In her first year reselling clothing on Poshmark, Debbie, a mom of two from Oklahoma, made under $300, but she knew she could make a living reselling. She’d been doing just that on eBay for over a decade, ever since having her kids. (“It was such good money—far better money than I ever have made as a schoolteacher,” she tells Glamour.) For Poshmark, which uses a social media model to facilitate the resale of clothing and accessories, she needed to adjust her business strategy.
She started making proactive offers to buyers, promoting herself, and offering strategic discounts. And she adapted to the site’s culture. Social-based shopping apps run, she noticed, on people who are “happy and kind.” Users on Poshmark can “heart” clothing, and after they receive their orders, they can send “love notes.” To Debbie, the community on Poshmark felt downright caring. She started reaching out to sellers personally with sweet notes and packaging her products with ribbons and stickers. That year, she says, she made over $20,000.
“I have never used that many emojis in my life,” she says with a laugh. Poshmark has been valued as a multibillion-dollar business, and usership continues to boom, though its value has dropped since becoming a publicly traded company in 2021. Etsy purchased competitor Depop, a resale app that targets Gen Z users, for a cool $1.6 billion that same year. Part of the success of these sites comes down to human interaction—the personal branding, the notifications, the review-based economy. These sites are social: Sellers optimize to keep their pages popular, answer questions, and field offers with a personal touch absent in other digital commerce spaces. Scrolling them feels oddly timeless, like looking on as a merchant and shopper haggle at a market. And what greases the wheels of this massive industry? Women, talking.
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The business of style remains largely in the grasp of male designers and CEOs. But on Poshmark, Mercari, and Depop, if you want to buy clothing, you are probably going to have to go through a woman. And that woman is most likely going to be nice to you. Something strange has developed between sellers and buyers on clothing resale sites: a culture of being nice.
A million “Thank you, girly!”s does not demonstrate that women are inherently nicer than men, or softer, or that a matriarchy would replace a lust for war with a lust for exclamation points. It’s just that on these sites, which comprise women running small and micro businesses, it is considered most expedient to be unfailingly polite, direct, and warm. “It’s very much triple exclamation marks, triple question marks,” ChiChi, a 20-year-old Depop seller in Massachusetts, tells Glamour. “There’s a certain way they use emojis; it’s a particular heart. I often joke about this, but I actually love it.” ChiChi started selling casually, to clean out her closet, but when she sold three items on her first day on the app, she realized she could make real money through resale. Her buyers, predominantly women and occasionally nonbinary people, mostly teens and early 20s, refer to her as “bb.” She’s used to them sliding into her DMs just to say, “I’m obsessed with this top.”
The speech patterns catch on. You can ask hard questions, but you have to ask them nicely. “Hey, girl! Is there any pilling on the sweater?” Sellers who make a lot of money have to walk a balance of being direct but sweet. “Sorry, babe, I have to stay firm on the price!” In her book Because Internet: Understanding New Rules of Language, linguist Gretchen McCulloch explains “polite typography,” which she says is a way of communicating online that involves “making extra effort, using initial capitals and friendly exclamation marks to signal cheerful distance or genuine enthusiasm.” On resale sites that are dominated by women, this language style is almost a dialect.
“It’s probably a women-dominated app,” says Elizabeth, a student at Texas A&M and a seller on Poshmark, explaining why she thinks users are so friendly. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t be nice—it’s not like a cutthroat industry.” In nearly two years on the app, she’s had barely a single bad interaction with a buyer. “They’ve been super nice, super understanding,” she says. “I don’t know why anyone would be super aggressive because that’s not really the vibe of the app.”
Elizabeth fits the profile of many an app-based reseller: She buys outfits for parties or events knowing she might not get a chance to wear them again. Reselling leaves her with a less cluttered closet and makes her clothing habit more affordable. It feels like a win-win for her and the buyer. Recently, she says, “I sold a Gucci belt for, like, $250—I wouldn’t have [listed] that for a hundred bucks, because the person wouldn’t have known if it was real. But I didn’t really want the Gucci belt, so I might as well give them a good deal.”
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Browsing online at a major retailer may re-create the feeling of window shopping, but spending time on these sites is more akin to gambling, mixed with old-fashioned bargaining. You cavalierly throw four bralettes into a basket and ask for them for the price of one bralette. You submit an offer to buy a little top for a price that is less than a little top should cost, just to feel alive! Western economies have mostly rid themselves of bargaining—you can’t make your grocery store cashier an offer they can’t refuse. The main arena of bargaining is car dealerships, where it often feels obvious that being a woman or a feminine-presenting person is a disadvantage.
On resale sites, there’s freedom to negotiating through the relative anonymity and distance of the app, knowing the person on the other side of the negotiation is likely also a woman. It feels a little like Chatroulette, but for buying little tops. Elizabeth says being nice doesn’t get in the way of doing decent business. Despite the feelings of goodwill, “if they offer something really low, I’m not going to feel like I have to accept it.” ChiChi, the Depop seller, gets some lowball offers that feel like trolling, but she has no problem telling negotiators when the price is firm. The style of negotiation tends to choose directness over combativeness.
In the end, it’s not the haggling itself but the constant communication that defines selling on the app. For ChiChi, who’s made more than 2,000 sales on Depop, most of her waking day is spent on the site. She compares the pace of messages from strangers to the amount an Instagram-famous influencer would receive. “It’s kind of like friends,” she says. “It gives you, like, fans.” Debbie, from her years on eBay, has developed relationships with strangers around the world—once, a woman disclosed her cancer diagnosis before she told her family. Another buyer called Debbie on the way to the hospital to tell her she was having a baby. On Poshmark she’s beginning to grow those same kinds of relationships. “It kind of restored my faith in humanity, reselling,” she says. “Because I dealt with so many people and realized: Most people are really good.”
Their sweetness makes sense—when they receive packages from Debbie’s shop, they’re wrapped up like gifts. She likes to put each item in a clear plastic bag, then uses specially designed stickers, a pink-and-white striped bag, and sometimes ribbons and more stickers. Elizabeth, the college student, says she doesn’t have time or money for all that.
“I don’t really bother to package my stuff like that,” she says. She just puts it in a box. “And tissue paper and stuff like that,” she says. There’s a pause.
“I’ll sometimes write them a nice little note.”
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.