You should know three things if you want to go to the Seattle T4T Clothing Swap in Capitol Hill this weekend: Wear a mask, be vaccinated and, please, do not bring any more clothes.
“Come take so many clothes,” said 20-year-old organizer Friday Elkan ahead of the swap at Gay City on April 2-3. All week they have been driving around town in a Honda Fit filled with clothes. Another carload is stuffed into their apartment. One volunteer has completely filled their basement with donations.
This weekend’s swap is only the fourth from the relatively new but fast-growing operation started with a group of less than 10 volunteers last year. That volunteer community has grown to 30, with 10 people joining for this swap.
“We have specific volunteer roles but maintain fluidity because it gets really busy, and we want people to take breaks,” 33-year-old organizer Ashleigh Bell said. “There’s a lot of tapping in and tapping out.”
The swap is a simple concept—invite people to try on clothes and take as much as they want for free—and that takes effort and planning to pull off.
In the months before each seasonal meet, the group takes donations through an intake form on Instagram. Each week, volunteers pick up carloads of clothes (anything but used underwear), mostly from the queer community and the supportive parents of trans kids.
“They’re the most punctual,” Elkan said.
Then comes laundry.
Every shirt, coat, dress, blouse, and pair of jeans is inspected for rips, tears, and other structural damage before cleaning at a local laundromat. Bell called them “wash parties.”
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This time, the T4T Clothing Swap has a U-Haul’s worth of clothes to give away and organizers are expecting a crowd. At a previous event, the line for the fitting rooms was so long Bell jerry-rigged extra rooms using moving blankets and duct tape.
A self-described extrovert who once worked a “very cis-het” sector of retail, Bell likes to chat people up and help them find clothes. They once helped two young people shop for fun, gender-affirming clothes for the first time.
“One of them in particular was in the fitting room for like an hour and I kept bringing more and more outfits because they kept finding things they liked,” they said. “I hope they come this week. That trust felt really special.”
This is, of course, Seattle, and not everyone is into the “meeting people” thing, which Bell said is “awesome, too.”
People of all kinds come to the swap. Trans kids, their families, teens, young adults, older adults in various stages of gender exploration and openness in their public lives exploring their presentation at no cost.
Free clothes are a need in the trans community. Aside from costs ordinarily associated with transition, such as medical care, acquiring a new wardrobe is daunting and pricey, especially if you’re poor. Studies show three in 10 trans adults are living in poverty, with trans adults of color at the highest risk.
That’s why the clothing swap has not only been a popular idea here, but in several other US cities.
“We don't want to overstate what we're doing, because at some level it's somewhat frivolous, but we get a lot of feedback that it is really meaningful for people,” Elkan said.
So no, organizers are not trying to save the world with socks, but they are trying to lend a hand, a common mindset in the trans community.
The term “t4t” originated in Craigslist personal ads (RIP)—a space for trans people seeking other trans people for love and dalliance—and has become a catch-all phrase for trans solidarity, friendship, and mutual aid.
T4T endures because trans people often rely on each other, and can function as shorthand for a political commitment to giving and helping.
Sharing medicine with a stranger, donating what little money you have to a housing or surgery fundraiser, or simply offloading clothes to a trans person in need are all T4T.
You could argue throwing a fun trans event is also T4T, as state legislatures across the country try to legislate trans people out of public life and right-wing influencers beat the drum for eliminationist policy.
Republican lawmakers have introduced nearly 500 anti-trans bills targeting trans students' participation in sports, access to gender-affirming healthcare for children and adults, and bans on public bathroom use.
“I mean, you can't really escape from the news cycle as a trans person, but we like to try,” Elkan said. “I really believe that being publicly trans is a political act, but that's exhausting and we want to give people a space where they can just exist and have a good time and get some cool new sweaters.”
Organizers ask guests to wear a mask at all times, bring their vaccination card, and a bag for clothes. Donations are closed until after the event. For more information, follow the group’s Instagram @seattlet4tswap or email firstname.lastname@example.org.