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Swap Until You Drop

Story by Rachel Jones. Photos by Adam Patrick Jones.

Real-estate envy is perhaps only surpassed by closet envy in New York City. So when it came time for my husband and me to combine our mutual wardrobes into one lovingly distressed but tiny Brooklyn apartment, the barbs came out. Who would take full possession of the colossal bedroom closet? And who would be the unlucky soul to resign his or her fate to the hallway closet, a tiny, narrow thing probably made by the same person who designed the ultra-skinny NYC subway turnstile? I’d like to think these questions don’t plague those in the suburbs. Or if they do, at the very least they have the option of throwing stuff into the back of an SUV, a moving closet of sorts (I jest). But for a city-loving creature, these are very real issues that engender the same emotional convulsions as that roommate who never buys toilet paper. Matters such as “who gets the closet” have a way of hanging on and generating more than just mothballs: resentment.

So we struck a deal: We went halfsies. And so began the process of cramming our clothing into our respective closet sides. At the end of this sweaty endeavor, cast-offs that didn’t fit were folded and piled into bags for a special occasion: a clothing-swap party.

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A clothing-swap party hosted in Maxine Bédat’s apartment

Clothing-swap parties are far from new, but until now, they have largely flown under the radar or been relegated to the status of a Tupperware party (good luck with that). The concept has been dutifully trotted out in Real Simple, TLC and Oprah magazine, but has failed to gain momentum among a 20- and 30-something crowd ― at least in the traditional sense. In the wake of the recession, as the rise of a sharing economy was hailed as the next great idea of the 21st century (though some argue there is no such thing), a bevy of fashion start-ups targeting this demographic sprung up with a similarly minded mission: to bring the peer-to-peer marketplace into the closet.

So far, these online marketplaces have thrived. Recycled fashion companies such as Nifty Thrifty, Wiseling and Bib + Tuck have signed up legions of eyeballs with the sirenlike call to “shop my closet” and scored partnerships with industry fashionistas and media empires like Refinery29. Their arrival marks the mainstreaming of collaborative consumption (who would have thought we’d be comfortable buying secondhand clothing without even giving it the once-over?) and our increasing level of comfort with, well, the notion of secondhand, if not the word (I can’t help but notice its conspicuous absence across the many sites). Vintage and pre-owned clothing is now owned, both in the literal and figurative sense, with pride.

This is a very good thing considering that Americans throw away an average of more than 68 pounds of clothing and textiles per person per year. Clearly, we are in need of dire restraint when it comes to figuring out how many clothes we actually need. Earlier this year, the Daily Mail published a new study revealing that the average British woman owns 19 pairs of shoes but only wears 7. The one bright spot within this “shop until you drop” landscape: In 2012 household apparel spending in the US did not increase, for the first time in many years. Maybe closets across the country, like mine, finally said enough and burst at the seams.

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Men and women like clothing-swap parties. They easily double for a New Year’s Day brunch.

Or maybe we are finally becoming more mindful. The sharing economy, bedfellow of the sustainability, buy local and maker movements, set out to change the way we think about and consume personal goods. And so far, I would argue it’s done a hell of a job raising awareness. As a former fast-fashion victim, I now think twice before purchasing. I wonder about a company’s labor practices, after reading about the ongoing plight of victims left in the wake of the Bangladeshi factory collapse last April. And I try, trends permitting, to buy from local designers.

But, I might argue, the seeds of intentionality and mindfulness were planted before the Airbnb and Whole Foods craze, way back in 2008, when I attended my first clothing-swap party in college. What I came away with? I don’t have the foggiest recollection. What I do remember: eating too many cookies, sipping fizzy apple cider and enjoying the hunt as we dug into a pile of clothes heaped on a couch. As I slipped into fuzzy cardigans and foolishly tugged on a dress that wasn’t suited for my 5’7’’ frame, a very embryonic realization was cast: Clothing should have a second life, in my closet or in yours.

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Recast your wardrobe.

Years later, I now attend one to two clothing swaps per year. The conversation is goofy, the spirit uplifting, and not a mention of “sharing economy,” “sustainability” or “slow-fashion” can be heard. But as we slip into flannels and shimmy our way into fondly worn items, the identity of our wardrobes is recast. As Zady’s mission statement proclaims, “We should not be compelled to accept throwaway goods as a way of life.” Whether you are committed to transforming the way fashion is consumed or there for the cheese and wine, I’m sure we can all get on board with that.

The New Year is synonymous with a fresh start, new beginnings. And, of course, those pesky resolutions. If you are hoping to up your workout regime, read more books, master a pot roast or travel to Vietnam, we would like to suggest one stress-free resolution to add to your list (we promise it doesn’t involve a juice cleanse!): Throw a clothing-swap party.

What better way to clean out your closet, potentially score that friend’s sweater you’ve been eyeing all year and spend time with friends after a hectic holiday season? This is our kind of post-holiday detox, which is why we’ve compiled an easy how-to guide to pulling off a clothing-swap party of your own.

Your Step-By-Step Guide to a Successful Clothing-Swap Party

Step #1

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Invite a couple friends over (the more the merrier in this case), and ask them to bring five to six articles of clothing and accessories to swap.

Step #2

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Prepare snacks, cocktails―anything with booze in it, really. Half the fun is thinking up an excuse to drink mimosas all afternoon. We gathered inspiration from a fantastic Food52 article titled “How to Make Punch Without a Recipe.”

Step #3

Once your guests arrive, lay out the clothing (make sure there is a mirror available). Then invite your friends to peruse and try on the clothes. Are you competitive? If so, you can hand out numbered slips of paper to each guest matching the number of items he or she has brought. Then, go around the circle and instruct your guests to pick out items White Elephant‒style. Let the bloodbath ensue.

Step #4

Encourage your guests to take turns sharing stories about the items they have brought. Call us corny, but swapping clothes does become more meaningful when you find out that so-and-so wore the dress you just picked up when she attended a special event. Case in point: Every time I wear my oversize ’90s flannel top, I can’t help but think of my friend Tiffany.

Step #5

Pile the discarded, unwanted clothing into a bag to drop off at a donation center. Let the hostess do the honors and transport the goods.

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So simple! Now go get your party on! Happy New Year!

Rachel Jones and Adam Patrick Jones are the dynamic-duo behind Industry of One. This is their first article for Zady.