Twice a year I have about 20-30 of my friends over for crumb cake, coconut banana bread, and luscious cupcakes. And while they're dropping miniature sugar cubes into their tea and marveling over the spread, I smile and knowingly nod because the fun has only just begun. The girls know that as soon as they enter the living room, they'll be greeted by an avalanche of clothes, riffling hands, and half-naked women buckling belts and flinging dresses over the heads. Take a deep breath and dive in -- the clothing swap begins!
As long-time readers of my site know, I am quite fond of buying consignment. Not only is it more affordable and environmentally-conscious, it allows you to buy au courant, vintage or stylish pieces that many won't necessarily be wearing. However, if you're cash poor these days and are desperate to part with a pile of clothes, consider organizing a clothing swap. While you can participate in large-scale events, I prefer to have the intimacy of good friends, great conversation and delectable sweet treats. And this is how I do it:
• Set the Rules: With every swap, it's important to lay down some rules so the girls know what to expect. This isn't rude, at all, because your friends (as mine have) will inevitably ask questions such as: How much do I bring? How much can I take? What can I bring? etc. For my swaps I tell my friends to bring clean clothes in the condition in which they'd want to receive them (no holes, rips, etc). I also stress: no undergarments. And folks usually take the same amount as what they brought, so I wouldn't act like the Swap Gestapo. Simply relay that anyone can come as long as they bring at least three items.
• Open it Up!: In swaps past, I've had the girls exclusively trade clothing. Now, my friends come with bags of home goods (candles, pots, lamps, oh you better believe they go quick!), accessories (scarves,belts, etc), jewelry, the works. The more non-clothing items you have, the easier it is when you might have a size imbalance.
• Craft a Smart Guest List: While inviting all of your friends sounds easy, you have to consider a party where all sizes are adequately represented. I once hosted a swap where there were only two girls who were a size 12 and they had markedly different sartorial styles. It's key to have variety, so the more the merrier. While drafting a guest list, consider your friend's style & size and ensure you'll have at least three other gals coming who will compliment. Consider opening the invitation to include friends of friends. At last week's swap, I received a great deal of praise from my size 8-14 friends, who felt they were well-represented.
• Go Weekend: Typically, I host my swaps on the weekend, from 2-7pm. I tell guests that they can come and go as they please during this time frame. It's flexible and most people can make a weekend event. I also send out invites 2 weeks in advance of the date with reminders the week of.
• Be Vigilant About RSVPs: My friends know that I'm kind of insane when it comes to RSVPs. Borderline annoying, actually. However, I never want to see a friend sitting idle, sad that she's in a room of size 2s (and vice versa). No one should feel uncomfortable in your home, so it's important to relay that for this particular reason, it's important that the RSVP if there is a strong likelihood that they'll attend. And guests: please do not cancel last minute via text message. Although we live in a tech-friendly age, etiquette and respect for your host (and friend!) is still important. Make an effort to call the host with your regrets if there is a last-minute, unavoidable situation.
• But Use Technology: Evite.com has always been cumbersome for me, so I've opted to invite my friends using Facebook and email. Facebook allows me to message those who are Attending, Not Attending or Maybe Attending, so I can send tailored messaging. It also allows me to easily track who's attending and crafting an invite takes minutes. Some of my friends aren't on FB, so I'll craft a separate email and track RSVPs in a mailbox folder created for the event. However, if you're seeking Evite 2.0, check out Pingg.com
• Make it Fun!: I really love entertaining and having friends in my home, so I always go the extra mile. Friends know when they come over, they'll be greeted with a full-table of baked goods (80% homemade with some store-bought candies and cookies), a fruit bowl (for those who are trying to be virtuous) as well as a tea/coffee bar, and cold drinks. However, if you're on a budget, a huge vat of flavored iced-tea (consider mixing your regular with the flavored 'zingers') and my friends loved the huge carafe of cold tap water with floating sliced lemons. Add store-bought colored chips, pretzels, etc. Go with your taste and budget, but have a fun, inviting spread. Since your friends will likely be there for a few hours changing and gossiping, you want to ensure that you have cold drinks and nibbles.
• Don't Forget the Music!: My cable service has a block of music channels, so while the girls were over I was blasting 80s music. Not only is it kitsch and light, we're of that John Hughes generation so the songs from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, for example, held great nostalgia.
• Celebrate the Networking: I don't have one social circle, perse, and although I have a small group of close friends, I tend to flutter amongst a lot of groups. This is fun because my events always bring disparate people together, who inevitably make new friends. And since you have women changing in a small space, they're going to talk and get friendly, quick. So try to have "new" people at your events and tell them that they can bring flyers for their website, business, etc, so they can be scattered about the house. I'm not talking about a walking advertisement, but keep it respectful and fun.
• Think of Others: Inevitably, there will be leftovers. Consider donating your items to a local church or organization that GIVES clothes to the less fortunate rather than SELLS them. My local church picks up items right from my doorstep. Also, I asked my friends to come with old suits (if applicable) so that I can prepare a bag for Dress for Success. Because although it is amazing to score new-to-you wares, it feels really good to give back, albeit in a minor way.
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