Clothing Swap Comeback: A Throwback Alternative to Thrift

A throwback to the alternative 90s, clothing swap parties are making a comeback as people become more aware of the environmental costs of clothing production, want to trim and update their swollen wardrobes, and at the same time stick it to Goodwill (an organization whose treatment of its workers with disabilities has been questioned). Add in good company and maybe some food and drink, and you’ve got a mighty fine time on your hands!

clothingswapOf course, there’s more to a clothing swap party than just gutting your closet of all your old college sweatshirts and Walmart jeans and throwing them in a big pile for your friends to paw through (who all brought old bridesmaids’ dresses). A good swap requires finesse. Planning. And some complimentary alcohol never hurts.

Step 1—Send out invites; email or paper, it doesn’t matter. If you’re on Facebook, make an event page. Plan for the swap to last two to three hours, and invite at least 10 people. Try to give people one to two months notice, so they have time to deep clean their closet, the hall closet, the winter clothing in the garage, and the attic/basement/costume box. Make sure guests will be able to find something in their size: if you invite extra-small Suzy from across the hall, see if extra-small Abby from disc golf can make it, too.

Step 2—Purge your wardrobe. You’re looking for clothing that you loved at one time but no longer inspires you; things that just don’t fit anymore; those spandex running shorts that give you a self-esteem-crushing amount of muffin top; and professional wear that has no place in your life since you quit your corporate job and trainhopped for a summer before settling down as a tattoo artist and etsy crafter (go, you!). Make sure everything is clean and odor-free. Torn, buttonless, or stained items have a place at the party, just make sure they are labeled and separated from the good stuff.

Step 3—Set Up. Clothing should be set out so that it’s accessible, visible, and easy to identify. Organizing by size is easiest. I like clearly labeled cardboard boxes, but putting all the (folded) clothing on a tabletop or two is also popular. A curtain rod or similar item is helpful for hanging items like dresses and coats. Stairs are amazing for displaying shoes (and preventing lurkers from heading upstairs). If there’s jewelry to show, thumbtacks in a corkboard hold up bracelets and necklaces nicely. Have at least one full-length mirror on hand; if you need more, guests can be wrangled to bring theirs. Clothing swaps are also called “Naked Lady Parties,” so if you want to avoid that, set up a few changing areas (privacy screens are great, or a simple rope with a curtain over it). Remember all the damaged clothing you purged? Put it all in a clearly labeled giant box for guests to peruse. You never know how it will get repurposed.

Step 4—Details. Background music is nice. Background drinks are nice, too, although a successful swap hardly requires it. If there will be drinking while perusing, try to use real cups and glasses—not plastic. Plastic tips and spills more easily than glass or ceramic. Depending on your guests, you may want ground rules for how to resolve things like two guests calling dibs on the same item, or a guest who wants her item back after it’s already been selected by someone else.

Step 5—Wrapping Up. You’re going to have some lonely items that just couldn’t find a new home. Say bye-bye, and donate them to a local organization such as Vina Moses, the Circle Church of Christ swap, or ARC Resale.

If you can’t be bothered to organize a swap of your own, Corvallis’ own Circle Church of Christ will be hosting its 31st annual clothing swap in September. Located at 2020 Circle Boulevard, there is a donation bin in the parking lot, and they are currently accepting clothing. The swap will be Saturday, Sept. 14 to Wednesday, Sept. 18 and is open to everyone. Call 541-758-4456 for details.

You can also skip the hands-on rummaging and instead become a member of the vast online swapping community. Sites such as,, and mean you can update your closet—for free, other than shipping—anytime you want. The downsides: there is no trying on in the world of online shopping, and you have to list your own items in order to swap with other members.

Swapping can be a great—and delightfully cheap—way to revive your wardrobe, while at the same time purging it of old-news items. Not only that, it’s green, communal, and a great excuse to drink some beer. Sounds right up this town’s alley.

By Mica Habarad