How-to: host a clothing swap

Why a clothing swap? What is this all about? How does it work? When I was in my mid 20s I used to host Friday Night Ladies Nights at my home. I love to entertain. I would make hors d’oeuvres maybe a specialty cocktail or shot to feature. It was so great to catch up with the girls and stay connected as we all went through our daily lives. Maybe we’d go out afterwards to hit up a bar or club. Then I noticed something was changing. Some of my girlfriends weren’t able to make it on Friday nights, or had to cancel last-minute due to other obligations. As my friends were marrying and starting families of their own, their interests changed and this wasn’t the best fit anymore.

I read about the idea of a Clothing Swap several years ago in Real Simple Magazine during this same time that interests were shifting a bit among the ladies. I didn’t over think it. I just said to myself, “I’ll do it.” I’ve been hosting them now for what could be 4-5 years every Spring and Fall to prepare for the next season. It’s a great opportunity to visit with your girlfriends you’ve had over your lifetime, introduce new friends and walk away with the memories of the event as you wear the items you bring home.

Vintage floral top find at clothing swap
Vintage floral top find at clothing swap

How do you get started:

One thing that I should note, which may better determine if you should be hosting or if you have a friend in mind that should be hosting. I have never belonged to a clique. I have a variety of friends on different friendship levels whether close friends to acquaintances. I meet new people all of the time. I think what makes my events unique is that it won’t be the same clique that gathers every season. There’s some new people to meet and new wardrobes to exchange with. Of course I have girlfriends that have been to a couple of the events and I love that. Just something to keep in mind to keep the “goods” fresh. And before making a commitment to host, make sure you have enough space inside our home to host it, like a retail type environment.

Clothing Swap How-To’s:

Leading up to the Clothing Swap:

1. Set a Date. I live in Indianapolis where we truly have the opportunity to embrace all 4 seasons. When speaking of clothing, it means for most of us that we box up our winter line to welcome the summer line and vice versa. When the weather starts to change and I have to dig for a sweater or jacket to welcome Fall, I look at my calendar to pick a date to host the next swap. I like giving 3 weekends notice. That’s 3 weekends for friends to find the opportunity to clean out their closets. I look at my date compared to the events going on around in the city. Probably not going to have it over Labor Day weekend. And probably not going to have it during an Indianapolis Colt’s football game, etc. The exchange portion could wrap up in 1-2 hours, I usually select a 3 hour window of time for the event, or you could leave an end time open-ended.

2. Provide a little detail for how the event is going to go to your guests. I have hosted events as pitch in’s where I ask guests to bring a snack and I provide a specialty cocktail I’ve been playing around with. I’ve also kept it incredibly simple where I just make some spiced cocktail nuts and fill a couple growlers of Cider from the neighborhood local, New Day Meadery. One of my favorites is to host the event on a Sunday and make a frittata brunch and offer sparking wine. I would let guests know that was the plan so they aren’t arriving already fed. You know; Brunch at Noon, Exchange at 1 p.m. if guest wanted to skip out on brunch, they were free to arrive at 1 p.m. or later. You are free to ask your friends to bring something or I simply let mine know that this is what I am providing, if you’d like something else, you are welcome to provide it for the party. If you are providing a meal, I would also include an open request in your invite for those with dietary restrictions to please let you know and plan an option for them accordingly. I have made a vegetarian option of my meal for guests before, it’s not too much trouble at all.

3. Provide details for how the Clothing Swap will go. There are no “rules” for these. I’m simply sharing my experiences over the few times I have hosted. I have in my invite that I encourage guests to bring 5-10 items or more that are still in good, wearable shape. As we ladies can sometimes changes sizes dramatically over our lifetimes and need to unload or gain a whole new wardrobe. I also include in the invite that participating in the clothing exchange is not required. I encourage friends to come out for some much-needed girl time or to simply observe to see what a clothing swap is all about. I think that cleaning out your closet is one of the fun parts because I feel like you could play to karma a bit. Maybe there is something in your closet that you love and haven’t worn in years. It’s interesting to bring that item and find karma’s fate for you as to filling your closet with something you could wear. And it’s a little easier to part with when you know who gets it versus taking to consignment or Goodwill. This is probably the extent of information I provide in the invite and of course ask people to contact me with any questions. Things that have come up:

What if I’m worried about people being there with my similar size?

I completely understand this. If you’d like to share your size with me, I would ask that our guests invite someone who they know that shares a similar size.

Can I bring slightly used bra’s, workout clothes, beauty products, etc.?

I said, absolutely. You’re the host, you can call the shots as to the event you want to host.

What if I bring all high-end name brand stuff, will I find that type of stuff at your exchange?

I bring up this question as this is an interesting point and completely up to you and the type of exchange you want to have. The more people you have at the exchange, the more options you’ll have. I would suggest a response similar to: maybe they only bring 1-2 items that are higher end for their first exchange to help manage their expectations. If they had great luck the first time, they may bring more items next time.

I’ve had friends who couldn’t make that date but had contributed to the clothing lineup anyway. I’ve had friends who come in late or have to leave early. With those that I know have to leave early, I do want to make sure they get the most out of their time and send them home with 5 items or so and check in to make sure they are happy with what they get to leave with having to leave early. Those that arrive late, we just add them to our rotation when they arrive.

