I have no less than four clothing swaps that I am invited to in the next month. I've been a big fan of what I call Naked Lady Parties for a long time and have been to and hosted enough to have experienced the good and the bad. I've left happy, sad, thrilled, and pissed. And from experience, I've rounded up some tips you need to know before going to a clothing swap. 

It is not as easy as just "bring some clothes and take some clothes", no matter what people tell you. There will inevitably be some awkward moments. 

Private vs Public Clothing Swap

Before we start, there are two types of clothing swaps out there. The first is hosted in a private home, a brunch or happy hour soireé that a friend puts together. There are limited invitees and you're usually in the company of friends and acquaintances. The other is a public event that is usually put on as a fundraiser, with an entry fee and bag requirement.

These tips apply to both, though are generally applied to privately hosted clothing swaps. I've added a special section at the end specifically on public clothing swaps and how to apply the rules when in attendance. 

Clothing Swap Etiquette

So you're going to or throwing a Clothing Swap. There are a few things that you should know that will keep you sane, happy, and drama free. Trust me. As a host, there are a few things you should keep in mind and as a guest a way to have a great time. 

Tips for Hosting a Clothing Swap

Set Some Ground Rules :

Having hosted a couple of clothing swaps, I've found that the ground rules really set the tone. And as the host, you get to set the rules, and as a guest, you should be ready to follow them. 

Don't start until an allotted time :

I usually do a Naked Lady Brunch, so I allow an hour or so where people can arrive, set out their clothes, and chat. During this time no one can try anything on. I'm super strict so there's barely browsing allowed. You don't have to be that hardcore. But I find it's good to give people time to arrive and get comfortable. This is good because the more people you have the more clothing you have! Win-win for everyone. You also have time to get everything organized before things get crazy, and people won't feel like they were left out at all. It also allows for everyone to get to know each other. These are called Naked Lady Parties for a reason. Meaning people are going to be stripping down to try things on. Which leads to my next rule.

In order to take something home, you must try it on : 

Storytime: Years ago I went to a clothing swap where there were no ground rules. I assumed from the parties I'd been to before that everyone would try on clothes as they went, but that wasn't the case. Women just created these HUGE piles of clothes, taking anything that looked good. Some of them didn't even try the clothes on. I can't tell you the feelings of shock and anger I felt as someone stuffed a La Roc dress I'd brought into a bag to, "see if they liked it or not once I get home." You'd be surprised at how many things that you don't like, even after it fits and you take it home. I loved that La Roc dress, but thought if someone else loved it that it would be worth taking to the swap since I didn't wear it. You as a guest are not there to grab as much clothing as you possibly can. You are there to find things that work, things you love, to create karma. If you're not comfortable trying things on in front of people, go to the restroom or politely decline the invite. Private clothing swaps are great for the meek since you usually know most of the people in attendance. 

Try as you go aka no hoarding : 

This goes along with the above rule. But I think they're slightly different and worth the redundancy. The main difference is that this rule stresses when you try the clothes on. I prefer the try as you go method: as you find something you might like, you stop right then and there and try it on. This is the whole reason it's called a naked lady party. You strip, throw it on and take a look in a mirror. Yay or nay. Get others opinions, and move on. If it's not for you, others may want to try it. Let them. No hoarding: don't make a huge pile of things to try on and then go and sit and try everything on after sorting through everything. This makes it so that you're holding onto all these things that others could be trying on and that may not even work for you. This rule really is a preference for the hostess. Some people don't mind when people gather everything they like and then try it on later, but I think it can ruin an atmosphere pretty quickly. It can stifle a good flow of clothing, trying on, moving on, finding things to keep. 

Host Donates or Guests Take Home Leftovers: 

What are you going to do with the clothes that don't get claimed? Are you willing to take one for the team and just let everyone leave it all for a massive haul to Goodwill? I've done that method before, and I underestimated how much clothing would be left over. Like a ton! You can make people take all their leftovers home with them, but this can be tricky since everything will be so mixed up at the end. The best practice I've discovered is letting people take home the leftovers of theirs that they still want. Yes, people bring things expecting to not get them back. But if those same clothes are sitting in a pile to go to Goodwill they will suddenly have a change of heart. But let them leave the stuff that is no longer wanted. Then take the true leftovers to Goodwill. 

No Shopping for Others Not in Attendance

Maybe this seems like a no-brainer, but 20 minutes into a party someone might find a cute top they think their bestie will look great in and set it aside for them to try later. It's not fair for someone who didn't show up and who didn't contribute, to get first stabs at a piece of clothing someone who did show up brought to the party. There is a loophole for this: at the end of the party after everyone has thrown in the towel it could be okay if someone were to take a single piece of clothing for someone not in attendance. Most people won't do this, but sometimes just looks so perfect and if it's going to goodwill, what's the harm? So, if you allow for clothes to be taken for people not in attendance, don't let it happen until the end. This does include if someone absent donated clothes. They're still not there; so they don't get first dibs on anything. 

