How to Host a Successful Clothing Swap


clothing swapWe all have that pile. You know, the one with “maybe by next summer” shorts and “before baby” designer jeans and “back when I had a nightlife that didn’t involve pumping” tops. Toss in the boutique dress you wore to two weddings before deciding it wasn’t really all that flattering. And kick in the boots that squeeze your toes, but that you always get a bunch of compliments on.

Sure, you could consign these clothes or post to Poshmark and make a few bucks. But that feels like something between a hassle and a headache. The pile might also symbolize hope – that after totally rocking your resolution to get fit, these garments will look great on you again. They might. And in the meantime, a good portion of your wardrobe has effectively been benched.

Enter, the clothing swap.

A great way to “shop” during a no-spend month, decluttersave the environment, and hang out with fantastic females. Here’s how it works – at least among my friends:

How to Host a Clothing Swap

Send the invites. 

Aim to have at least 8-10 women participate in the clothing swap. Going beyond around a dozen could get crazy. Don’t worry about making sure everyone is the same size or height. It’s amazing how our varied wardrobes can be accessible to different body types. You might want to link the ladies to this post, so they can get a sense of how the swap works. It’s helpful to dress in a base layer of a black tank top and undies with tights or something. 

Pack your bags. 

I recommend each participant bring the items they’d like to swap in a suitcase or laundry basket. We typically welcome a wide array of accessories, shoes, workout clothes, professional attire, designer dresses, Target brand – just make sure it’s in good enough shape (no holes, stains, etc.) that it will be desirable. We don’t tend to set a minimum or maximum on the number of items any one person could bring. They might come with a full suitcase and leave with three nice pieces. Or they might arrive with a few dresses and go home with an armful of accessories. 

Set the stage. 

If you’re the hostess, empty your house of kids/partners. Replace them with full-length mirrors. (You can totally ask the ladies you invite to bring their $10 dorm mirrors from back in the day.) Dim the lights. You don’t need to create special dressing rooms if you have a group of women who are comfortable trying on locker-room style. Just shut the blinds. But if you want to partition private changing areas for the more modest in the bunch, go for it. Cue up a poppy Spotify playlist. It’s nice if you can host drinks and a few snacks, and you can also ask participants to bring a snack or beverage to share.

Create zones for different clothing types. 

Dresses draped over the couch, sweaters on the kitchen table, pants piled on a few chairs. You don’t need someone’s Lula Roe clothing racks to make this work, but if you have the hookup it’s a classy edition.

Start swapping! 

Invite your friends to start shopping. To “claim” a piece, she should put it in her now empty suitcase or hamper. Encourage everyone to keep items in their zones, but don’t feel like you need to be a retail employee refolding shirts on the showroom. Things will get jumbled and it’s OK. There aren’t many rules, except: No negative self-talk, or fat talk during a swap party. Compliments, gushing about how good something looks on someone else, totally encouraged. Build each other up. Dress each other up. And if someone gets stuck in a shirt with too tight armholes, please laugh about it as you help her wiggle out of the top! (This definitely happened to me.)

Have a fashion show. 

Your swap site may look like the Old Navy showroom on Black Friday. Put out a final call once it seems like the try-on phase is winding down and encourage everyone to select their favorite find of the night for a ridiculous fashion show model moment. Lay the affirmations on each lady as she struts her stuff in her new-to-her outfit. (This is optional, but don’t skip it because you feel like an extra in ’13 Going on 30’ and fabulous.)

Bag up unclaimed items. 

No takers? No problem. Your swap leftovers can still find a good home. Ask for help divvying up the bags for organizations that take donations. You’re probably familiar with Goodwill and its many convenient drop-off locations. Professional attire might find a home with Dress for Success Des Moines. Other nonprofits also have thrift shops to support their mission, like EveryStep Giving Tree or Beacon Boutique. You might not be motivated to donate on your own, but the collective group should be able to give all of the garments a new life for a great cause.

My resolution in 2019 is to source all of my clothing secondhand. So, invite me to your swap party!

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Brianne Sanchez is a writer and community engagement professional who calls herself an “Iowan by Choice.” A transplant from Chicagoland, she moved to Des Moines in 2007 and acquired a house, husband, dog, son Emmett (June 2013) and Eileen (October 2015), which means she now has deep roots in this place. Brianne blogs at and is a frequent contributor at DSM Magazine. When she finds free time, she spends it crafting, reading, hiking, biking and volunteering, but never cleaning.



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