How To Hold A Clothing Exchange Or Clothing Swap








This week I’ll be writing about clothing and wardrobe planning. Clothing exchanges, or swaps, have so many benefits for living smaller and are, above all else, fun. This is a guest post from my friend Vicki on the how and why of holding a clothing exchange. Thanks, Vicki!

What is a clothing exchange?

Clothing exchanges, also referred to as swaps, are cheap way to recycle no longer needed clothing with minimal effort. With a little planning and some discipline it is generally not too difficult to leave with less than you had when you arrived. Often the one item you hoped for, such as a winter jacket or dress for an event, can be found at a clothing exchange. They are fun, affordable and thrifty.

Most clothing exchanges bring a group of people, often women, together with their unwanted items. The items are put into piles with similar items and the attendees then select what they want from these piles. Clothing for women, men, kids and babies show up at a clothing exchange and you will find every type of clothing item and accessory you can name.

Clothes: “need” versus “want”.

I rarely, if ever, buy new clothes. These days I have very few items which is a departure from years past when I had overflowing wardrobe from days of “thrifting”. I like to dress up and I like a little choice in my wardrobe however these days I want my 16 month old daughter to learn from me that clothes are “things” and can promote ego based thinking and over indulgence. I like to feel comfortable in what I wear in my own style, without too much fuss.

All of my clothing comes to me via thrift stores, rummage sales, Freecycle, clothing exchanges, free bins at the curb and my stylish 17 year old daughter who hands things down to me. While I have deep respect those of us who can live with but a few items I prefer to think of myself as a “conscious consumer” rather than a “minimalist”. I am on an aggressive debt reduction path and typically clothing is not a “need” but a “want”. When the seasons start to change I know it is time to clear out, get together with the gang and make room for a few more items to use in the new season.

Clothing exchanges with friends

For several years now my friends and I get together about once every 4 months and we have a clothing exchange. I host approximately twice a year, collecting clothes I no longer want and then bringing them to the clothing swap while my friends do the same. As you can imagine there are many, many clothes up for grabs and often lots left over to be given to a charitable organisation. We divide them into piles of same items and throw up a couple of mirrors. We allot a “do not touch zone” for items to be deemed safe from others and not for grabs once they have been selected. After that it is a free-for-all.

Recently I hosted a clothing swap for about a dozen women. Some refreshments, snacks and music on a Sunday afternoon we spent a couple of hours picking through a plethora of clothes. There is usually one or 2 of my friends who like to try everything on for fun. I am the type of swapper who likes to take my chosen items home and try things on in the comfort of my room

This year through a donation on Freecycle I was the recipient of about 10 ball gowns in an 80’s style. Not my usual taste, I have been on the hunt for threads for a wedding. I dragged my love across town on our bikes to pick up these dresses. Needless to say hot pink satin prom dresses are not something I usually wear. It turns out neither do my friends, however nothing says fun than watching your friends shimmy into such a slinky number and remember the days when we did wear such beauties.

Clothing exchanges are also a great place to offload toiletries and personal hygiene items lurking in the recesses of bathroom cupboards. In the past I have taken for granted the freedom of having a cupboard full of sprays, lotions, potions and creams. For many years I have worked with people who have a fixed income and they welcome any such items they are offered.  I gather the items donated for this cause and take them to a women’s group I am associated with.

When planning an exchange

When hosting an exchange is to try and invite a cross section of people who are different shapes and sizes. Usually there are a wide range of petite women and women who have a fuller figure or are very tall. I am yet to have a clothing exchange where someone has not been able to find one or more others in their size. In fact it is usual to find women with similar tastes, styles and sizes pairing up and exchanging back and forth.

Often I will invite a friend who has recently cleaned out her closest and already given these things away. As such she has very little to offer at the exchange. In my experience there is always plenty to go around and there is a balance in all ways.

Have bags, used plastic or cloth, on hand for those who need them.

Community Clothing swaps

Clothing exchanges happen on a wider scale in my community. Here in Vancouver there has been an event called the “Swap-o-rama” happening for years at different venues, usually for a cheap price of admission. Next week on June 2nd there is an event happening at the Museum of Vancouver. Last year this swap was definitely worth going to. I found some amazing hiking boots I wear often and my love found a smart black windbreaker he has worn as his main jacket all year. There are usually craft tables and sewing machines for those who are ambitious enough to modify or redesign treasures on the spot. I understand there are volunteering opportunities at the community exchanges which I can imagine comes with some great perks.