Organize Everything Before You Start:

You will be surprised by how much time and effort this will save you. You can organize by the following categories:

  • Tops
  • Bottoms
  • Outerwear
  • Dresses
  • Shoes
  • Accessories
  • Loungewear
  • Miscellaneous Items: housewares, cosmetics, books, etc. 

You will be surprised by how much space you need. 10 women can have a MASSIVE amount of clothes to unload.

It's nice if you have extra hangers and a place to hang dresses and coats. Merchandising the clothes makes it feel more like shopping and less like you're digging through the bins. Though that doesn't necessarily mean it will stay that way. It will just keep the mayhem at a bay. 

Don't Forget the Mirrors :

People will be trying things on and will want to see what they look like. If you can have multiple mirrors or "try on areas" set up that is best.

I don't mean dressing rooms. I mean spaces where people can stand and twirl with a bit of space. It can get crowded. Having this set aside, or in the living room while the swap is in the dining room is a good strategy. But also having a mirror in the swap room is a must.

Most people will know right away if an item fits, then they'll want to look in a mirror, then they'll want all of the opinions. The more mirrors the better.

Tips for Attendees of a Clothing Swap

Don't be Greedy :

This harks back to some of the ground rules, y'all. Remember when I talked about not hoarding before you tried things on? Well, you also don't have to take EVERYTHING that fits.

You can spot a first timer at parties because they can't help themselves. It's such a thrill to be finding things for free that they have a hard time saying no to something that may not be right for them. Newbies will almost always have the biggest pile.

Resist the urge to cling to the items you pick up and try on. Take a deep breath and remember that the goal is not to see who can leave with the most clothes, or even leave with the same amount of clothes that they brought. The goal is to find new pieces of clothing for your wardrobe that you will actually wear.

And when you hoard, you just end up with a bunch of things that you don't wear that will end up at Goodwill or the next clothing swap.

Stay Positive :

Sometimes it's just not your day. You can never tell if someone your size will show up or not, or if enough people will show up at all. I've walked away with the mother load (aka a leopard print Michael Kors pencil skirt) and empty-handed. Remember the goal isn't to leave with the most stuff and that everything you are leaving with was FREE.

Be there for the event, the socializing, the browsing. You can't win them all, so don't let yourself get upset if it's just not a good day for you. 

Take Your Time :

I've been at naked lady parties that last an entire afternoon and a dozen bottles of champagne. Everyone will think they have seen everything -- twice! Then all of a sudden you'll try something on and it will be your favorite thing from the entire swap. Don't give up. It takes time and patience to shovel your way through piles and piles of clothes.

Participating in a Public Clothing Swap Fundraiser

A popular fundraiser for organizations that I've seen pop up over the past several years is the Clothing Swap. If you bring a bag of gently used clothing you pay a reduced entry fee and if you show up empty handed you pay a higher entry fee. Then you are set loose into the chaotic land of public clothing swaps.

First of all, public swaps differ from private ones as you aren't expected nor encouraged to strip to your skivvies and try on clothes in front of the whole wide world. But you also don't want to get caught loaded down with stuff and hogging one of a very limited (if any) number of dressing rooms.

For this reason, I suggest wearing an outfit that is light, tight and fitted. I usually wear leggings and a tank top under a large sweater that I take off while shopping. This way you can try clothing on as you go and get a really good idea of how it would look without the clothes on underneath. Do not wear jeans or any bulky tops; they will get real old real fast. 

Also, if you do wear things that need to be taken off when trying other things on, be careful where you set them. This isn't a room full of your close friends that will giggle and return your favorite sweater when you realize someone is trying it on. 

Take a large shopping bag with you to shop with, like an IKEA tote so that it can fit your personal clothes in it and everything that you find. And remember not to hoard here either and don't be the ass shopping for your friends in this. It's actually hard to take too much away from public swaps as you're limited to what you can carry. This is a good thing. You do not need everything.

And here's the mother of all advice for the public swaps: stick around and do several circles. People are always coming and going, and the stock is being replenished. You can seriously shop til you drop. 

Now doesn't that make you ready to get some friends together, pour some mimosas and get naked? Me too! Spring is a great time to do this or the start of any new season. So go forth and get your swap on!

Do you have any tips I might have missed for clothing swap etiquette? Any horror stories or grand successes? Leave a comment below and share it with me! 

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