How to Host (and Rock!) Your First Clothing Swap

Clothing swaps are my favorite way to "shop."

In short, a clothing swap is just that — people swapping clothes.
A handful of friends gather, bringing clothes they don’t wear anymore, then they swap them for new clothes from other friends.

Swap, swap and you’ve got yourself a refreshed wardrobe. For free.

Perks of a Clothing Swap

  • You get to clean out your closet, getting rid of clothes you never wear.
  • You get to swap old clothes for different clothes — for free. 
  • You don’t have to go to the mall (or risk it with online shopping).
  • Your old clothes get a new home.
  • You get unhurried time with friends — old, new or friends of friends. 

Related: Find the Balance: Pay Down Your Debt & Still Have a Life

How to Host (and Rock!) Your First Clothing Swap // Ask Allea

I absolutely love taking my unused, sitting-in-my-closet clothes to a swap and then seeing my friends wear those same pieces out and about. My clothes find new life, a new home. In fact, I’m sure my friend Joanna loves my old light pink cardigan more than I ever did.
As for myself, I once walked away from a clothing swap with two pairs of Gap jeans that fit perfectly. True story.
My favorite green jacket came from my friend Liz. For months, she’d see me and say, “I’m so glad you wear that jacket. It was just hanging in my closet before you got it!” In fact, I wore it so much I put a hole (like, a big one) in the elbow.

This jacket has even been to England.

This jacket has even been to England.

Such love, such loss.

Such love, such loss.

Coming to terms that it may never be the same again.

Coming to terms that it may never be the same again.

RIP green jacket. Looking a little shabby now.
With the perks of cleaning out your closet and getting some new pieces, a clothing swap is also a great way to get some slow time with friends — both old and new.

If you're interested in hosting (and rocking!) your first clothing swap, take a few notes from a gal who's done this a few times and try it yourself!

Clothing Swap How-To

A pre-swap purge.

When planning your swap, allow people anywhere from 4-7 days to prep for the swap. This will be the time they’ll gather up whatever it is they’re ready to purge from their closet.

Great swapping items:

  • Tops
  • Jeans
  • Dresses
  • Skirts
  • Coats or jackets
  • Swimsuits
  • Shoes
  • Belts
  • Hats
  • Scarves
  • Purses or bags
  • Jewelry


Clothing swap groups aren’t some formalized group. They ebb and flow, with new people attending each time, even while some swap veterans may not be able to make it. It’s a luck of the draw on who will come and what they’ll bring.

Pick a date, a time and place. Set the duration for 1.5 hours, with people being able to come and go, if they need to. My favorite is to meet in people’s homes, preferably late mornings on a Saturday [because sleeping in + coffee + friends = the best combo].
Then invite, invite, invite! Use the clothing swap as an excuse to invite new friends, welcome a stranger or introduce different friend groups to each other. As a host, you get to bring people into a small, makeshift community for a couple hours. Relish in that.

You can make a Facebook event or text everyone you know. Make the circle as wide as you’d like. The more people invited = the more people will come. My typical clothing swaps are around 8-10 women each time — it’s enough people to bring a variety of clothing sizes and styles, but not too large to be overwhelming.

Invite everyone of all shapes and sizes. What works for someone else may not work for you, but you all benefit in the end! 

Set the mood.

This is the hostess in me. If you can create a comfortable and welcoming environment, everyone will love you for it.

You’re not rushing through the mall. There are no races to the Clearance rack. And you don’t have to worry about whether the clothes you take home will shrink after one wash. Nope, none of that.

Your clothing swap doesn’t need any of that stress. Nothankyou.

Instead, keep the mood light and stress-free.
Allow time to mingle, provide food or drinks to share and play some tunes to set the mood. (As for me and my gals, we vote for some Gregory Alan Isakov on vinyl. Highly recommend.)

It doesn’t have to be fancy. I’m all about keeping it simple: brew coffee, make coffee cake, serve coffee-flavored ice cream. Whatever floats your boat.

Circle up.

This is where things get exciting — the action is about to happen!
Bring your bags of clothes that you’re swapping and meet up in a common or living room.
Typically, we sit in a circle. Whether on couches or on the floor, it provides the best view for everyone to see everyone else. This is very important for the next step.


Each person takes their turn to hold up each piece of clothing, one by one. Give a brief description, size included, and pretend you’re Vanna White. Show it off, girl!

If anyone’s interested, they have to speak up! You can raise your hand, yell “Mine!” or a subtle, “Ooo, that’s cuuuute” will suffice. When you hear someone’s interested, toss them the shirt/pants/hat/shoes and move on to the next piece.

If an item doesn’t get claimed, it goes in the middle of the circle. Anything in the middle pile is fair game. Perhaps you changed your mind about a piece? Better grab it!

Know that not everyone will love what you have to contribute. You won’t know until you make it available. Sometimes there’s an awkward silence when no one’s interested. Don’t take it personal! Hold it up, see if you’ve got any takers, then toss it to someone or in the middle of the circle. Keep the ball rolling.


Pro Tip

Keep your expectations low. Just because you bring three bags of clothes doesn’t mean you’ll return home with just as much. If you’re interested in a piece, make it known, but also avoid hogging the attention and taking every piece.
Remember, it’s also fun to encourage one another to try something on, even if you’d be interested in the same piece. Who knows, perhaps that shirt won’t fit your friend and she’ll pass it on to you?


Try it on.

Once everyone has had their turn and each piece of clothing has been shared with the group, it’s time to try them on!
Sure, you could just take your chances on what you have and take them all home with you, but this gives you a chance to re-contribute to the group any pieces that don’t work for you. If a shirt doesn’t fit the way you had hoped, or the style won’t fit well into your current wardrobe, offer it back up to the group and see if there are any takers (there’s usually at least one).

Divide and conquer. We call it a “self-esteem exercise” and just start trying stuff on in the same few rooms until everyone gets through their goods. Like the locker rooms in high school, it builds character and a new level of friendship ;)

Plus, we get to ask each other’s opinions as we each model our new outfits:

Many potential pieces of clothing get tossed back into the no-go pile after trying them on. That’s even less for someone to haul home.

Share the love.

Once everyone is happy with what they’ve got, designate someone to take the unclaimed clothes to a local shelter or Goodwill. We have a huge refugee population in Lincoln, so sometimes our clothes go to new families in town.

The clothes that you weren’t wearing anymore will now be enjoyed by someone who will!

When to Swap

It’s a great opportunity to freshen up your wardrobe at the start of a new season. With the change in weather — and everyone opening up their totes of last year’s winter clothes from months and months ago — it’s a great time to purge what clothes don’t suit your fancy anymore.
Try hosting a swap before going on any shopping trips. This allows the opportunity to find pieces you’ll love (for free, remember!) before going to the mall to fill in any gaps in that remain in your wardrobe.

Get in the habit of purging your closet often. If there are clothes you’re no longer interested in, put them in a bag and hold onto them for when it’s time for a clothing swap. Once that bag gets full, maybe it’s a good time to host a swap yourself — at least you know you’ll be ready with clothes to contribute!

What do you think? Will you be hosting a casual clothing swap anytime soon?