A Girl In Friend’s Clothing: A Shared Sartorial History
There are infinite ways to express your love for a friend. Sometimes it’s showing up at her door with a bottle of bourbon and a sympathetic ear when she’s down. Sometimes it includes a chivalrous act of sisterhood, like TP-ing that dude-who-broke-her-heart’s house. But for us it often manifests in letting the other person wear something from our closet.
There’s something intoxicating about wearing someone else’s clothes: The freedom to shed one’s skin and try on a new identity, the sudden closeness — literally and figuratively — you feel when a blouse that’s touched another’s skin touches yours, the trust implicit in its gifting. It’s the ultimate seal of approval. In her novel-slash-diary The Folded Clock, writer (and wardrobe enthusiast) Heidi Julavits describes the thrill of wearing a friend’s sweater while studying abroad in France:
“We’d been wearing the same small suitcase of clothes for weeks at this point; other people’s clothing was, more than it usually is, a break from ourselves. … The TA’s sweater was nicer than any other sweater worn by a foreign exchange student in Blois — and maybe in all of France — that winter; we each coveted it. That she’d awarded it to me was the equivalent … of an older boyfriend giving a girl his torn and stained canvas jacket to wear, the one everyone knew, by the unique pattern of destruction, was his.”
In a way, la mode laid the foundation for our friendship. We met interning at a fashion magazine. We admired one another’s styles — Julianna’s “punk-rock magpie defiance” (Raquel’s words); Raquel’s “effortless chic” (Julianna’s). And we recognized in the other a kindred spirit: someone who read Anne of Green Gables as much for the puffed-sleeved muslin dresses as for Anne and Diana’s adventures; someone who didn’t buy Vogue for the pictures but for the fashion history from Hamish Bowles; someone who loved clothes because they revealed something deeper about the wearer: her innermost self.
So, that first day we swapped outfits — October 5, 2007 — it felt not only inevitable, but monumental. We were irreversibly, irrevocably intertwined. And we have taken, loaned, swapped, gifted, and even bought each other clothes ever since.
Raquel (left): Julianna went to New York Fashion Week wearing ripped jeans and a holey Old Navy cardigan. The first time I went to her apartment and she let me wear one of her dresses, I was ecstatic: This girl REALLY ACTUALLY LIKED ME. (Also, I hoped to pick up some of her cool.) We were going to see The Blow, and I selected a short patterned frock and she ended up wearing the dress I had shown up in (validation!). I was so giddy that when we ran into a guy I knew, I exclaimed, “I’m wearing her outfit, and she’s wearing mine!”
Julianna (right): For me it was almost obvious. If Raquel was wearing my clothes, I would be wearing hers. I was in awe of her style. My first memory of her ease in a burgundy sort-of-loose knit sweater over a black shift dress with knee high boots made me feel so over-styled and try-hard. And that night was so magical; WE SAW DAVID BYRNE IN REAL LIFE. All of my tastes (clothes, music, friends) were legitimized.
R: That was when I first wore the Marc Jacobs shoes, too.
J: My graduate school was dangerously close to Loehmann’s (RIP!), and one day they had this beautiful pair of red patent-leather cone-heeled peep-toe Marc by Marc Jacobs shoes — for 60 dollars. I have freakishly small feat, so I bought them with Raquel in mind. I didn’t know what size she wore yet! It was this a first moment of aspirational purchasing, like if I can’t wear it maybe she can?
R: Yeah, I go into stores and I’m like, “Ooooh, Julianna would love this – and that!” Sometimes I’ll buy her presents and I’ll do a few “test runs” — you know, just wear a particular bracelet or ring a few times before handing it over.
J: If I have something and I don’t quite know how I want to wear it, I’ll ask Raquel to borrow it and break it in for me. A few years back she got this black lace dress at Madewell. It was perfect — not too long, not too short, narrow skirt, but not crazy tight — and she was always styling it in all these different ways, with lace-ups and a belt for a sorta tomboy look; with my old Ferragamos for a wedding. Of course it was sold out. I stalked it on eBay until I found one for myself.
R: Those Ferragamos were also part of our great Ferragamo trade. I had the classic navy ballet flats with the little bows that were TRAGICALLY too small for me. I squeezed my feet into them for Fashion Week one season, pinched and hot and uncomfortable. (But they looked so good with my Swedish denim skinnies — formerly Julianna’s! — and mariner shirt.)
J: I have a vintage Ferragamo problem. I discovered this great pair of low-heeled pumps with a mother-of-pearl buckle on eBay, but they never fit right. After R borrowed them she told me how much she loved them I was just like “KEEP THEM.” She insisted on giving me her navy flats, which I tried very hard to wear, but I always felt like I was playing Upper East Side dress-up; I sold them at a stoop sale to a young lady who was THRILLED.
R: I wear those Ferragamos a lot when I need to play a concert or a wedding where I know no one. They help! A few years ago, for example, I went to a co-worker’s wedding in Brooklyn, and I ended up wearing this strappy blue sundress of Julianna’s. I felt really confident and sexy in it — not only because it wasn’t mine and so gave me some cover, but also because it was like having my BFF with me.
It’s the same with clothes I swipe from my sisters, like this army-green bomber my youngest bought while studying abroad in Italy (which she may not know I have — hi, Natalie!). Clothes are protection but also extensions of ourselves, and carrying that piece of someone else with you is a talisman, a confidence-booster, a reminder that she thinks you are rad enough to wear something special from her closet.
J: I have lifted so much from my sister. She’s five years older — just enough that by the time I could wear a coveted item, it often wasn’t in style any longer. A few years ago she sent me this massive box of stuff she had worn in high school and college (circa 1993-2001). It was like opening the closet of that cool ‘90s alternative girl you admired but were too young to be friends with. Sorting through it, Raquel exclaimed “OH MY GOD ARE THESE FROM THE LIMITED?!?” holding up these awesome high-waisted black pleated trousers. R went home with those pants and this ankle length black lace skirt, with take-back rights.
R: Wearing something from your friend is one thing; wearing something that belonged to your BFF’s older sister back in the ‘90s is next-level. It’s like you’re part of the family. Same with well-loved vintage — like that Coach satchel I wear EVERY DAY. You knew I would like it.
J: And when we are together and you get a compliment it’s like I do too! These items of clothing that we’ve exchanged over the years are physical representations of how our friendship has grown, the adventures we’ve had together, and the thoughts and ideas we’ve shared. We have helped each other find our personal styles and our identities as adults — encouraging each other to be confident in our tastes as well as in ourselves and our talents.
R: Agree. #Feelingallthefeels
Original illustrations by Juliana Rose Dow.