How to Host a Clothing and Accessories Swap

Trading clothes with friends is the ultimate way to expand your wardrobe for free.
Trading clothes with friends is the ultimate way to expand your wardrobe for free.
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It's not uncommon to go to your closet and feel overwhelmed by the clutter -- or underwhelmed by the uninspiring clothing that hangs before you. Unfortunately, it's not always possible to spare the extra cash that's necessary to give your wardrobe the boost it needs to make dress-up fun again. Most Americans are finding ways to save money, and that often includes shopping at thrift stores, sifting through items in bargain bins and snatching up pieces that were previously owned by someone else.

If you need a way to update your look without spending a single dollar, a clothing swap is the perfect answer. What exactly is a clothing swap, you might ask? It's a little like a potluck dinner, but instead of party guests bringing a casserole or dessert to share with the group, they bring gently used clothing and accessories to trade with other swappers. Hosting a clothing swap is a great way to update your wardrobe for free, and it's also a nice excuse to throw a party and have a blast with friends, too!


Of course, you'll have to establish a few rules for swappers to follow if you want your event to be successful. Make sure you insist that all clothing brought to the event has been recently washed or dry-cleaned. People are coming to swap clothes, not lice, bedbugs or the aroma of body odor! It's also a good idea to mention that undergarments be left at home -- no matter how close you are to a friend, wearing another person's discarded lingerie is less than desirable. Finally, specify if alcohol or food will be provided at the clothing swap. A modest friend might feel more comfortable modeling a new outfit in front of a group if she knows a glass of wine will be on hand to ease her nerves.

You now know what a clothing swap is, but there's a lot more to a successful swap than trading skirts and T-shirts with friends. Find out how to do everything from draft a guest list to organize all those clothes on the next page.


Planning a Clothing Swap

Now it's time to plan the event. Draft a guest list, and include as many of your close friends and family members as you like. Invite people of all different shapes and sizes, and try to make sure everyone has at least one other person in attendance they can swap clothes with. It'd be pretty uncomfortable for some people if their sizes aren't represented well at the party. Usually the person who initiates the swap will host the swap at their home, but if the guest list exceeds the size of your living room, you may want to consider renting a larger space for the afternoon or holding two separate, smaller events.

Once you have the guest list, venue, date and time decided, send out invitations. It’s always nice to get a paper invite through the mail, but if you want to save money (which is partly what any clothing swap is about in the first place), send a note electronically using an online service like Evite or Paperless Post. Word the invitation carefully so your guests know what to bring. Your friend who donates a pair of brand new stilettos to the swap will be pretty upset if everyone else arrives with obviously used clothing, so it’s important for all guests to only bring pieces that are in excellent condition. Let everyone know how many items of clothing and accessories each swapper should bring to the event, and specify if vintage pieces are being accepted.


On the day of the clothing swap, gather everyone together and explain the rules. You can always pile the clothes in the middle of the room, blow the whistle and let everyone have a free-for-all, but what happens when your sister and best friend start playing a not-so-friendly game of tug-of-war with a cashmere sweater? To prevent awkward (or destructive) situations from happening at your party, have guests draw numbers out of a hat for a fair swap. Start with the guest who draws number one, and continue through the list of numbers until everyone has a turn. If you have enough clothing to go through a second round, start from the opposite end of the list of numbers and rotate like this until the last piece of clothing is snatched up. Give each person honest feedback on how their chosen garment fits, and encourage every guest to take an impromptu strut down the catwalk -- or hallway, depending on how you look at it.

Tips for Hosting a Clothing and Accessories Swap

Try to make sure that everyone has plenty of clothing options to choose from.
Try to make sure that everyone has plenty of clothing options to choose from.

There aren't any strict guidelines to follow when hosting a clothing swap, but we have a few tips that will make any event a success. The best time to host your swap is in the spring as everyone is cleaning out their closets or after Christmas when regifted presents are in need of a new home. Ask that guests bring any piece of clothing they want to part with -- no matter what time of year it may be. Nichelle Stephens, founder of the popular Fashion Swap and Meet blog, adds that "tank tops and T-shirts make great layering pieces year round." Even if it's so hot outside that the sight of your tailored wool coat makes you sweat, there might be someone at the swap who will swipe it with the intention of wearing it next fall.

While you don't need to organize clothes by size, separate similar items into groups, like pants, dresses, skirts, shoes, belts and jewelry. Display clothing on hangers, garment racks or even in organized, folded piles so people can easily sort through what's available, and arrange accessories neatly on a coffee or end table so individual pieces can be seen clearly. Hang purses and other bags on a coat rack, or place them inside bookshelves to make an eye-catching display. If the guest list is extensive, ask that clothing and accessories be dropped off in advance so setting up the swag isn't such an overwhelming task.


Guests will definitely want to try on clothing before they make any final decisions, so remember to stage a designated dressing area. A hall bathroom or other small room can serve as a changing area, but it can get crowded if you're hosting a big event. Before the swap, ask everyone to wear a bathing suit or body suit under their clothing in case the changing room is constantly occupied. Arrange at least two full-length mirrors so everyone can model the clothing, and have fun trying on new styles!

When the event is over, provide guests with recyclable containers like plastic bags or cardboard boxes for their new-to-them items. No matter how successful your swap may be, some items probably won't be chosen, like those bedazzled designer platform shoes that you purchased three seasons ago. Donate these pieces -- and any other unused items that are lying around the house -- to charity or a women's shelter to keep them out of your closet and away from a landfill.

Now call your friends, organize a get-together and start swapping!


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Fox, Angela. "Grassland: Try a clothing swap on for size." The Tennessean. Nov. 11, 2011. (Nov. 18, 2011)
  • Kallor, Amber. "13 Rules for a Successful Clothing Swap." Oprah. Sept. 13, 2011. (Nov. 16, 2011)
  • Parkhurst, Emily. "Clothes-knit community: Swap Maine returns to Portland." The Forecaster. Oct. 25, 2011. (Nov. 18, 2011)
  • Petrecca, Laura. "Secondhand stores reap benefits of recession." USA Today. Dec. 9, 2008. (Nov. 15, 2011)
  • Roberts, Amy. "Why Shop When You Can Swap?" Good Housekeeping. Sept. 1, 2010. (Nov. 15, 2011)