ESP Day 20: Clothes Swaps

As I write this, I’m wearing a cute, comfy shirt-with-hoody and jeans that I picked out at a clothes swap this afternoon.  I don’t swap clothes every day, but almost every day for close to a decade, I have worn at least item that I received at a clothes swap.  Therefore, clothes swaps are part of my Everyday Sustainable Practice. 

The first time I was invited to a clothes swap, it was for women my size: petite.  Included in my bag of things to contribute was a beautiful party dress that I didn’t fit into anymore, but that I just couldn’t bear to send into the Goodwill blackhole.  At the swap, the hostess tried on the dress and it fit her perfectly.  My dress had found a new home, and I became a clothes swap convert on the spot!

Over the years, the petite women’s clothes swap has continued as a semi-regular gathering that meets at the home of whomever wanted to host it.  For about two years, I lived in a big house with–very importantly–a large mirror, so I hosted.  Since then, I’ve spearheaded getting the swap on the calendar, and am a devoted attendee.

There are many reasons I love clothes swaps and consider them part of my Everyday Sustainable Practice:

  • FREE.  Who doesn’t love free?  And when it’s free, we can…
  • EXPERIMENT.  With new colors or styles.  Maybe something a little risque.  A little over the top.  Something I wouldn’t dare go near at a store because it’s not my image of me.  But at a swap, there’s no risk in trying it on, or taking it home.  Hey, if it doesn’t work out, we can always bring it back to the next swap, or we might discover another part of ourselves.
  • SECOND LIFE.  It’s as much about giving as receiving.  Giving clothes that I no longer wear–too small, too big, wrong color, no longer my style, I’ve worn it too much–a second life is extremely satisfying.
  • CONNECTION.  Sure, we could donate our clothes to Goodwill or some other charity/reseller, but then there’s no connection.  Who will wear that next?  At the clothes swap, I might try on a shirt and call out, “Who brought this?”  And more often than not, the woman who brought it will identify herself, and maybe even tell a story about it.  Now it’s more than just a shirt.  Every time I wear that shirt, I remember that woman and her story.  It may sound hokey, but it’s true.  Try it.
  • COMMUNITY.  Our clothes swap has developed into an organic community.  We bring existing friendships into the community and form new ones.  We’ve been through marriages and births and moves that take some friends to new cities.  To start new swap communities…
  • FUN.  The swaps are fun, and wearing the clothes are fun.  I much prefer this to going to the mall.
  • GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT.  Decreasing just that little bit the carbon impact of manufacturing, shipping and retailing the clothes, and keeping them out–a little bit longer–from landfill.


  • Pick a common denominator.  A general size range is helpful.  For our petite group, we don’t set any rules about size, but invite self-identified petites, which means that most of us find at least a few things that fit and that we love.  I imagine that a themed swap–like costumes–would work, too.
  • Send e-invitations. We use Evite.  Easy to use and send reminders.  Set a limit on number of people, if necessary.  Remember to be clear about what you want people to bring or not bring.  We welcome household goods, for example.
  • Food/Drink.  We usually have ours over brunch on the weekend, so make it a potluck.  Do what fits your group and meeting time.
  • Mirrors.  Very helpful to have at least one full-length mirror.  If there isn’t one in the house, ask the group for a volunteer to bring one.  Or ask your neighbor.
  • Safety Zone.  There’s always the risk that you might lose track of the clothes you wore to the swap, or that someone might like it and take it home!  We designate an area where we keep our purses, shoes, and shopping bags to collect our clothes–old and new.  Especially in a tight area, this is important.  Also, make sure the hostess has cleared away any of her household goods that might be confused as available to be taken.
  • Clothing Categories.  We generally choose areas to collect categories of clothes on chairs, tables, couches and the floor.
  • Rules.  We don’t have any, except the Safety Zone, and helping clean up and taking things away at the end.  This has been sufficient so far, I think, because of the intimacy of the swaps — generally 8-14 people, and mostly friends and friends of friends.
  • Ice Breaker.  Recently, during the socializing/brunch part at the beginning, we’ve included a few minutes where each woman gets to introduce herself to the group; a few short sentences so we can get to know each other a little better, whether new or old friends. 
  • Cleaning Up.  At the end of the swap, we bag up the left overs and take them to Goodwill or –for nicer business clothes & shoes — to an organization that provides professional clothes for job seekers (e.g. Dress for SuccessWardrobe for Opportunity.)


I personally don’t have the courage to attend a large swap, where there are many women and tons of clothes.  I’m not aggressive enough, and I like to take my time when picking things out.  Plus, there’s the size issue.  Here are some local (SF Bay Area) and national:

  • Swap-O-Rama-Rama: “A clothing swap and series of do-it-yourself workshops in which a community explores creative reuse through the recycling of used clothing.”
  • Swapsf: “recycled fashion for social animals”
  • Clothing Swap: A company that organizes huge swaps as parties. 
This entry was posted in clothing, Everyday Sustainable Practice (ESP), reuse. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ESP Day 20: Clothes Swaps

  1. Pingback: HOW TO: swap-raffle « everyday sustainable

  2. Pingback: could you wear the same dress for one year? « everyday sustainable

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