It’s 2018, people! We’re sharing apartments, cars, desks and pictures of every meal. Sadie Stein offers a parable on the personal pitfalls of giving it all away.
I started giving away my trousers around the age of 25; at least, this is the first instance I can recall. I came from a family where we gave things away – I had always understood that this was the currency of emotion – but the trousers phase was highly specific and, even within the family, regarded as peculiar.
I was working at the time in a small boutique. It sold trousers – although these were not the trousers I gave away, being a conscientious and honest employee. It was a very enjoyable job. The expectations were clear, the small universe was ordered and it permitted interaction with people in a limited and pleasant way that allowed all of us to be our best selves. I had strong feelings about my customers, most of whom were young mothers or women of around my own age. A couple of people were irritating, and even a bit awful (I’m thinking especially of one named Deborah who tried to return bloody shoes), but that only added spice.
The first recipient of my trousers was a young woman called Rowan, whose name I retained primarily because it had never seemed to suit her. She was a regular visitor to the store but an infrequent customer; she taught at a primary school nearby and may have been shy but came across instead as aloof and patronising and inspired in me an obscure contempt.
On that particular day, I was alone in the shop and wearing my favourite pair of trousers, which were green polyester, wide-legged and very high-waisted, and which I had found at a Chicago Salvation Army some five years prior.
“I love your trousers!” said Rowan. “Where did you get them?”
I cannot explain what came over me then except that it was pure: a wave of generosity so irresistible, so overwhelming, that afterwards I’d feel both exalted and exhausted, like a spent medium after a séance.
“Take them!” I said. “Take them!” I grabbed a pair of jeans from the stack I’d folded earlier and ran into one of the curtained dressing rooms, my hands shaking with excitement. I stripped off the trousers and it felt wonderful, and I pulled on the new jeans – which were merely OK – and I opened the curtain and thrust the trousers into her hands, flushed and elated.
She tried them on and, as I had known they would, they fit as if made for her. She glowed with the special secret knowledge of one who has experienced perfectly fitted trousers. “Are you sure?” she kept asking, even as she twirled and admired herself before the glass. “Really?” And I said yes, of course I was sure, she must, they were meant for her, it was fate, I never wore them anyway, she must think nothing of it. She left dazed and perhaps knowing, like me, that some vast balance of power had shifted.
Shortly thereafter, I had occasion to meet my boyfriend’s former girlfriend. She was very accomplished and beautiful, and they had dated for several intense and formative years. I felt at a disadvantage, and at the earliest possible opportunity I pressed a pair of trousers upon her. Well, three, actually.
After that, there was no going back. It was like a strange drug that only I knew about. I gave away other things, too – dresses, coats, shoes – but somehow the rush was not quite so pure with other garments. I wondered why this should be so, and determined that it was a grander gesture because people do not own as many pairs of trousers as they do other clothes. Then too, there’s the challenge of finding trousers that fit, increasing both the generosity of the gift and the sacrifice. And there’s the sheer intimacy of putting on someone else’s body an item of clothing that has so closely hugged your own; rather like dressing her in your skin.
I never gave people trousers that did not fit them. I was not motivated by the petty vanity of competitive sizing. No: having worked in retail for some years, I was adept at gauging a woman’s form and only offered her those trousers that I knew would not only fit but flatter.
I gave trousers to every woman who crossed my threshold. I picked up especially good trousers when I saw them in thrift stores, in case I should someday find a recipient. I loved to think of my trousers all around the city, and the country, like a fleet of spies. I wondered how many times per week their owners had to think of me. I was considered very generous, always giving away my trousers all the time.
Did I regret giving away all my trousers? Like most great things in life, it was not uncomplicated. I did, often, think of my favourite green trousers, and sometimes, in the way absent things do, they would become the answer to all my problems. But I told myself they were doing more good where they were.
My boyfriend did not like it. He was distressed when I gave away clothes I liked and wore; he thought it was compulsive. The day I gave away a favourite pair of tartan trews to a woman I had met on the subway, we had a terrible fight. And we broke up soon afterwards.
After I left the shop and took an office job, it was harder to keep giving away all my trousers. For one thing, I didn’t have access to a ready supply of replacements. And besides, within two weeks I’d given a pair to all the women I worked with.
I remember the day on which the trousers lost their power. The woman in question was a romantic rival, or I regarded her as such anyway. Shortly after she’d arrived at my apartment, I pulled out a pair of black silk twill trousers, a major purchase I’d made when I acquired my new, adult job. But even as I did it, even as she tried them on and pirouetted, I didn’t feel the usual thrill. Simply put, I was not motivated by generosity, even the sick controlling generosity of the Greek gods: I didn’t want her wearing the trousers in front of the man I loved.
I immediately regretted giving away these black trousers, which had been very expensive and which I wore often. They had not only fit, but flattered; had, as I’d said so many times to others, been made for me. Later, I engineered a meeting with her merely so that I could reclaim the trousers, and discovered that she, in turn, had given them away. My fleet of spies was, in fact, made up of trouser mercenaries. Had the confines of my control always been so limited?
One day, several years afterwards, I found myself at a bar on the same block where my shop, now closed, had been. And who should walk in but Rowan, in the very green trousers that had started it all. I disliked how she had styled them. They were hemmed so she could wear them with trainers, and now the proportion was off and the line very unflattering. Nevertheless, I smiled and went up to her, and said, “nice trousers”.
She said, “Thanks”. And then, “Have we met?”
To celebrate the launch of Cosm, our new high-performance work chair designed by Studio 7.5, at Salone 2018, we asked one of our favourite writers Sadie Stein to muse on the act of sharing. Cosm is the perfect shared chair, one that responds immediately to your body no matter who you are, what you’re doing or whose trousers you’re wearing.