Over a weekend in May, a long line of people gathered in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. The stylishly dressed crowd wasn’t there for the opening of a clothing store or a designer sample sale. No, they were there for Chloë Sevigny — the 2000s It girl and actress, whose style helped boost her celebrity — who was hosting a closet sale, alongside famed fashion editors Lynn Yaeger, Mickey Boardman, and Sally Singer. Calvin Klein jeans from the '90s, a gray cardigan from Sevigny’s collaboration with Opening Ceremony, a Comme des Garçons tulle skirt, and a Vaquera ruffled mini dress were all among the scores people shared on TikTok afterward. “The prices were amazing and the inventory… I have no words,” said the creator and fashion forecaster Mandy Lee in a recap video on TikTok.
Despite the treasures offered, the clothes were not the main event. “[Sevigny] was greeting everyone, telling them how she wears [the pieces], like personal stories,” says Liana Satenstein, a former Vogue staff writer and the organizer behind the “Sale of the Century,” as it was promoted across social media. “I think what people want is context and they want a story and they want to attach a story to a garment.”
“I think what people want is context and they want a story and they want to attach a story to a garment.”
Scenes like this are growing more common across the United States. Girls star Jemima Kirke also hosted a closet sale recently in New York City, while TikTok-famous vintage shop Rogue has similar events regularly, partnering with designers, creators, and other stylish creatives to sell their clothes. But the phenomenon is not just reserved for New York City's most fashion-minded. On TikTok, searches for “closet sale event” have grown to nearly four billion views, with non-celebrities sharing information about sales they're hosting.
Similar to garage and estate sales, closet sales, in which people put items from their own wardrobe up for grabs, are nothing new. But amid a pandemic and growing concerns over climate impact, a new generation is turning to shopping from each other’s closets as a way to participate in the circular fashion economy rather than purchase new. “The exciting thing with closet sales is that we have really seen over the last few years a normalization of the share economy,” says Ayesha Berenblat, the founder of Remake, a non-profit focused on sustainability and ethical practices in fashion. “This idea that [fashion] doesn't have to be something that's disposable — we wear once, we throw it away — and that there are so many ways to freshen our looks.”
While the secondhand clothing market boomed in the past three years — and it’s expected to double in size by 2027 — it’s mostly been online resale platforms and in-person thrift and vintage shops propelling this growth. But the closet sales phenomenon is different. For the most part, they’re not hosted by any brand or platform, instead put together by people wanting to sell their clothes via an in-person event. Often, they’re promoted on Instagram and TikTok, with many creators using their online following to attract customers.
Los Angeles-based creator Alyssa Coscarelli saw this phenomenon coming a long time ago. Alongside her best friend and fellow creator and brand consultant Lauren Caruso, she first started hosting closet sales back in 2016 when she was still working as a fashion market writer at Refinery29 (where Caruso also used to work). Following the 2016 election, the two spotted an opportunity to sell clothes from their closets, as well as donated brand samples, to raise money for communities that they knew would be most at risk during the Trump administration. Since then, the duo has hosted over 20 events, both in New York City and Los Angeles, partnering with organizations like Planned Parenthood. “It kind of just became a way for us to take what we did have access to, which was largely clothing and beauty products, and put them towards something good,” she says.
Satenstein, who has a closet clean-out service called “Schmatta Shrink,” hosted sale events before the pandemic as well. In 2020, she also started hosting an Instagram live series, called “Never Worns." “I would talk with people in the industry about clothes that they've kept and they've never worn,” she says. “I love doing this because you really can learn about people in a way that you've never learned about them for a straight[forward] interview … If you went through my closet you would learn gnarly shit about me.”
Creators like Analise Anderson and Olivia Massucci have hopped on the phenomenon more recently. After seeing others on social media having a good time hosting closet sales and pop-up shops, Massucci decided to plan one alongside her friends, putting together three events over the past year. “It's such a fun way to connect with your followers in a different way,” she says. “You can see them and see how happy they are to try on your clothes, and you know that you're giving it to someone that really wants it and loves it.” Anderson also hosts closet sales regularly at her home: “It’s like a house party,” says Anderson.
“To me, it’s all about building relationships in the community.”
While Berenblat applauds the shoppers, she says that, in order for closet sales to be a sustainable model, hosts also have to keep the circular cycle going by using the money to buy secondhand, rather than restocking the closet with new clothing: “Are you doing this to be part of the share economy or are you doing this to go buy more things?” Satenstein agrees: “We could all survive without buying something new right now and everyone would have something to wear for the rest of our lives.”
Not only can closet sales encourage sustainable fashion consumption and be a profitable venture — Massucci has made close to $2,500 in her closet sales — but they’re also creating community. “I think the goal isn't necessarily money. I think it really is the community you grow,” says Anderson, who partners with local vendors to host pop-up markets and closet sales. “To me, it’s all about building relationships in the community.”