How to Throw a Clothing Swap

I attended my first clothing swap a few years ago out of curiosity. The afternoon turned out to be a fever dream of suitcases, flung clothes and half-naked women. When I emerged from the host’s home three hours later, clutching a bag full of new-to-me clothes I hadn’t paid for, I wasn’t sure what the hell had just happened, but I was convinced it was awesome.

Women have always traded clothes with family and friends to freshen their wardrobes for cheap. A clothing swap takes that idea and turns it into a party. But a successful swap demands slightly more planning than other shindigs because it’s a party with a purpose: Send your friends home with some sweet clothes. However, with a thoughtful guest list and a few flourishes from you as master-of-ceremonies, anyone can host one of these fun, frugal, fabulous events.

Pick your season. Spring and fall are the best times to host a swap because your friends will already be editing their closets … not to mention craving a wardrobe reboot. The idea is to announce your party before they drop off a bag of duds at Goodwill.

Pick your clothes. Unlike donating clothes, swapping does not mean saying goodbye to them forever. There’s a special thrill in meeting up with a friend and seeing she’s wearing a piece you used to own; it’s an affirmation of both your taste and your friendship. So when you look at your closet, dig deep. The best clothes for a swap are the ones that are still in good condition but that you’re simply sick of wearing.

Limit your guest list. It’s easy to invite too many people to a clothes swap. Sure, it’s great to have all those lovely clothes to sort through, but more than eight people quickly descends into chaos. You don’t want the party too run too long either; more than three hours and the energy can flag.

Confront sizing issues by inviting “matched pairs” and trading accessories. It’s important that everyone go home with at least one item. To ensure that happens, you need to invite guests who wear approximately the same size. If you’re going to invite a friend who wears an extra small or an extra large, you should invite another guest who’s similarly proportioned. You should also encourage guests to bring purses and jewelry to swap as well as clothes.

Food, drink and other party basics. This will vary according to taste, but I usually hold my swaps late on Sunday mornings, with some jazz, bagels and cream cheese, and mimosas. The clothes are the main attraction; no need to sweat the other details.

Showing off the clothes. You can do this however you want, but be advised that your guests, particularly those who’ve never attended a swap, will look to you for direction on how to proceed. My friends and I usually sit in a circle and watch while one person holds up her items and provides some rapid-fire commentary, i.e. “Free Peoples shirt. Wore it three days straight in Napa,” or “Earrings from He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. Jackass.” If you like it, you shout out to try it on. If multiple people like an item, and it fits them all, it’s put aside. At the end of the swap, we raffle off the most popular picks.

Keep things moving. It will take longer than you think to pore over everyone’s clothes. Don’t stop the action while people try things on. Of course, this is where the descent into madness usually begins, which leads to my next point …

Don’t flash the neighbors. At my first swap, the mirror was located just inside the front door. This lead to an unfortunate confluence of events halfway through the party: the door opening to admit a latecomer, the host’s neighbor arriving home and me, stripping off a poorly fitted shirt with abandon. Don’t let this happen to your guests. True, modesty is a happy casualty of a good swap, but to prevent inadvertent free shows, make sure you pull the blinds.

Donate what you don’t swap. Inevitably, by the end of the party, the living room of your apartment will look like the dressing room at H&M after a sale. Sweep those extras into a garbage bag and drive them immediately to your nearest thrift store. There are no take-backsies in clothes swap. But don’t worry – no matter how hard it is stand in front of your closet and decide whether to part with that worn-out cardigan you bought on sale four years ago, when you see it slung on the floor beneath a pile of discards, you’ll be done with it. Trust me on this.

(Photo credit: Celia Spenard-Ko)