How to Organize a Clothing Swap

How to Organize a Clothing Swap Party

The first clothing swap I attended was held in a loft space in Chelsea’s shopping district in New York.  White leather couches, gauzy drapes, and pop music bouncing from the rafters made it a spectacularly frugal event.  It was also a first for Clothing Swap founder, Suzanne Agasi, who flew in from California to apply her women’s fashion concept to the stroller set.

How to Organize a Clothing Swap Party (with Suzanne Agasi and Josh Dorfman)

Lazy Environmentalist Josh Dorfman with Clothing Swap founder Suzanne Agasi

The Clothing Swap idea is about dressing up just as much as it’s about saving money, recycling, and decluttering. Created by Agasi, the queen of “green glam,” Clothing Swap was designed as a girl’s night out, where swappers enjoy spa treatments, hair and make-up styling, DJ music, and cocktails while the clothes are being sorted.

Normally swappers pay $20 to 30, which covers the (often upscale) location and entertainment. Thanks to Green Works (who was showcasing its new line of natural laundry products), this event was free.

My own kids were misbehaving that morning, so I decided to leave them at home.  Too bad because there was a huge spread of food and drinks for the kids, and no lines for face-painting.  Oh well, I got to get a massage instead.  Even though the swap was definitely kid-welcoming, it was kind of fun to soak up the glamorous atmosphere without having to chase down a toddler.

Plus I got to meet Josh Dorfman, the Lazy Environmentalist, who was filming an episode for his show on the Sundance Channel. (See a one-minute snippet.)  Later I interviewed him about how families can be green on a budget.

How Does a Clothing Swap Work?

  • Generally, swaps last about two to three hours. During the first hour and a half, people bring in at least ten items of kids clothing — laundered and in good condition.
  • Volunteers sort the clothing (according to gender, type, or size), while swappers socialize. Food, drinks and entertainment are usually provided.
  • At a set time, swapping begins. There is no limit to how many pieces you take home, but as the Clothing Swap saying goes,

“Bring what you have, take what you love.”

Organize Your Own Clothing Swap

The most unique aspect of Clothing Swap is the party atmosphere.  You can keep it simple by making it a potluck and hosting at someone’s house.  When I talked to Agasi, one of her pieces of advice was:  the person with the biggest house should host.  However, I know small spaces can work too, since Agasi herself started hosting swaps in her San Francisco studio apartment.

Here’s how, step-by-step:

  1. Decide whose clothes you are going to swap: women’s or kids’.  Also, will you do accessories too, like shoes, handbags, and costume jewelry?
  2. Invite about 12 to 15 people, which will ensure a wide selection of clothing to swap. 
  3. Ask each person to bring at least 10 items of clean clothing in good condition, plus a dish and beverage to share. (If you’re holding it in the evening, a dessert-and-drinks theme is simple yet decadent.)
  4. Label empty boxes or sections of your house with categories like gender, size, or type of clothing.
  5. Allow an hour and a half for guests to arrive and clothes to be sorted before swapping begins. Either recruit a few friends to sort clothes or ask guests to sort their own as they arrive.
  6. Swapping begins at a set time and usually lasts about 30 minutes to one hour. Guests may take home as many items as they need.
  7. Celebrate afterwards with more mingling and munching — and comparing of loot!  
  8. Donate the leftovers to a good cause (or arrange for a donation pickup with charities like Vietnam Vets of America, National Lupus Foundation, or the National Children’s Center).

Clothing swaps are a great way to combat wardrobe fatigue and get together with friends.  Of course, swapping saves money, resources, and even time, so it’s a positive concept any way you slice it.

Top photo via Creative Commons

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  • Delice March 20, 2012, 10:45 am

    I have a question: I’m planning a swap at my church and have been asked a few stumping questions that I’m not sure how to handle. 1. A mama has a breast pump that is worth a lot, and is wondering if we can do some sort of trade value thing? Have you ever dealt with this? It seems complicated… Ideas? 2. A mama who doesn’t have much to contribute would like to shop. What do you think?

    • Amy March 21, 2012, 10:46 pm

      Hi Delice,

      First of all, my apologies for just responding now. My comment email notifications seem to have gotten turned off.

      OK, now to your questions. The big ticket items could be dealt with in a variety of ways. My personal preference is not to set rules on how much people have to bring or how much they can take away. I think that it all works out somehow. Some people will bring more because they just want to get rid of it. Some people will take more because they need it. Some people will bring less because they just gave a bunch of stuff away, some people will take less because they have mostly what they need.

      I have never dealt with high-value items like electric breast pumps, but if you want, you could set up a table for things like this (strollers, bouncy seats, etc.) and say you have to give one to get one. But like I said, I’m not in love with doing tit-for-tat stuff. It sort of goes against the sharing concept behind swapping. However I can understand where people are coming from, but selling might be a better option for people wanting to cash in.

      I’m happy to try to answer any other questions if you have them!

      Take care and thanks for writing, Delice,

  • Landon Popke March 9, 2011, 12:00 am

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  • Suzanne Agasi November 10, 2009, 3:22 pm

    Amy- what a beautiful and thorough article you’ve written. It was such a pleasure to gain your perspective.

    My goal as Founder of is to inspire women (and Moms!) to either host or be a guest at a Clothing Swap. Either large or small, these events offer the opportunity to save money, find some fun, free styles, but also to connect, network, share, and help your community while helping your family too!

    For those who’d like to get on-going tips on how to host their own Clothing Swap, we’ll be offering lots of suggestions for 2010 and beyond. We will be in NYC in late May hosting a Women-only glamorous Clothing Swap for Moms who’d like to get glam and find some treasures for their own wardrobe-

  • Nicole Tereza @ November 3, 2009, 10:56 am

    Amy, this is so useful. I’ve been to adult clothing swaps and this sounds like one of those “why didn’t I think of that!” kind of things.
    Thanks for breaking the info down in such a user friendly way. Can’t wait to see what else you’ve got in store for us!

  • Nancy October 30, 2009, 11:32 am

    I just heard about this for the first time earlier this week (from my sister, who went to Gayle’s in DC) but didn’t know how to get more details on it. Thanks for providing all this background information — it is just what I was looking for.

  • Eve October 27, 2009, 3:47 pm

    What a great idea. All your tips will make it easy for me to set up one in my neighborhood. Thanks!

  • Melissa October 27, 2009, 10:32 am

    What a helpful blog! I love it!!! I’ve got some of my favorite things at a swap. It was like going thru my sister’s closet and getting to wear all her glamorous hand me downs! Can’t wait to read your next helpful post!

  • Nancy October 26, 2009, 12:57 pm

    How fun! Hope I can find something like this. Thanks for the advice.

  • Gayle October 25, 2009, 11:17 pm

    I co-hosted an adult clothing swap last week. It was fantastic – the second one I have been to. What a great way to de-clutter, recycle, and get some great, FREE stuff. Plus, they are so much fun. I haven’t ever been to a kids’ clothing swap, but I have bought lots of kids’ clothes at consignment sales. So worth it. Great post!!
    .-= Gayle´s last blog ..Giveaway: "What French Women Know", by Debra Ollivier =-.

  • Al Brown October 25, 2009, 5:55 pm

    This is a great how-to for clothing swaps! Very instructive and useful!

  • Madeleine October 25, 2009, 11:24 am

    This arrived just in time. I have been thinking of organizing one in Milan but hadn’t quite figured out how to do it. Thanks.