Clothes Swap Swag

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A few weeks ago, I discovered the best shopping experience in New York City. You can’t find it on Yelp. There is no phone number. There’s just an e-mail chain, an address and an appointed time to meet. If you compared it to the bar scene, it’d be a speakeasy. And the best part? Everything in the boutique is free.

Behold, the spoils of a clothing swap.

Mickey Mouse Sweatshirt: Secondhand (Clothing Swap) | Red Scuba Shirt: ASOS | Handbag: Coach | Shoes: Roger Vivier (Consignment)
Mickey Mouse Sweatshirt: Secondhand (Clothing Swap) | Red Scuba Shirt: ASOS | Handbag: Coach | Shoes: Roger Vivier (Consignment)

A clothing swap gathers women together to shop each other’s closets. The twist? The entire inventory consists of the other participants’ unwanted clothes. For a secondhand lover, a swap is a Shangri-la of eclectic treasures.

This slouchy, vintage Mickey Mouse sweatshirt was one of nearly 10 items I scored at the swap last weekend. (Other key finds: a pair of pristine vintage Gucci loafers and a 1960s pink and lime-green tweed blouse.)

As this was my first clothing swap, I had no idea what to expect — and selecting items for a swap can be nerve-wracking. I fretted like a parent sending her kid to school for the first time: “What if no one likes my clothes?”

Some of the offerings at the clothing swap.
Some of the offerings at the swap. (Most of the neon clothes were mine.)

Here are some steps to prevent any hand-wringing:

  • Look carefully at the color of the clothes you’re bringing. I foolishly brought a selection of spring clothes left over from my latest closet clean-out, including a hibiscus-pink BCBG Max Azria floor-length gown, a butter-yellow Jean Paul Gaultier netted blouse and a purple Ella Moss swing top. These items will be of no interest when it is 30 degrees outside. Needless to say, my items were not hot “sellers.”
  • Determine the right product mix beforehand. Since I was the newbie of the group, I sent an e-mail ahead of time to gauge the groups’ expectations: Vintage? Designer? Fast fashion? A combination? If you know beforehand, you’ll feel confident that you’re pulling your weight with the group.
  • Skip hard-and-fast rules. Every swap functions differently, but I loved the communal guidelines this group followed. For one, we eschewed “one-for-one” swap rules. And unlike other swaps I’ve heard about, there were no bidding wars and lotteries for popular items. Instead, everyone focused on finding the right “home” for each garment, often giving up a prized item to another participant.

At the end of the first few rounds of swapping, there was a quick-fire round, with everyone holding up the leftovers for last-minute takers. (I found a surprising number of great finds in the last round.) Everything else is bagged and tagged for donation.

If no one claimed the item, we bagged it for the thrift store down the block.
If no one claimed the item, we bagged it for the thrift store down the block.

I’m already itching for my next swap fix. Of course, I love freshening my wardrobe with zero expense. But the eco-conscious ethos of the swap is also alluring — by its very nature, a clothing swap reduces waste and keeps your clothes in loving homes instead of a landfill. The ethics are fairly foolproof, too: Everything that isn’t claimed is donated to a local charity shop.

I was invited by a friend to join this particular swap, but you can also attend swaps organized by third parties. (Although there’s something inherently more special about spending a Sunday shopping at a friend’s apartment.)

Have you ever gone to a clothing swap? Leave your tips in the comments!

PS: On an unrelated side note, here’s how I layered my Mickey Mouse outfit for the weekend. It warmed up briefly, so I skipped a full coat for this cropped jacket with 3/4 length sleeves. I’m digging the red-on-red.

Plaid Coat: Liquid (Consignment)
Plaid Coat: Liquid (Consignment)