Ten years ago last week, I moved into my student house and into one of the most rosily remembered periods of my life.
It was a falling-apart Victorian maisonette with all the makings of top-quality student anecdotes: a bathroom you could only access through the kitchen, a highly dangerous bit of flat asphalt we referred to as “the roof terrace” and, on the roof terrace, a jar full of something unidentifiable that we simply called “the jar”. The years I lived there were characterised by many types of shared experience – communal hangovers, communal colds, communal boxes of doner meat – and, for a while, a communal dress.
It was vintage with a blue, floral print. I bought it, but two of my housemates wore it as often as I did – it was all very Sisterhood of the Travelling etc, despite never really travelling further than Kilburn High Road. Everyone magically looked great in that dress. In old photos from around 2008, any one of us might be wearing it. I once bumped into one of the others around campus, looking sheepish and clutching her coat closed. It turned out she’d nicked the dress off my laundry pile and worn it to a lecture.
Clothes are the currency of my affection; in the same way that others bake to make people love them, I proffer frocks and tops and handbag
Perhaps it’s because I never had a sister, but I’ve always been genuinely thrilled when friends want to raid my wardrobe. Clothes are the currency of my affection; in the same way that others bake to make people love them, I proffer frocks and tops and handbags. When I left home and moved to London, my rationale was that I’d make myself popular as the person everyone visited to borrow stuff for fancy-dress parties. We all cast ourselves in a role when we enter a new crowd; wardrobe mistress was mine.
Besides, being generous with your clothes can pay dividends. After the student house came a flatshare with two close friends and, crucially, their very nice clothes. It was like having two extra bonus wardrobes, both usually in better condition than mine.
These days, I don’t have the housemates, but I still feel a little swell of pride every time I get a frantic text from a friend asking me to kit them out. Like Grandma filling your pockets with biscuits, I rarely let people leave my flat without pushing something on them from my heap of must-donates and should-wear-mores. I’m not fussed if they wash it or iron it, but I do lend with one strict proviso: all credit to me. If anyone compliments them while wearing the thing, they are obliged to yell, “THANK YOU – IT IS LAUREN’S”.
It’s nice to think those clothes are getting a bit more out of life than I alone could give them. One old dress, bought and loved when I was 17, was passed on to my friend Amy a few years ago and has now been claimed by her teenage niece, who is wearing it with considerable élan round the Midlands. And, sure, there’s the odd blip. One friend shrunk a beloved Lurex mini dress into a crop top; one T-shirt was lost for ever when I fell out with the borrower without having the foresight to get it back first. As a lender, you have every right to say no or issue rules, especially if it’s cashmere or a family heirloom and there’s a good reason people call your pal “Calamity Jen”. But, on balance, the risk generally still feels worth it for the greater good. And I mean the greater good for the planet, as well as friendship – why contribute to landfill when we can fuel the great circle of good clothes karma?
For nowhere is this more true than occasion dressing. Obviously, there are plenty of great posh-frock-hire services out there – Girl Meets Dress, Chic By Choice – and research by Westfield last year found that there was big public interest in a kind of “Netflix for clothes” rental system to revolutionise the British high street. Meanwhile, I passionately believe that all women in their twenties and thirties should pool their resources to create a free public lending library of wedding outfits, to save anyone dropping £100+ on a lacy dress and pastel blazer ever again.
But, until these dreams are a reality, there’s still plenty we can do in the way of sharing the love around. I think we all know deep down that we could beg and borrow more instead of buying new, even years after it stops being as easy as walking across the landing and rifling through someone else’s floordrobe. You’re never too old to save money, bond and create a little piece of shared history together.
Although, don’t ask to borrow the blue floral dress, please. It’s knackered and there are kebab stains on the front.