Tips for Hosting a Clothing Swap

I mentioned how I’ve hosted a clothing swap with my friends for the last three years in a recent post about how I did a three-month no buying stuff challenge for myself. I had a few people ask about how I set it up. In fact, while I was visiting Elsie last week, she wanted to know too. So I thought I would share because, seriously, this type of party is really fun to throw and it gets you to clean out your closet too, so it’s like a party and a bonus. 🙂

I thought I’d would share how I usually structure the actual swap part of the party, and also some other random tips. I honestly am not the biggest rule-maker or follower, so my swaps are very laid-back, but I do usually follow a kind of structure just to make sure it’s fair and goes smoothly. But if anyone else out there has hosted a clothing swap and you do it differently feel free to share your tips with us in the comments, too! I am sure there are many successful ways to do it, this is just what I usually do.

1. Inform your friends.

Along with texting (or emailing) everyone with the date, time, and my address, I also let them know what we are swapping. Most of my friends have been before, but every year I usually invite a few new people too. I let them know that it’s best to bring at least 3-5 items: gently worn clothing, shoes, and accessories (jewelry, purses, scarves, etc.) are welcomed. This year, I actually tried throwing books in too, mainly because I love reading and was trying to get more books for myself. Ha. But it didn’t really go over that well, though I may try again next year. The majority of the items are going to be clothing and shoes, but I like to include other things that are not sized (like jewelry, purses, books, etc.) because not everyone is going to be the same size, so this makes it more fun for everyone.

2. Set things up.

I like to think of a clothing swap as an indoor garage sale that I put together in 15 minutes. This year, a friend of mine brought a freestanding clothing rack and that helped a lot, but for the most part I just clear off my dining room table and move a few coffee tables into my dining room, and try to group things as best we can while people arrive. Don’t stress too much about this part, it’s going to get messed up anyway as people “shop,” so just try to keep it organized enough that people can easily go through items without feeling like they are digging through a giant pile. The dining room works best in my current home, but at my last house I used our living room for the swap because it was the only space large enough. Don’t be afraid to move a little furniture around if needed, but I also wouldn’t spend days setting things up.

Can you tell my life’s motto is ‘Care, but don’t worry, it’ll all work out.’? I think I get it from my mom. 🙂

3. The swap.

Once you are ready to go, I take note of how many people have actually shown up and brought things. If you don’t bring anything, you can’t participate in the first part of the swap. That’s my rule, but I’ve never actually had someone show up empty-handed before. My space can easily fit 5-6 people “shopping” at once, so I decide how many groups we will have based on that. So if I had 15 guests, I’d divide them into three groups. I just write numbers on little slips of paper, fold them once, and put them in a bowl or hat. Everyone draws a number and that’s what group they are in. Then one group gets to “shop” for 8-10 minutes (I actually think 8 minutes is perfect, but depending how much stuff there is you may want 10 … up to you) and choose one item. I literally set a timer on my phone and once the timer goes off the groups switch until all the groups have gone—again everyone only getting one item. Then in round two you can either re-draw the numbers OR randomly pick a different group to go first. The goal is simply to spread out the shopping time among everyone so that not one person ends up with all the good stuff and someone else only gets to pick through what is left over.

I usually do only three rounds of this and then the last round is a free-for-all, meaning everyone can shop for however long they want. You can do more rounds if you like, but at my swaps usually people are beginning to lose interest and just socialize more after a few rounds, so I just open it up.

4. Cleaning up.

You will probably end up with a lot of extra stuff, or at least I always do. Most of my friends bring about 8-10+ items and leave with only 3-4 on average, so I have a bunch of leftover items at the end. I simply pack everything up in my trunk and donate to Goodwill or another charitable thrift store nearby later that week or weekend. One year, a friend at the party mentioned she could take some of the items because she worked as a counselor at a local middle school and she knew quite a few kids who could use the items, so she took some that year. My point: Don’t let the extra stuff stress you out because it’s totally easy to make sure it goes to a good place and will get used by someone else.

I could probably do a whole post on tips for snacks and drinks, so I’ll spare you for now. Ha! But that’s basically my main tips for hosting your own clothing swap. And I hope you do because they are SO fun and perfect for this time of year as everyone is in the mood to do some spring cleaning. xo. Emma

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photo edited with the ACS for Desktop actions.
  • I like to recommend people wear tank tops and leggings so it’s easy to try things on, and if you have leftover clothes that are work appropriate you can donate them somewhere like Dress For Success.

  • I haven’t ever done this with friends, but we’ve done it at work a couple of times. People brought in their things and dropped them off in the morning, and a couple of volunteer organizers set everything up in our break room/kitchen. At lunch, folks who had contributed got the first chance to poke around and take what they wanted, and afterwards, it was open to everyone. I got a skirt and a sweater a few years ago that I still wear all the time and get tons of compliments on!

    Also, on the swap topic, we have a free table at work. Anyone can bring gently used items (clothes, books, children’s items, unopened food items, whatever) and leave them on the free table in the kitchen. Anyone is welcome to take anything from the free table. To keep it from just being a pile of accumulated junk, the rule is that you need to monitor your items and if they haven’t been taken after 10 days, you need have to reclaim them to donate/recycle elsewhere.

