Thursday, March 1, 2012

Women's Clothing Exchange

Elizabeth over at BrokeElizabeth recently reminded me about an annual tradition that we used to have back at the hippy folk music school where I used to work... The Women's Clothing Exchange. So I figured I'd give you a run down about what worked for us and how you can put on your own clothing swap.
There are all kinds of ways to run a clothing swap ranging from trading a few things with a friend or sister, to organized community events. Our swap was fairly casual in nature. Basically we just took one of the spare classrooms at the music school and turned it into a free thrift store for a few weeks. We made up fliers and handed them out to all the female teachers and staff. Then everybody would clean out their closets and bring in whatever clothes they no longer wanted.

When it was done we hauled the leftovers off to the thrift store. Some people have complicated systems about who gets to take what home, but we just let anybody take whatever they wanted, and I don't recall any cat fights breaking out.

It was great fun... with all of us running in there, ripping off our clothes and trying things on. And it was a great way for all of us to get rid of some clutter and spiff up our wardrobes at the same time. Plus, for weeks afterwards you'd run into somebody wearing something you used to own or vice versa.

Anyhow, over the years I learned a few things about what did and didn't work, so here are a list of things you might want to consider if you decide to host one of these yourself.

Who to Invite
My basic advice on guest list is the more the merrier. But it really helps to choose a group of people who have similar tastes in clothes and are of similar sizes. The bigger the group, the more diversity you can accommodate. Be sure to send out invitations at least a few weeks in advance since people will need time to clean out their closets.

Where to Host It
It helps to have a dedicated space for this sort of thing, but it sort of depends on whether you want it to go on for a period of time or if you decide to do it as a one time event. If it's an ongoing thing, you really need a space that can be set aside for a period of time, so if you're hosting a swap at your job, church or community center try to find a room that can be dedicated to the purpose. But if you're just doing it like a party, it's easy to set it up in your living room. It's also nice to have bathrooms or other places where the more self-conscious can try things on.

But wherever you do it, be sure to provide tables to lay everything out on, and some sort of rack with hangers... it doesn't have to be fancy - a rope strung across the room will do, but be sure to have plenty of hangers on hand, as well as at least one full length mirror.

When to Do It
We found that we got much better participation if we let it run for at least 2 weeks, since we had a situation where everybody had different schedules, and letting it run longer made it easy for people who may have only been around once a week to participate. If you decide to do it as a party, be sure to give yourself enough time... like at least 3-4 hours because people will need to arrive and set up their stuff and then you want plenty of time for trying things on and the whole "fashion show" part.

We also usually did ours during the summer. This was partly because summer was the "slow season" at our school, so it was easy to dedicate a spare room for it, but it was also more fun to rip your clothes off and try things on when it wasn't freezing outside.

Plan for Cleanup
Be sure to have a plan for what you're going to do with all of the leftovers. Most thrift stores will be thrilled to take them, but be sure that someone is responsible for hauling it all there, or if you have a thrift store that has trucks for collections, be sure to confirm with them... this is especially important if you're using a room at a church etc. so that you don't overstay your welcome.

Other thoughts
I've read about people who did swaps with all sorts of rules... like you had to bring xyz amount of stuff, or you could only take as much as you brought, or you had to "bid" on certain items. I dunno... I suppose some of that might make sense especially if you've got a group of people who don't know each other, but since we were all friends, it just seemed like making a bunch of rules would be more of a "buzz kill" than they would be helpful.

We only did this for women's clothes, but it would also be great for people with kids to do a children's clothing exchange. I've also thought that it would be fun to try this idea with other sorts of things... like maybe a book swap for people who like to read, or a "kitchen stuff" swap for people who like to cook, or a toy swap for people with kids, or a seed/plant swap for gardeners, or even a surplus produce swap at harvest time. I suppose you could just do an all purpose stuff swap, but I could see it getting out of hand pretty easily.

So there you have it! De-cluttering, free clothes and great fun all wrapped up in one!

So what about you... have any of you ever done a clothing swap? I'd love to hear about what did and didn't work for you, or any other swap ideas you might have...


  1. Yay, I'm so glad you posted this! This gives me a great idea for an event to organize next school year if I get the job I'm interviewing for in... an hour and a half :). Off I go!

  2. I'd love to participate in a clothing swap! There are two problems: 1) I'm not social enough to have enough local friends to swap with, and 2) I'm abnormally small, and would need to swap with either other tiny Asian girls (I don't know too many) or 12 year olds (whose clothing tastes I don't share). So instead, I go thrifting when I get bored of my current wardrobe, which happens more often than it should.

    1. Well... it's certainly easier if you've got a built in group of people like we did. I suppose you could always start something up on Facebook... the Tiny Shy Asian Women's Clothing Swap... nobody over a size 2 allowed, small talk not encouraged! :~)

  3. I have the exact opposite problem as Jennifer, well not the social problem--I'm not social either. No, my issues is that there just aren't enough gigantor-shaped plump 30-somethings for me to trade clothes with. Le sigh.

    1. oh come now... "gigantor-shaped"? I'm gonna have to slap you if you keep talking about yourself that way! :~)

  4. I love this idea and think I'll suggest it at work. I think it would be fun to do it once a month with different themes each month. I'm going to put out an email on Monday and see who might be interested! This sounds like a lot of fun and a great way to get motivated to declutter!

    1. Once a month! That's certainly ambitious. You really are an "all in" person aren't you!


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