swap shoes

Spring wardrobe refresh

Last Thursday night I went to a clothing swap. I LOVE clothing swaps. Vintage wearers obviously have no qualms about wearing somewhat used items, and there’s no cost. Free clothes? Sign me up.

swap shoes

Strappy print peep-toes from a previous swap. They go perfectly with one of my favorite shirtwaist dresses.

Much like poking around vintage shops or browsing etsy, you never know what you’ll encounter at a clothing swap. The group I usually swap with has five or six core participants, but each swap draws some new faces with different styles and stories. Women of all shapes and sizes join in. New mothers who’ve returned to pre-baby weight pass maternity clothes on to pregnant friends. Clothing kids (or husbands) have outgrown, uncomfortable shoes, too-big belts, that bag you loved but got over, things that shrunk in the wash: all fair game.

The Lowell swap set typically rotates hostesses. Everyone shows up with a bag of clothes to swap and the beverage of her choice. We get comfortable around the room and once most of the participants show up, the swapping starts. Each guest goes through her bag and tries to sell the items: “Really cute dress, I love the color, but I just don’t wear it any more.”  

Several things could happen next.

1. Someone pipes up and says, “I’ll take it!”

2. Mutliple people show interest, in which case they try things on and negotiate based on who has less stuff thus far.

3. Someone declares that so-and-so needs to try it on and we strong-arm her into trying on the item.

4. A bunch of, “It’s cute, but I don’t think it’d fit me.”

5. Silence.

6. Instant good-natured ribbing. “You don’t wear it any more because you have way better taste now. Put it down and back away. Next, please.” “Has the aunt that gave you that ever met you?” “There is no excuse to wear those shoes anywhere other than to a bridal shower for someone you don’t like.”

I like seeing my cast-off clothes go to a good home. A few swaps ago, I brought a tailored navy-blue suit with cream contrast stitching. I loved it and wore the hell out of it for years, but it no longer fit. There were no takers at that particular swap, but my friend Bernadette couldn’t bear to send that suit to Goodwill. “I’m going to hang onto this. We’ll find someone it fits.”

A few months ago, she found the suit a new owner. One of her friends is going through a divorce and starting over. There may have been a new job involved, but no money for a new wardrobe–forgive me for forgetting the details. Bernadette instantly remembered the suit. “You have to try this on–it’s perfect.” The woman looked at it and swore it wouldn’t fit. B challenged her to prove it. A few minutes later the woman emerged from the bathroom, wearing the suit with tears in her eyes. She looked great. Confident, professional, and, well, great.

At this swap, I watched my friend Amy claim my magenta wrap dress. I can’t wait to see it on her because I’ll bet that cut works well for her and the color looks fantastic with her skin tone. Some skirts and dresses I’d picked up at earlier swaps also found new owners and some of my husband’s button-down shirts got new homes. At the end of the night, anything unclaimed goes to the closest Goodwill drop box. 

blue swap dress

My new awards banquet dress. The color and the bustline make me feel pretty.

I did all right for myself as well. I found a gorgeous special event dress someone’s mother bought for a wedding but never wore. In May, I have a work event with a formal awards ceremony–now I already have the perfect dress. Better yet, I didn’t have to spend any money. I also picked up a pair of jeans, some black patent-leather shoes, and a few cute tops. A pair of pants and a sweater set came home with me, but went back in the swap bag as soon as I tried them on. And that’s ok. I’m sure someone else will love them. Hopefully she’ll be at the next swap.



  1. awwwww…thanks for mentioning me. I am excited to wear the dress too. I can’t wait til it is a bit warmer yeah!

  2. Love this post! Well written and proves why women, friends, and clothing swaps bring us all closer together strengthening our beauty inside and out!
    P.S I am pretty sure I have some fantastic skirts from you, thanks:)

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