  • I wish I could do a clothing swap but my friends and I are not similar in sizes. We run the gamut from petite to tall, slim to extra curvy! :-/

  • I have been to a clothing swap party and though the hostess has not got the same size as I do, I got home with accessories and shoes that I absolutely adored. I brought in a few pairs of my own and some clothes to swap. But as I am more transitioning into not buying any new clothes (I have bought 22 items over 5 years since doing the Free Fashion Challenge) it is – and it is going to sound silly – harder for me to let go of items. I simply wear all the garments I have until the end of their time haha.

  • I’ve hosted two now! They’re a blast!

    I think the hanging racks are a must, and I encourage my guests to bring items on a hanger if that’s how they look best.

    We haven’t done the “rounds” like you- I might adopt that!- but we have a big space and MANY items, so the only rule is that we all start at once and you can’t take more items than you brought.

    A little wine also helps people loosen up, too 😉 It turns into a “OMG no YOU take it! It’s so cute on you!” type of night and it’s overall very uplifting!

    The items that are left are donated to a thrift store OR to a local women’s shelter for job interviews and such.

    I’m SO HAPPY that this is catching on! Everyone should do it! Plus, its the most environmentally friendly way to refresh your wardrobe!

  • Ahhh! I don’t think I would be good at this – I don’t often find other people’s clothes interesting to me. I also am so picky about the fit of things that it seems like I would have a hard time finding anyone I’d want to swap with. Of course, if I was much more easy going I’d probably LOVE it! Instead I donate and recycle.

    Eva |

  • I have the same question as Laura about women of different sizes. How do you work that? I love this idea!!!

    • I was nervous about this my first time hosting, but it turned out fine! No one felt discouraged- in fact, I (size 16) ended up with a darling kimono from my size 2 friend! My size 4 friend loved the way a few skirts and dresses from my size 12 mom fit on her. You just never know what people will bring and what others will like.
      Plus, like Emma said, accessories and jewelry and shoes are fun and flexible, too!

  • The library, in the town where I live, has a space set aside for book swap. five books can be taken at one time. When I purchase books from Goodwill or Salvation Army and have read each , I donate them to the library for the swap program. I have gotten many wonderful books from the library with their program. I like the swap idea. If you are a reader, you know, books can quickly take over your home. USE THE SWAP SYSTEM FOR YOUR INTEREST, IT’S GREAT.

  • I love this idea. Have you had any issues with sizes or friends having trouble finding things to take because they are a different size than most of the other people? Just wondering. I don’t want to invite someone and then not have anything for them.

  • My friend recently invited me to a clothing swap, she’s been hosting for over 10 years. Her way was involved and long, but really fun and really fair. We each got $150 in fake money, and set up our own clothing we had brought. Then there was a 15 minute time slot where we went and perused everyones offerings. We marked things we were interested in with colored sticky notes. After we all marked things, we went back to our areas and put everything with more than one marker aside. Then, we went and “bought” the pieces we wanted from others with the fake money. (We broke this into three sections, hence the all night thing…I got home at like 2 am) The things that were put aside were “auctioned” off with the fake money we had later, so that if more than one person wanted an item, the person who wanted it more would get it, rather than the person who saw it first. The things that cost the most were a toy drum and a pair of socks with lemurs on them. Lol.

  • That sounds like such a great idea! I have never thought to do that before!

  • This sounds like so much fun! I’m hoping to spend some time purging my closet next month, so I might have to give this a try. Maybe even just my sisters and I! Thank you!

  • This idea is so brilliant, I really want to try such a party! It sounds like so much fun!

  • hey, clothing swaps? It really sounds like a super fun activity… will share this with my girlfriend, as she has so many clothes that she has to give away…

  • Love this!! When we were younger my cousins and I would always go through each other’s clothes donation bags in case we wanted any hand-me-downs, I’d love to do a clothing swap party some time as a grown-up version of that.

  • I love this. I’m always looking for ways to extend the life of my clothes or get new pieces without spending a bunch of time and money. Knowing me, I think I’d add some wine and ice cream and all my friends would hang out for a movie after the swap. 🙂

  • I recently attended a clothing swap hosted by a local woman’s networking group. We brought items and bought a ticket to come shop. Lots of women came and I left with some great dresses that I wear all the time. The proceeds went to a woman’s shelter for period supplies and the extra clothes went to them too. It was a great feel good event and tons of fun. I also connected with other small business women, which was fantastic. Loved it.

  • I forget if I actually commented this but I was going to ask this question when I read your last post! This is so helpful thank you 🙂 I like this way of doing it instead of a “ticket” based thing where you get a ticket for each item brought, which then also turns into a way to pay for an item. This is awesome!

    • I give everybody a clothespin with their name on it for however many items they brought everybody shops around by looking only at this time placing their close pens on the five items or however many clothes pins they have they want. If two people want the same thing we have a drawing putting the close pens in a hat and choosing one of those interested people.

  • I love clothing swaps! Woth my friends we go straight to the free-for-all step! Half the fun is dressing your friends, everyone has different styles, so there is always plenty for everyone. As you say, its great to clean out your closet and get a few new items too.

  • I’ve never hosted nor attended a clothing swap, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to take part in! I have a huge closet I’m constantly trying to declutter, and while I’m working on reducing my pieces, I wouldn’t find giving away my old clothes to a new owner in exchange for something nice! 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

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