An adventure in clothes swapping: Not as risque as it sounds
THE TRADING POST
If you’ve never participated in a clothing swap, the rules are simple: bring the requested minimum number of items (in this case, three), lay them out on the labelled tables, then wait for the start of the swap to jump on the clothes you like. Try them on, and return what doesn’t work out. Take as much or a little as you like. It’s that simple.
Last Thursday, my husband and I attended a clothing swap, hosted by Ef Magazine, called Swapapalooza; I also had the distinct pleasure of supporting the event in my role as Marketing Ninja for UsedOttawa.com, providing tote bags for swappers as well as other cool swag. I knew that on a professional level, we definitely wanted to support this event in any way we could, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy the actual swap, myself. Both my husband and I brought along an armful of clothes, though, figuring we’d at least contribute to the goods available. I’m so glad we did, because I was totally unprepared for the awesomeness that is a clothing swap.
WHY IT WORKS:
I couldn’t imagine how this system could work out. Surely there would be a shortage of clothing? Surely we’d all be vying for the same pretty skirt, tearing at each other like wild dogs? Or surely everyone would bring the worst of the worst clothing from the back of their closets? I brought about a half-dozen pieces myself, and I lay my treasures out on the various tables, feeling a little shy about people seeing my clothing, most of which was no longer my style. But no one was judging, only analyzing my castoffs to see if they would now find a new home with a new body. I found myself spying several lovely items as I perused the tables before the swap started, and was happy to discover many diamonds in the rough.
Why wasn’t there a shortage of clothing? Well, first off, many people brought more than the bare minimum. When someone promises you that anything you bring will get a new home either with a swapper or with charity at the end of the night, you tend to bring anything you’ve been ready to part with. One girl actually brought a giant Tupperware tub full of clothes, so there was a seemingly endless supply of things to touch, hold up, and try on. Oh, and for anyone out there who’s an unusual size, height, width, or shape, no worries: when there’s enough people attending, you’re bound to find something that will work for you.
Why weren’t we all fighting over the same outfit? Because every person had a different personal style. Miniature floral prints suit many ladies, but they make me look about eighty years old; so naturally, I didn’t fight anyone for those pieces. Knee-length sweaters are a nuisance to a sporty girl, but to a Gilmore Girls fanatic like myself, any long sweater is just another chance to look a bit more like Lorelai. There was, I will confess, one glittery silver dress that I pined for after another woman grabbed it (and took it home without even trying it on, SIGH), but other than that, I think I got a chance to try on everything else that caught my eye.
By the end of the night, all but one of my pieces had found a new home, and I had found about five stunning new-to-me treasures to bring back home. My outfit today, seen here, is actually ¾ from the swap—everything but the jeans! (Sorry for the messy room, we’re packing for our moving day next week—another reason why it was great to bring a bunch of old clothes and be rid of them at the swap!)
LESSONS FROM THE SWAP EXPERIENCE (AND TIPS FROM A FASHION KNOW-IT-ALL):
I learned a couple things while helping to keep the clothes folded and tidy on the tables throughout the evening:
-People were giving away a lot of muted colours, like beige, brown, grey, and black. The question is, did they end up in the swap pile because the women who first bought them felt as drab in them as they looked on the table? Or do we over-purchase on dark neutrals?
-Some of the black fabrics had that faded look of too many washes. Holding onto your clothes for another season may simply mean that you need to buy a colour-friendly or cold-water laundry soap.
-There appeared to be a lot of discarded items made of that infamous jersey knit. You know the stuff: thicker than a tee shirt, thinner than a sweatshirt, and usually used to make camisoles and tank tops. The problem with jersey knit: it’s cotton, which means it stretches and shrinks—and usually in all the wrong places. If you like these styles, treat them with some extra love and they may not end up in the swap pile as quickly: wash in cold water, then lay flat to dry or hang over a towel rack…don’t hang them on a hanger or by the straps while they’re wet because they’ll stretch.
-This next piece of advice is something I’ve been wanting to share for a while. In a past life, I received my training in image consulting, and actually worked many years as a cosmetics artist. So trust me when I tell you what I tell you next. Wildly trendy prints will end up in your swap basket—and that’s okay, but beware how much you pay for it if you’re going to toss it the next year. What will also end up in the swap bin: clothing that is cut in a trendy-but-unflattering style. I’ll say this now and only once: you have to be very flat-bellied to wear anything high-waisted. And if you are busty, don’t wear a empire-cut dress or blouse, or you will look like you are the width of your bust the whole way down: accentuate hour glass shape with something more fitted. And pleats belong on super models and the guys from Mad Men, so stop torturing yourself with them. Oh, and please be kind to your body: pause and ask yourself if that miniskirt that rises all the way up to your underwire is actually flattering…or is it that you just really want to look like the American Apparel model, despite the fact that you can’t walk around all day contorting your torso for maximum positional flattery?
STAPLES VERSUS SPLASHES IN YOUR WARDROBE:
The best way to buy your wardrobe: spend the extra dollars on your staple pieces—jeans, tights, tops, and underwear—and then go wild with a few items per season. A swap can be a great place to try something outside your comfort zone: I usually hate a heavy-knit tunic, but the purple one in my photo here turned out to be lovely on me. Or maybe it’s the time you try a splash of colour or trendy print. When the only cost of an item is the effort of bringing in one to exchange for it, you can afford to go a little wild.
Now that I have experienced a clothing swap, I’ll be looking for more to attend. I’ve already started saving up a few more items of my own to bring. What was old is new again, and hey: maybe I’ll even get a swing at that sparkly dress next swap around.