Clothing exchanges are:

  1. A great way to recycle and get rid of items which are taking up space in our lives.
  2. An opportunity to replenish ones wardrobe for free.
  3. A chance to get together with friends and share comments such as “that acid wash denim looks great on you” or “pink satin, I wore that to my prom” over a cuppa or a glass of wine.
  4. When all is said and done all of the leftovers can be donated to charity. After my exchange I put a free ad on Craigslist and donated 11 bags to an organisation in my community working with refugees and new immigrants.
  5. If you are at all inclined to consign clothes or sell them then clothing exchanges are a great way to find your next money maker. You never know what you will find or what others are willing to give away.

Have you ever held or been to a clothing exchange? Do you have any ideas to share about your own experience? Let me know, I would love hear stories about others clothes swapping events.

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  • We used to do a women’s clothing exchange every year at the music school where I worked. We found that it was REALLY helpful to have some sort of way to hang the clothes – it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a pole hung over two tall back chairs, or a laundry line strung across the room in a pinch. It also helps to have a pre-determined person who is responsible for taking the leftovers to be donated. Ours generally ran for several weeks – we just set it up in a spare room and didn’t have many rules – just bring what you don’t want and take what you do. People were generally very respectful.

    The fringe benefit was that it was a great bonding activity. Nothing like a room full of women ripping off their clothes and trying things on to build team spirit!

  • Some friends and I have done clothing swaps a couple times a year for a while now! It’s great fun, we usually include food, and drinks. Whoever is hosting is responsible for bringing the leftover clothes to charity. My only criticism is that every item I’ve taken away from a swap I’ve kept in my closet for a few months then cleared out again. Usually if someone else is getting rid of an item, there really is something wrong with it!

  • We’ve grown a home-based swap among friends into a community-wide event that attracts hundreds of people AND raises thousands of dollars for local non-profits. Check out


  • I hosted one once, and would love to do it again once I have this baby and will need some transitional clothing while I lose the pregnancy weight. It’s such a neat idea!

  • Hey Vicki – I love the idea of this. My problem is I own so little I don’t really have anything to swap. One idea that came to mind for small NFP would be to hold these events as a fundraiser. To charge per item taken (minimal cost). This could get round the initial awkwardness of attending an event – because ‘it’s for charity’!

    • One of the joys of clothing exchanges is that they can be whatever one wants them to be, Among friends, in the community, as a fundraiser, for free. The best thing about exchanges for me is that they are social and when I participate I am recycling rather than adding the consumer load by buying new. It never ceases to amaze me how many items I see at clothing exchanges still with the tags from the store right on them. Last week at the Vancouver Swap-o-rama I found 2 tank tops ( $19.99 CDN…ouch) with the tags. I scooped them for my teenager and she was thrilled while I was horrified really because $40 is almost my shopping budget all year!
      While some people who enjoy a minimalist lifestyle with few items might find that they have nothing to exchange I have always seen a balance between the friend with 3 garbage bags full and the pal with nothing…or 1 thing. That is OK, it is not about the stuff but about the community and the fun. Jo, if you have very little maybe if you attend a swap you will find an “upgrade” on your pair of jeans, jacket or boots. I like the per item cost idea, it is always great to find new and innovative ways to raise money for others. If you have nothing, go anyway for the laugh of watching others try on things that are too small, too fluffy, too yellow or just right! Events for pregnant mums, new mums or with kids clothing only is also a great idea. There is never a right or wrong way to do an exchange. They are all unique and if planned right with enough space, people and clothing they are always a hit!

  • My sister was very frustrated after going to clothing swaps and finding nothing in her size, so she invented an Accessory Exchange party! This is great, because accessories fit a wider variety of sizes, and no one feels bad. So people can bring jewelry, hair accessories, gloves, hats, shoes, toiletries, scarves, etc.

    Everything is laid out, there is tonnes of food. People can socialize & peruse for a while. Then everyone at the same time can choose their first pick. If two people want the same thing, the host will draw a card to see who is the winner. People snack again, then go to round two for the second favourite pick and so on. By the end of the night people can just take what is leftover and the rest is donated.

    This is a great way to try a new style without spending the money on it…you can take a chance on an item because it is free! For me, I really clean out my closet and leave with less than I brought. Sometimes at the end of the night there are some wild & wacky scarves or gloves left that is no one’s cup of tea, but are a great addition to my daughter’s dress up box! We usually hold accessory exchanges 1-2 times a year; it’s a great way to catch up with old friends!

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