Anna G. Larson, Published January 25 2013
Clothes encounters: Clothing swaps help women dress for less
Fargo resident Hillary Stevens hosts clothing swaps at her apartment a few times each year and gains “new” items for free.
“Clothing swaps save money and help us get rid of clothing we don’t want,” Stevens says.
Stevens and her friends, who are in their 20s, bring unwanted clothing and accessories that are in wearable condition to exchange with each other at the swap. As hostess, Stevens usually divides the clothing and accessories into piles to make it easier for people to navigate. The women try on clothes, eat and talk.
“We get together and bond – it’s totally a bonding thing,” Stevens says.
Clothing swaps are trending nationwide for Americans aged 18 to 34, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek article.
San Francisco resident Suzanne Agasi is often credited with starting the clothing swap trend. Agasi is the founder and director of ClothingSwap.com and started hosting small clothing swaps in 1994. Today her swaps average 150-200 swappers and have been featured on the “Today” show and in The New York Times and Time Magazine, according to her website.
For many of Stevens’ friends, the swaps are a place to find transitional clothing. Some are recent graduates who need professional attire and others have changed sizes. At the swaps, the women can get the attire they need without spending any money, she says.
Stevens keeps a shopping bag in her closet and fills it as she finds items she no longer wants. Once her bag is full, she knows it’s time to host a swap.
Fargo resident Elizabeth Jost also hosted a clothing swap and plans to do it again because it was so successful.
“It was fun to get new stuff without going shopping,” she says.
One of Jost’s favorite parts of a swap is trying out clothing that she normally wouldn’t consider buying.
“There were some things that I never would think of buying for myself that I ended up really loving,” she says.
At her swap, everybody went home with something that was new to them, and not much was left over.
Stevens has had swaps with many leftover items, and she usually asks her friends to bring their unwanted clothes home with them or to a thrift store.
Both Jost and Stevens donate unwanted clothing at the end of a swap.
A successful swap doesn’t require much. Jost and Stevens share their tips for a fun, easy swap.
- If you’re hosting, keep it simple.
“I wanted to make it fun, but also easy for me,” Jost says.
She had appetizers, tea and soda on hand for swappers and didn’t ask attendees to bring anything.
Stevens, too, says to keep the swap as relaxed as possible. She usually makes one snack and provides drinks to her swap guests.
- Bring clothing, accessories, shoes and handbags that are in good condition.
When Jost tried hosting a swap a few years ago, it failed because people didn’t bring items that were gently used and fashionable.
- Divide the clothing into categories so it can be easily looked at.
At Jost’s swap, each item was held up and someone said its size and brand so that it was clear what was available. Stevens also divides clothing and accessories so items are easy to find.
- Ideally, invite people who are close in size.
“For some things, like certain skirts, it doesn’t matter so much,” Jost says. “But I stuck to inviting people who were within three sizes of each other.”
Stevens doesn’t restrict sizing at her swaps.
“Sizes in stores are all different,” she says. “You never know what might fit you.”
- Keep the number of guests manageable.
A party with six to 10 people is ideal, Jost says.
“I invited about 30 people, knowing that some wouldn’t be able to make it,” she says. “If you get more than 10 people, it can get confusing and complicated.”
Usually eight to 16 people show up for Stevens’ swaps, and she said it works well because many people don’t stay the whole time so there’s a flow of swappers leaving and arriving.
- Have at least one full-length mirror on hand and a place for people to change.
Trying on new things with your friends is part of the fun, Stevens says.
- Encourage friends who can’t make it to the swap to donate unwanted items.
- Donate the leftovers.
Stevens plans to donate to Dress for Success after the next swap.