Ana Veciana-Suarez: Why do women ‘shop’ in their friends’ closets?

My friend has one of those closets most women aspire to, and I’m not referring just to its spaciousness. Her closet is of interest to me because of its contents, because of the way she has so carefully arranged her belongings in segregated sections and clearly marked boxes. It’s an organizer’s dream, with sturdy shelving and plenty of space to hang items.

Need a red blouse? She knows exactly where to find it. Pearl earrings to doll up a dress? She can grab a pair, along with the matching bracelet and necklace, in seconds. The navy blue pumps she has worn only once? No problem.

She did not hire a closet organizer or a shelving contractor — two professions that actually exist in our society of material abundance. She categorized and classified her belongings herself and then stuck to the plan. (Me, I start off strong and taper off like a toy bunny running down its AA batteries.)

Her diligence has guaranteed one thing: It’s easy to shop in her closet. In a pinch, I can go there to find the perfect accessory to top off an outfit.

That womanly art of borrowing, exchanging and giving away wardrobe items has changed little for me since I was a teenager. On the other hand, the men I know have no clue about this practice.

“See my new blouse?” I asked my husband last weekend as I twirled in front of him, the better to display the sheer number, perfect for a Miami summer.

“Cute,” he replied. “Where did you get it?”

When I told him, he gave me an expression of total bafflement. He could no more peruse a friend’s closet for potential discoveries than grow a set of wings to fly.

He was all the more mystified because he knows I don’t like to shop. For me, it’s a necessary chore, like getting my oil changed or my teeth cleaned. So why go through another woman’s closet, where the selection is so limited?

One word: friendship.

While holding a dress or examining a sweater, stories are told, secrets are shared. We learn a little more about each other, about the people and places that served as witnesses to our apparel choices. It’s really not about the clothes. It’s about what we said, how we behaved, who we met while wearing the paisley-print skirt or the knee-high leather boots.

One of my treasured garments is a gold-button gabardine blazer a friend passed on to me when it no longer fit her. She is sick now and unable to do things we once did together. But every time I wear the blazer, the smooth feel of the fabric and the sleek cut of the tailoring remind me of her. I think of happier times, better places and friendship shared.

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