You may have heard of, attended or even hosted a clothing swap. If you’ve been to one, you likely know that they are pretty great (unless it was poorly attended or organized). Purge your closet and get rid of clothes you no longer need, and come home with a few key pieces you love… it’s a win-win!
I have been hosting clothing swaps in my home for about 13 years now, and I have discovered that the benefits go deeper than just providing a guilt-free end point for my unwanted clothing and bringing great new clothes into my life (for free!). In fact, as it turns out, some of the things I love most about clothing swaps were completely unexpected benefits! Read on to learn just what you can expect if you and your pals host clothing swaps on a semi-regular basis for more than a year or two.
The Unexpected Benefits of Regular, Long-Term Clothing Swaps
- Pieces collect stories: Let’s say you have a rather distinctive striped sweater. You have loved it well and it’s been there for you over the years, but you’ve changed and it just doesn’t suit you anymore. So, you bring it to a clothing swap. You share its story with your friends (Was it a gift? Did you find it at an amazing boutique while traveling?) and one of them takes it, excited for their find. Two years later, you attend a clothing swap, and there it is! Your friend has loved it well, but they feel it’s time for it to move on. Maybe you share its origin story once again. You get to see a different friend fall in love with it and take it home with a smile on their face. Not only does this weave a (both figurative and literal) thread of narrative through the lives of you and your friends, it may also inspire you to try even harder to buy durable pieces of clothing. When we donate a piece of clothing, it’s out of sight — and out of mind. But when it goes to a friend, we may see it over and over and witness how it wears over the years. This allows us to learn how different labels, styles and fabrics age, and choose accordingly.
- The leftovers can be carefully curated: When you donate clothes you no longer want, there is often not a whole lot to donate. The chances that you’re going to want to separate them into targeted batches are… well, probably pretty slim. There are so many great organizations out there that take donated clothing in good condition and get them to where they need to be — whether that is girls going to prom; women seeking employment; men; teens or another specific group. Think of a clothing swap as a hub for donation. Anything that is left at the end can be sorted by participants (a few of our friends always stick around at the end and enjoy some wine with us while we sort the leftovers — and there are always plenty of leftovers!). Taking two big garbage bags of clothing to a non-profit that outfits women for job interviews feels a lot more worthwhile than taking just a couple pieces. Anything that doesn’t make the cut for targeted organizations gets donated to a thrift store. For this reason, it is always important to stress to your guests that they only bring clothing that is in good condition — not stained or ripped (mended is fine). TIP: know beforehand which outlets you will be donating to so that you can guide your guests on which item categories are appropriate to bring.
- Body positivity: The atmosphere at clothing swaps tends to be very positive! I highly recommend making sure to invite a wide range of body shapes, sizes and types. Our bodies change and shift over time and as clothing swaps take place over the years, people in attendance will experience changes like weight loss or gain; changing body shape; pregnancy and post-partum and more. Witnessing one another’s journey through these changes and talking openly about what is happening with our bodies can leave a person walking away from a clothing swap feeling pretty darn good about themselves. Also, while it depends on the attitudes of those in attendance, there also tends to be a level of openness at swaps that is really freeing. Again, this might not always be the case, but in my experience, by the end often people are quickly changing without much regard to finding a room to themselves where they can close the door. It feels good to drop the self consciousness among friends.
- It’s an excuse to get together with all your femme or female friends: As we get older and our lives change and diverge, often we don’t have so many chances to gather our group of friends. Clothing swaps give us a great reason to get together, share what’s happening in our lives and reconnect!
- Unexpected pieces and a whole jury of folks you trust to give feedback! When I shop at thrift stores, especially the big ones, I find that I will venture a ways out of my comfort zone with regards to the styles I will try on. Clothing swaps are similar but to an even greater degree. We all have a set style we adhere to and types of clothing we would envision ourselves wearing, which can stop us from trying on certain pieces. At a clothing swap, you have a group of people who might encourage you to try new things, or suggest something you never would have even glanced at. The best part is that the feedback tends to be kind but honest — a whole jury of caring individuals who aren’t going to let you go home with clothes that fit awkwardly or don’t totally flatter you! There is no store that can give you that.
- No holding on to pieces because of guilt: I think many of us keep things because either a) we know how much we spent on them and feel we need to get our money’s worth or b) they were gifts and we feel obligated to wear them. I find it easier to let something go when I know it’s going to a friend, both because I know they’ll care for it, and because I might even get to see that item being loved now and again. And as mentioned earlier, it might even come back at a later swap!
- Tentatively purge things that you may still want: have a piece that you know you can’t just donate, but that you’re simply not wearing? Test the waters with a swap. I always have at least a couple of “maybes” in my pile of contributions. These are pieces that are truly meaningful to me, or valuable or rare. I am able to see if someone at the swap really loves that piece, in which case I let it go with a happy heart. If it’s left at the end, I take it back and keep it in my “clothing swap” bin. I only have 2-3 pieces max that are ever in this category, but it’s comforting to know that it’s an option.
- New friends: I have seen plenty of new friendships blossom at clothing swaps! Think about it: you’re gathering a carefully chosen group of your most treasured and/or stylish and/or hippest friends in one area, getting them comfortable with one another and then everyone is giving one another feedback on outfits. Personal details come out, everyone supports one another, and lots of good conversation is had. It’s a great bonding experience and it’s not unusual for people to end up exchanging numbers.
If you have never hosted a clothing swap but your interest is piqued, check out these tips from zero waste blogger Kathryn Kellogg.