4. Send out your invite. I have used Facebook Events and evite to invite guests. Sometimes I may have up to 100 people who receive the invite. I’ve had anywhere from 5 to 12 guests. So far in my experience, and with the space I have available, a group size of 8-12 people is perfect. If you have used these new online invite tools, you may have noticed that 9 times out of 10 you will receive more Yes RSVP’s than will actually make it to the event. Things happen, life is crazy busy. I’m simply happy to provide the opportunity for meeting and visiting with the women that make up our city and enhancing our wardrobes. I may send a final note through both channels 1-2 days prior to the event asking guests to confirm their RSVP as I prepare to provide food and drinks for the group. I also will include any other final details; directions, cell phone number, etc. Day of Clothing Swap:

5. Clothing Swap Initial Set-Up. One of the things that I bought prior to hosting my first swap was to buy a garment rack from Target. It was around $10. I now have two that I can easily unfold and store in their original boxes in a closet. I also have extra hangers that I already had on hand. If you don’t I’d recommend buying 20-40. What do you have around that house that you could use that could provide helpful? I have used book shelves to put up some folded clothing. I have a shelving unit in our bathroom that we keep our bath towels. I’ll bring that into the living room to organize some folded clothes. I’ve used the coffee table and the dining room table to display items. Be resourceful on this front. I also welcome jewelry, so I have an area on a smaller table that I use for that. I also welcome shoes. It works out well to have them lined up on the base of the garment racks. I set up the space and start to put out my contributions for the swap.

Trendy and unique shoe find
Trendy and unique shoe find

I have had friends who sell unique items like Stella and Dot or doTERRA essential oils that I welcome them to set up a display or mingle among guests to play with the jewelry or oils. Mary with Stella and Dot once sponsored the Bloody Mary bar. They probably didn’t get a lot of sales, but at least they were able to introduce their products to a new audience. My sister sells doTERRA essential oils and we incorporate it into the experience. You can have a relaxing or detoxifying oil through a diffuser or I add the orange or lemon essential oils to the water pitcher for us to all enjoy. She even provided some yummy peppermint essential oil to a batch of gluten-free brownies. They were a hit!

6. Guests Arrive and Contribute to Swap. Guests arrive and are offered a beverage, introductions and asked to lay out their items where they see fit. You could have designated areas for said items if you choose. Some guests simply bring their contribution in laundry hampers which I thought was brilliant. And then they have something they can carry to new finds in home. Some guests start to eyeball through items, some mingle over snacks in the kitchen until most of our guests have arrived and had a chance to get their items out. I probably allow 30 minutes for arrival, mingle, set-up.

Everybody needs a red dress in their wardrobe.
Everybody needs a red dress in their wardrobe. Photo Credit: Catherine Esselman

7. The Swap Begins. I started hosting the clothing swaps with a one at a time policy. I like it because no one will be fighting over items and everyone will be walking away with one of the most sought after items. To do this, I count all of the participants and write 1 through that number on little pieces of cut up paper. Then I have guests draw a number and that will be the shopping order. So #1 will shop first. Then #2 and so on. We’ll probably do this for at least 5 rounds, so everyone has 5 hot new items. Then we open it up for a free for all. This part is fun as friends will encourage guests they may be meeting for the first time to try something that may be out of their norm. This can go on until everyone is happy. Then we may turn to more mingling.

8. Swap Clean-up. 

Knitted sweater top (right) paired with a little Stella and Dot
Knitted sweater top (right) paired with a little Stella and Dot. Photo Credit: Diane Drake

Guests are free to take home whatever they want at the end for the clothing swap. If they wanted to take their initial contributions that didn’t get picked up, they are free to do so. Guests also know that I will take whatever is left behind to Goodwill. That trip is guaranteed, so it is not a big deal to leave anything behind. I have made a commitment to host these events 2 times a year and I am lucky to have some extra storage space. I have a bag that I keep with some miscellaneous items that had been left behind. More specifically, I’ll save some items that I think that are cool and have potential in unique sizes, petites, larger items, long-legged, etc. So if I do have someone attend a future event that may have a unique size. I have some options for them. I have now collected 15-30 items that I may take to the next exchange. If it doesn’t make it through the next exchange it goes to Goodwill.

dELiA's top
dELiA’s top. Photo Credit: Breana Elliott

I enjoy hearing the after event stories. Whether I personally get a compliment on one of my swap finds and I tell them, “Oh, I got it at a clothing swap.” Of course they ask to learn more so I hope that they would either attend a future event I host or be inspired to host their own. It’s fun for me or for my guests to see one another out and about and be like, “That was mine, it looks so amazing on you!” It’s fun to see when I had introduced new friends they connect on Facebook or follow-up to get another group visit together. I really enjoy it. I hope you feel inspired to host one as well. I welcome thoughts from anyone who has hosted or plans to host and has new experiences to share.

Banana Republic top (left) representing People for Urban Progress on IndyStyle
Banana Republic top (left) representing People for Urban Progress on IndyStyle. Photo Credit: IndyStyle

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