Swap ’til you drop: Here’s your ultimate guide to hosting a clothing swap

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You, too, can score awe-inducing finds. Kara LaFleur / Flickr

This week’s weather has been nothing short of glorious. Today is supposed to go up to 70 degrees. And with the fledgling springtime comes a need for a new wardrobe; you’re going to have to pare down on parkas and stock up on sleeveless tops. But surely you can’t be expected to spend big bucks every time the seasons change, and there definitely isn’t space to fill your tiny closet with both winter and summer clothing. Huh. Guess you’re going to have to swap some stuff out.

Clothing swaps, once merely the stuff of Bushwick rituals, have become seasonal mainstays in just about every neighborhood.  Some are charitable causes, and others are just basic excuses to drink with friends. After a few tries hosting and many more attended, I feel equipped to offer my guidance on the best ways to host your very own one of these swaps, replete with cheap wine, good company, and the chance to come away from it in somebody else’s clothing — no tags attached. 

Why you should host one

1. It’s a total party. Unlike boring get-togethers where everyone inevitably ends up hovering around the same chip bowl, clothing swaps are parties with a main event that isn’t eating or drinking. Also, fighting over cute belts is a great way to meet new people. And best of all, everyone’s a winner at the party because they get to do a little spring renewal, and go home with a goody bag.

2. You don’t have to spend a dime putting together your trading stash. You can use hosting as your bargaining chip to have everyone else make the haul for the event. No need to shell out for wine if you’re providing your business-casual phase digs from JC Penney — somebody with less to trade will jump at the chance to pick up wine in exchange for access to your clothes.

3. If you’re the savvy, organized one among your group of friends, it’s a great deal easier to host your own swap meet than to wait for one to come to you. These things can get messy, and hosting the meet is a great way to nurture your Type-A social chops. After all, it’s one thing to get together and say, “Hey! Let’s trade clothes!” which you maybe did as a teen at summer camp, and quite another to say “You are cordially invited to a Murder She Wrote-themed swap meet featuring the best of our parents’ closets” (which maybe you also did as a teen at summer camp, IDK).


How to plan the thing

1. Pick a location where things can easily be thrown around. Don’t meet up at a café, for example. And even though the weather’s warming up, you might want to shy away from public parks if you treasure the freedom to drink sans paper bag. Stick to your apartment’s rooftop or backyard or living room.

2. Curate the guest list. 8-10 people is ideal for a smaller apartment, and maybe up to 20 for a larger common area. Otherwise it gets chaotic. Once you’ve dreamed up a guest list, pick your mode of social media outreach. Invite-only Facebook events are a fairly safe bet, though e-mail generally guarantees a solid RSVP in terms of planning food servings. Plus with a small group, the inevitable reply-all RSVPs that roll in won’t make everybody want to pull their eyeballs out. Don’t advertise the event publicly. If you want fun strangers, start with a few friends and ask them if they want to bring their friends.

3. Explain rules-for-entry in advance, if you want to have any. For example,  you could say that five articles of clothing is the minimum for entry and handle the vittles yourself, or you could impose a food/clothing/booze multiple choice for attendees. Or you could be super casual about it and just see what happens.


It might look like this toward the end of the swap, but try to stay organized. Leigh Kelsey / Flickr
It might look like this toward the end of the swap, but try to stay organized. Leigh Kelsey / Flickr

Pro tips for the best swap

1. Formatting makes a difference! Section off parts of the room for each friend to lay his or her stuff out neatly and have a kind of carnival-booth style layout. Alternatively, have a free-for-all where you all the stuff into a pile into the center of the room and go at it like animals. We’re not judging. But DO be conscious of where your invitees are living these days, since their clothes are coming from their homes. If Karen’s place recently had bedbugs, maybe Karen just handles the pita chips.

2.  Stick to white wine or light cocktails for the beverages. Getting drunk will actually hinder your ability to see yourself in the mirror in your friend’s jeans. And definitely don’t serve beer or heavy food unless you’re having a dudes-only meet. Both make women feel like shit in high-waisted things, and you want to have a full take of the things brought to your place.

3. Have backup entertainment. If you’re planning an actual party, swapping won’t be enough to keep everyone entertained for more than an hour or two, by which point the goods will have been tried, claimed or discarded.  You can make a playlist, ready an all-star lineup of Youtube videos, present a time-consuming food station like “Make Your Own Personal Pizza,” do dramatic readings of old diaries… or you can just make it a shorter afternoon event and advertise it to friends as an apéritif to their weekend nights out.

3. Save some time after the swap for the loads of leftovers you’re inevitably going to have to deal with. Maybe a friend with a van can help you shlep it to the neighborhood Salvation Army or the Brooklyn Free Store. Maybe there’s a donation bin near you that you can just hang on to a few close friends to help you carry. Trust me, if you don’t deal with it asap, you’re going to have more junk in the apartment than you started with, and it’ll make you angry every time you look at it.


Swaps aren't just for fashion-forward ladies. Marc Majcher / Flickr
Swaps aren’t just for fashion-forward ladies. Marc Majcher / Flickr

Other ideas

1. Wrap bundles of clothing and turn it into a game of White Elephant, declaring that everyone must wear whatever they receive to the bar later.

2. Include swapping of objects. Bring tchotchkes.

3. Get blazed after you swap and tie-dye the leftovers while listening to Blind Melon.

The possibilities are endless, but swap meets are inherently low-maintenance. All you actually need is a bag of old clothes; you and your guests collectively ‘provide’ the party. What really matters is that you get to hang out with friends and do a little spring cleaning while acquiring (maybe) one-of-a-kind pieces for your closet. So out with the old, and in with the “Oh, this? It’s probably vintage.”

[Note: This story, which originally ran in 2013, has been updated for 2016]

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