Five Reasons to Love a Clothing Swap (and How to Host Your Own)

I’ve always loved to shop. And I’ve always really loved to shop for anything wearable. Cowboy boots and maxi dresses. Cozy sweaters and dangly earrings. Button-downs and scarves. If it goes on my body, I’m hooked.

But however you feel about shopping, I imagine you understand the excitement of having a new-to-you jacket (or statement necklace or T-shirt) to pair with your “I’ll never give these up,” fit-perfect jeans.

The problem with any kind of shopping is the risk of overspending once we walk into a boutique or a consignment shop, whether we need the items or not. And many of us, if we’re honest, don’t need to stuff more in our dresser drawers.

The solution? Stay out of the malls. Stay off the Internet. Stay away from the buy-one-get-one deals popping up in your inbox.

Host a clothing swap.


About 10 years ago, a friend invited me to my first clothing swap. Though I wanted to tweak the way it was run (the organizer had everyone present their items for a slightly awkward bidding process), I was hooked on the idea. Ever since, I’ve hosted about three a year in my home, and the majority of my wardrobe now comes from these events.

Intrigued, but not sure it’s for you?

Here are five reasons why I love swaps, perhaps even more so than shopping:

Trying on Clothes in a Store, Things Are Working Against You

The price tag, the size number on the label, the emotional frustration when things don’t fit… it can make the store dressing room a stressful experience. When you attend a swap, however, you’re surrounded by free clothes and, if you invite carefully, friends who want you to look your best.

What I’ve found over the years is that, with a roomful of encouraging allies, I’m more willing to try on clothes that aren’t whatever preconceived idea I have about “my size.” I also know that when clothes arrive at the swap, they’ve been handled in many different ways. Sometimes they’ve been tossed in a dryer and shrunk. Or stretched out in the chest by friends who are a bit more well-endowed than I am. Because of this, I know I can’t rely on the number or letter on the label. Hand me something cute that looks like it might possibly fit? I’ll try it on.

Free Means Freedom

Because I’m not going to be out hard cash, I’m more willing to play with my style. I’ll try on clothes I would never select in a store, because I’m less willing to part with money for something too trendy. Feathers and sequins? Well, OK. Black leather skinny jeans? Sure. Air Force flight suit? Yes, please. (It’ll be perfect for Halloween!)

When it’s free, I’ll give it a shot, maybe take it home, and if it doesn’t work, bring it back to the next swap. Nothing lost, but perhaps a new style found. (That flight suit? It turned out to be perfect for a steampunk party I didn’t even know I’d be attending.)

Getting Rid of Clothes Can Be Difficult

We tend to keep items that don’t fit because we hope we can squeeze into them again someday, or we’re worried we’ll gain weight in the future and end up needing them. We also paid good money for these items, and parting with clothing that is in perfectly good condition — even if we donate it to a good cause — is challenging.

But if you know an item has a chance of finding a new home with a friend, it’s much easier to say goodbye. And it’s really cool to see said friend show up the next time you get together for lunch looking cheery in something that was just taking up space on your shelf.

Body Sizes Don’t Matter

I promise. This is the biggest concern I hear from friends when I invite them to a clothing swap. And I always explain that, for one, swaps include everything from tops and bottoms to jewelry, purses, shoes, and other miscellaneous accessories. (We’ve even swapped personal-care items, like shampoos and perfumes — the ones you buy, use once or twice, and realize don’t work for you. Those are perfect for swaps.)

I’ve had items from size 0 to XXL show up. And women of the same varying body types and sizes. I’ve never had anyone leave with less than one overflowing bag — unless they truly were trying to reduce their wardrobe and only wanted to take home a few things. I had a woman once walk out my door with eight pairs of shoes and nothing else. And she grinned from ear to ear about it all week.

