Last week, a group of friends in our community gathered together at one friend’s home to fill the living room with piles of their unwanted clothing that they then “shopped”. Part of the “Swap, Don’t Shop” movement, these women, friends and family, got together for their bi-annual clothing exchange party called ‘The Big Swap’. Interested in this growing alternative to shopping, we joined the party and brought along some of our lovingly worn Alabama Chanin garments to exchange.

After a few internet searches (which is how our hostess found out about organizing the event) we discovered that this call for a wardrobe exchange is happening all over the country in communities and among groups of friends. The party helps you get rid of gently worn clothes you no longer use or want in your closet. These are garments that, perhaps, you or your style outgrew over the years, yet you still couldn’t manage to part with. Obtaining a new wardrobe in the process makes it a little easier to get rid of unworn “treasures” or, as one of our customers put it, “fantasy pieces.”

The ladies decided that the beginning of a new season is the best time to schedule the party. Twice a year, in fall and spring, this group organizes their swap. For the upcoming chilly months, we found new life in fuzzy sweaters, button-up cardigans, and suede boots. One table was stacked with shoes, one with jewelry, and one with purses, accessories, even some make-up, and a selection of dark red nail polishes that I snagged.

Offering your unwanted items up to a new owner and then shopping from their closet is a sustainable idea that evolves into a few hours of playing dress-up with your grown up friends. It was fun to style and be styled and to see what seemed like an old item for one friend find new life on the body of another. Over the course of the night, friends were offering: “Try this.” “Here’s a dress for Kristy.” “This would look great on you.”

At the end of the evening, we went through what clothing was left one last time. Anything had not been grabbed up, was donated to the local Salvation Army. Many stories were shared about particular items: a jacket that was worn on a first date with an ex-boyfriend, a dress that was worn on a last date, times when a particular dress actually “fit,” before the birth of a second child.

Ultimately, anything can be up for swap. At many parties, homemade goods and services are offered for exchange. If you live in a strong agricultural community, think about exchanging fresh or put-up vegetables, eggs, or milk. Structure your party however you wish. Have everyone bring a dish and beverage and make it a potluck. Play music and set some rules. Our friends asked that everyone try on what they’d like to take to make sure it fits.

Going home with some choice items was great, but the best part was laughter and fellowship.

We found information on learning how to host your own clothing swap party online from Etsy and The Nature Conservancy.


8 comments on “DIY WARDROBE + “THE BIG SWAP”

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  1. marci m

    I do this every august, it’s the all girl BBQ. Everyone brings their old clothes, we have nail polish and hair dye. It’s a day of pampering your shelf and sharing with others, eating good food and just enjoying a summer afternoon. I took over the tradition about 10 years ago from a friend that started having an All Girl BBQ back in the 90’s. Now all my lady friends look forward to the event.

  2. Kat

    My friends and I do this often, we call them “Naked Lady Parties” because inevitably we end up half-clothed passing around various articles of clothing! (No Men allowed.) It’s a lot of fun, I have one on the calendar soon!

    1. Catherine Green

      I have been to two such events, one at a friend’s home and one at the excellent Vert and Vogue boutique in my hometown of Durham, NC. Everyone’s a little shy at first but once the ball is rolling, women start laughing, complementing each other, oohing and ahing. A little wine, a little food, a lot of connection. Worth mentioning too is that the Vert and Vogue event was is support of Dress for Success.

  3. velma

    we’ve been doing this in the north country, including prom dress, hockey and figure skating, and business “interview” suit swaps for years.

  4. Page

    I am in a group of girls who does a swap and shop about once a quarter. It is a “power lunch” where we have a discussion question of the month. Everyone brings a dish/salad/dessert or beverage. All the “gently used” clothing is laid out on a table. Books and household items go on a side table. You can stop by the table and “shop” anytime you like. It goes very smooth. Someone did take something while I was looking at it last time, but it wasn’t my color and I would have left it anyway.