Swap it out!

Give those tattered togs a new lease on life

By Sophie Isbister, Life & Style Editor

The first one I was invited to was called a Naked Lady Party. The Facebook invitation was tantalizing: my friends, some wine, and piles of clothes to search through and claim for my own? Yes please, sign me up!

Also known as a Bitch-N-Switch, a clothing swap is a great way to refresh your wardrobe at a very minimal cost. All it requires is a venue, a bag of old clothes, and a sizeable group of friends who also have bags of old clothes.

Clothing swaps have been ramping up in popularity since the early ‘80s. They are a fun, social way to clear some room in your closet (and then promptly fill it up again)—and since you’re meeting with like-minded people to swap hand-me-downs, the likelihood that you’ll walk away with great items is much higher than if you walked into a Value Village.

There are a couple different types of clothing swaps, and they have their pros and cons. While swaps began at a grassroots, do-it-yourself level, the appeal of the events have pushed them into the mainstream. You can now find public swaps that fill community centres and halls: imagine table after table, organized by type of clothing, and piled high with fabrics of all different sizes, colours, and textures.

These larger swaps are great for a lot of reasons. Because they’re so huge, there is more to pick from. They usually operate on the honour system: you bring a bag of clean clothing that you don’t want anymore, a team of volunteers sorts it onto the appropriate table (and if you’re a volunteer, you get first dibs), and you take as much as you want home with you. Because these events are large and organized, they will often have a DJ or live band, and stations with brief workshops on upcycling (a fancy word for modifying clothes to give them an updated look). These events usually charge a small cover fee (think $2) to offset the cost of the venue and volunteer appreciation. After the event, the leftover clothes are taken to a charity.

The main downside to a giant swap meet is its sheer size. While it is good to have a lot of stuff to choose from, much of it will be useless to you, and there is a fair amount of digging around involved before you find a real treasure. The free-for-all aspect of the event can make a giant swap feel like some kind of low-rent sample sale, with women and men darting around in a chaotic frenzy to get that one grey scarf before anyone else does. Also, they don’t often provide a good place to try the clothes on, and it’s hard to walk around carrying a giant glass of wine (read: illegal). That’s why I personally prefer a smaller, more intimate swap.

Friend-based swaps work best when you get enough people on board, and they work even better when you have a variety of clothing sizes, so there’s something for everyone. Usually the person who hosts the swap provides some refreshments, but you can also do it potluck style if you want to get seriously granola about it. The main drawback to keeping it in the inner circle is that someone with a vehicle has to take the leftover clothes (and there will be leftover clothes) to the charity of your choosing.

As the season starts to change and you realize you’re bored to death of your current look, try a clothing swap! They’re easy to organize, fun to attend, and like most good ideas, they benefit both your pocketbook and the environment.