What You Don’t Claim Will Go to a Local Nonprofit

Once you’ve bagged your items up to bring them to a swap, anything that isn’t grabbed by a friend can be donated to a local nonprofit. In my case, I take care of this as the host because I know it’s easier on my guests not to reconnect with their already given-away items. Swappers win, with cleaner closets and new-to-them-for-free items, and a local charity also wins. (You, as the host, may also win, because you might discover an overlooked goody or two when you’re bagging up the remainders.)

Tips for Hosting Your Own Clothing Swap

You’re convinced, right? Let me make this really easy for you and give you the rundown on how to host a swap.

  • Start small. Reach out to a few friends you think might be interested. Set a date and time — I recommend a two-hour period, either an evening with wine and desserts, or over brunch for mimosas, lemonade, and baked goods. Keep costs down by asking each of your friends to contribute a beverage or food item. Set up an area away from the clothing, if possible, so it’s less easy to spill cabernet and crumbs all over the clothes.
  • Give your friends detailed instructions in the invitation. Tell them to go through their closets, drawers, and the storage boxes under the bed and pull out any clothes, shoes, scarves, hats, jewelry, purses, etc., that are in good condition but aren’t working for them, no matter the reason. Ask them to be cautious in their choices. If it’s stained, torn, or otherwise in bad condition, ask them to leave it at home (or use this opportunity to toss it). Otherwise, anything goes. (I saw a wedding dress swapped once. It was pretty cool.) Tell them to bring it all to the swap, and to wear clothes that are easy to change in and out of. Let them know that you’ll set up designated try-on areas, but sometimes it’s easiest to dress in layers (or not care who sees you in your bra).
  • Set up your home the day of the swap. I have one tall, two-sided clothing rack that I purchased years ago for drying clothes that I use for hanging dresses and long jackets and such, but most of the items get stacked around my living and dining rooms on couches, chairs, and tables. I designate areas for types of item: the dining room table gets tops, tees, and sweatshirts. Pants and jeans go on our biggest couch. Shoes get lined up against one wall. Things shift throughout the event, but starting off with some sort of organization, via your own items, helps.
  • Use the first half-hour or so for display only. As people arrive, tell them how you’ve organized things, and ask them to add their items to the piles you’ve already begun. Let them know they are welcome to “window-shop” (and get some snacks) but to please not take anything until you give the go-ahead. Mostly you’re just waiting for stragglers.
  • Run through a few quick rules. Before you give the go-ahead, let people know they are welcome to take anything they like. Recommend that they try items on so that if something doesn’t fit, someone else will have a chance at it during the event. I also recommend that each person find a spot in the house to claim as her own for the event, a place to stack findings while digging through the piles.
  • Have fun! This means you, too. Don’t let the stress of hosting keep you from shopping. I know I’ll never see everything that comes through the door, but I haven’t yet hosted a swap after which I didn’t find myself coveting something a friend discovered. As I remind myself, keep hosting, and it just might come back around. (Return, recycle, reuse.)

Final Note

One more thing: Clothing swaps are incredible money-savers, but, yes, they tend to divide the genders. I think men could get in on their own swap game, but it just may not happen in the realm of clothing.

And so I’d suggest everyone consider all the ways to bring swapping into your life. Household items and homemade goods make for great exchanges. Friends with children have held swaps for kids’ clothing, toys, and accessories.

Some other friends have attended local beer swaps — everyone brought a favorite craft brew six-pack and exchanged individual bottles to take home. (It’s a smart way to try new beers without investing in six from the get-go.)

And my second favorite option, after wearables, for swaps?

Books — good for readers of all ages and gender. Though admittedly, these parties typically turn into much calmer and quieter events. Everyone is fully clothed, sipping wine, and scanning stacks of book jackets. I promise, though, they’re having fun.

Kirsten Akens

Contributor for The Simple Dollar

Kirsten Akens is an award-winning journalist and editor based in Colorado Springs, Colo. In addition to her work for the The Simple Dollar, her bylines can be found in a variety of online and print publications, including O – the Oprah Magazine, People, and Lifehacker.