Around noon on a quiet, overcast Saturday, people started arriving at high rise field with folded blankets and suitcases in tow, just waiting to be unzipped. The unpacking process revealed piles upon piles of people’s clothing from moving carts, backpacks, and even trash bags. In just minutes, the quiet lawn had transformed into a bustling crowd of students. Music to the likes of Wallows, The 1975, and Vampire Weekend was blasting from a hefty Bluetooth speaker. Early April marked the return of a highly anticipated event for a small niche of Penn students: Tina Zhang's (C ‘25) and Jill Li’s (C ‘24) spring closet sale.
The idea for the closet sale originated during Tina’s first year when she realized she had collected way too many clothes to fit in her dorm room. She first sold her personal clothing by having people “shop” in her room. It was such a success that she expanded it outdoors during her sophomore fall. Clothing and secondhand shopping has always been something that brings their friends together. Tina and Jill often buy things for their friends while thrifting and a good portion of their own wardrobes were thrifted gifts from their friends. They agree that “it’s really like a love language.”
To an onlooker, the closet might seem like a DIY get–together. “It was BYOB—Bring Your Own Blanket,” Jill notes. Yet, those who know Tina and Jill knew the work that they put into planning the sale. They had set up black canvas zip–up tents that functioned as changing rooms, full–length mirrors, and photographers. At one point in the planning process, they had even considered buying a generator from Home Depot so that they could have a live DJ.
As high school student government kids, the duo loves event–planning. This sale was a passion project for both of them, and they wanted to make it memorable for everyone who came. “I love doing things that bring people together … but what I feel like I was missing for so many years was doing events the way I want to,” Tina says. The success of the event, she thinks, was due to the fact that it was purely for the people, and not buried behind a club or organization. When it’s just her and Jill, there’s no pressure to appease a committee or market to a specific crowd. “I think that’s why there were so many people who didn't really know us, but also felt comfortable just pulling up,” Tina says. “For all the shit that Penn gets for being very preprofessional, I think there’s also a lot of cool people who just want to do their own thing and do things for other people.”
Despite the planning, there was also a level of spontaneity to the event. Some of the sellers noticed the sale from their high–rise windows and came out with a handful of clothes to partake in the fun. Jin Chey (C ‘25) and Olivia Lee (C ‘24) were returning sellers after having participated in the first closet sale that Tina organized, last semester at the same location. “It was a great success last time, and it was honestly fun just hanging out with friends while selling clothes,” Jin said. Olivia quickly decided to join this time after seeing how many people were there. “I came down to see Jin and I was helping her run her shop, and I realized I had so many clothes to sell, so I grabbed them, came back, and set up my own shop,” she says.
While there were many first–time faces at the sale, another camp of seasoned secondhand sellers seized the opportunity to sell their collections. Sam Salcedo Martinez (C ‘25) is a veteran seller on Depop: “I’ve been doing it for a couple years now, and I think I’ve made like a couple thousand dollars from doing it.” Like a lot of other people at the sale, the closet sale wasn't their only market, selling at consignment shops and online as well.
“These people know what their clothes are worth," Jill says, "They know the market. Not to get too into the Grailed, StockX, Depop side of it, but I do think most of the people at the sale are those who are familiar with the peer–to–peer selling culture.” Because most of the people at the sale knew each others’ styles and clothing from social media, they were excited to buy from each other. “My boyfriend was super excited about the guys who he knew were selling,” Jill says. “He’s like, ‘I’ve seen them on Instagram. They’re so cool. The second they open their shop I’m running over there.’”
In addition to the people there to sell their old, unworn clothing, a couple of people were selling their own original creative work. Sammi Weiss (C‘23) was selling jewelry that she had made herself with glass beads, pearls, and semi–precious beads that she collected. Like a lot of the other people at the sale, she had started making jewelry just for fun and never planned to sell it anywhere. “This is my first time ever selling the jewelry I’ve made,” she said. On the other hand, experienced artists also found the closet sale a great opportunity to share their work like Eliotte Mathieson (W‘25) who sold prints of their own paintings. They sell their prints at Clark Park and other events that pop up, but according to them, this closet sale was bringing in a lot more business compared to Clark Park. “College students are a lot more willing than middle–aged West Philadelphia residents to buy other college students’ art.”
The sale provided a safe, supportive place for budding fashion resellers and artists to share work; people at the sale knew each other, whether from class, clubs, or social media, and they were super open to supporting other student artists. There’s no cost to participate and no pressure to succeed. Amidst the soundtrack of indie rock and early sunshine of spring, the closet sale was simultaneously a chill hangout and bustling market place.
If you’re looking to shop some of the coolest closets at Penn or just in the mood for a good old–fashioned outdoor get–together, keep an eye out on Instagram for Tina and Jill’s next big event. There’s nothing stopping you from bringing your own blanket and basking in perhaps the best part of Penn’s school culture—pure, unadulterated love for art, connection, and community.