her. She told me that it had belonged to her mother; it was the last thing her mother had given her before she died. My reaction ranged between feeling terrible and then wishing she had never loaned it to me.
It’s all behind us now, but I think there was a period of time where it was a little bit sensitive. I’m sure she had a version that she told other people. I mean, I was the person who borrowed it, and it got lost. I reported it to the police and they told me that during the Vanity Fair party everything that’s not nailed down gets stolen.
MARTINE ROSE, fashion designer
I inherited a lot of clothing from my sister, who’s fifteen years older than me. My favorite was this Jean Paul Gaultier Junior dress that has the word “Junior” written across the chest. She bought it the same year she met her now-husband, whose name is Junior, so it was a bit symbolic for her. I wore that dress all the time. It was more like extended borrowing, actually. I borrowed it once and then never gave it back.