Sarah Lang has just culled and restocked her wardrobe and has found some freedom in an unexpected place – a clothes swap
For eight years, whenever I opened my wardrobe, the clothes that were too small for me stared back at me, affronted, saying ‘Come on! Lose weight so you can wear us again’. ‘Stop reminding me!’, I replied (in my head, though talking out loud to your clothes is fine too).
Before I had my son in 2014, I was mainly size 8. But because I’m pear shaped, I was occasionally size 6 on my top half, and sometimes size 10 on my bottom half. (Hence dresses rarely fit me, unless they’re A-line.)
After becoming a mother, I became a size 12. I bought a few size-12 clothes as an ‘intermediary step’ before I lost weight (or so I told myself). I always planned to get back into the size 8s or at least the 10s. I liked being that slim. It was part of my identity, almost. Also, some of the clothes waiting for me to bloody well lose weight were favourites of mine – especially my dresses from Swonderful.
But I never lost weight. Initially, it was because a baby demands a lot of time, and sleep deprivation saw me reach for comfort food or junk foods that would give me an energy boost.
Once he was older? I prefer fresh, light meals, but I make carb-heavy dinners for my husband and son, who have metabolisms that mean they can eat whatever and however much they like and remain skinny. (Yes, that’s ‘frigging annoying.) So I usually end up eating whatever I make for them, because I can’t be arsed making two meals. And who wants to eat a salad when the other people are eating cheese-crusted shepherd’s pie? (FYI, I work school hours, so do most of the cooking.)
So here I am, a size 12. Yes, I know that’s fairly slim, but my experience of disordered eating earlier in life led to a bit of body dysmorphia.
But, the other week, I thought ‘You know what? I’m sick of seeing too-small clothes in my wardrobe. It should be about having clothes that fit me, as opposed to having me trying to fit clothes. And at age 42, why should I try to be a size 8 or 10, unless that comes naturally?’
So guess what I did? I finally got rid of the clothes that were too small. YES I’M DISPROPORTIONATELY PROUD OF MYSELF BUT ALSO, GO ME. Then I went on a shopping spree at Augustine (not an ad, it’s my new favourite clothing store) and got two sequinned jerseys, two pairs of jeans, a wonderfully orange top, and a sparkly jacket – all size 12. They’ve earned the right to be in my closet, and the rest got evicted.
Geneen Roth, an author of six books about emotional eating who has struggled with disordered eating herself, has written an article called ‘Throw Away Your Thin Clothes’. “Thinner clothes scream ‘failure’ at you whenever you see them,” she writes.
She kept a pair of skinny jeans in her closet, finally getting rid of them after three years. “Here’s my advice about clothing that doesn’t fit you now: Get rid of them. Give them away to your friends, your children, the homeless, women’s shelters, or cancer projects. Have a bonfire and burn them. Take your scissors and cut them up for quilt pieces. Do anything but keep them in your closet.”
The clothes swap
I took my culled items to a clothes swap. As you probably know, that’s an event (public or private, big or small) where you bring clothes you no longer wear, nor fit, nor like. You throw them into a big pile and try to dig out clothes that you like and fit. Yes, you might end up grabbing the same cool salmon jacket within seconds of each other and have to be the bigger person (or just refuse to let it go – sorry not sorry, Frances).
Over the last decade, clothes swaps have become a trend welcomed by many. I’m not claiming we were trendsetters, but my friend/often-flatmate Polly and I regularly held small clothes swaps (no one else that we knew did it) with friends and acquaintances in Auckland in the early 2000s. Being a perpetually broke student, I found getting ‘new’ clothes a treat, and I usually had some things that I didn’t fit nor like (you know, an aunt’s Christmas gifts) for the pile. Also, I felt like swapping clothes was a sustainable fashion choice, an alternative to fast fashion. But yes, it was mainly because you got things for free. Those evenings were fun girly times. Whichever guy or guys lived at the hostess’s house would take a long walk or hole up in the bedroom.
Some Wellington members of the Facebook group “Brilliant+Amazing+Writers+Mothers” held a clothes swap last week. There were about 10 of us. We met in a dance studio with a floor-to-ceiling mirror on one side, so we didn’t need to BYO mirror or share a mirror. I caught sight of myself in the mirror without realising it was me for a second, and thought, ‘gosh she looks good’.
On Saturday, non-profit collective Every Body’s Clothes Swap held a large clothing swap in Wellington. But I had no more clothes to contribute! The collective plans to run these swaps regularly again, after pausing because of Covid.
An acquaintance of mine recently went to a size-24 clothes swap hosted by House of Boom, an apparel store stocking sizes 16 to 30, all Wellington-made. “The majority of clothes,” my acquaintance said, “were donated by the family of the late fat activist Cat Pausé, who had amazing clothes. It was the first swap for us all and we had the best time trying on clothes and taking what suited us rather than what fitted. It’s the first time in my adult life that I had seven new items of clothes in one go. I’m not sure it’ll ever happen again so I’m cherishing this memory!”
So, here’s the question I was asked when I ditched my ‘too-small’ clothes: should I keep them because I might lose some weight at some point? Maybe – I’m planning to join a gym soon – or at least that’s what I tell myself. But I’m also finally fine with being the size I already am. I can open my wardrobe and think ‘what should I wear today?’ rather than ‘I should lose weight to fit these’. It’s a freeing feeling.