There are as many ways to run a swap party as there are outfits to swap, but below are a few tips and suggestions that will help you throw your own swap party without a hitch!
Creating the Guest List
With any party you throw, the guest list is key. But it's particularly important to plan carefully when throwing a clothing swap to ensure a successful mix of girls AND clothing.
- Invite the friends who like to shop (perhaps a bit TOO much!), the ones who have a great (or eclectic!) fashion sense, and the ones you know take good care of their clothing.
- Don’t feel restricted by age or styles; at my party, my fiance’s 15-year-old cousin ended up taking home a purse and a cute romper that belonged to my 56-year-old mother. My mom also passed on a pair of (very sexy!) dresses to one of my best friends. I nabbed a couple great sweaters from my future mother-in-law (and she, in turn, found a cute shirt that used to belong to her niece).
- Be considerate about sizing. While it doesn't have to be exact, try to invite girls in a range of sizes, and make sure that there is at least one other woman with a similar size for everyone you invite. That means, don't invite five girls who are a size 6 and one who is a 14; that's not fair to her. Also encourage everyone to bring shoes and accessories since regardless of size, anyone can enjoy a great purse or a gorgeous new shawl.
- Invite new friends! A clothing swap is a natural ice breaker (you’ll be surprised how quickly women who just met will start sharing body issue!), so if you know a couple girls that you’ve been wanting to get to know better, go ahead and invite them!
No need for fancy printed invitations for this kind of party. A nice email or evite (I actually swear by Pingg) will be perfect. Just make sure you include all the relevant information. Some things to consider:
- Depending on the size of your apartment, plan for no more than 10-15 girls so that everyone can comfortably shop and try things on. Remember that the unspoken rule about party planning is that no matter how many people you invite, only about 60% will accept and only 80% of those will actually show (annoying but true!) Plan accordingly.
- Clothing swaps require some preparation on the part of your guests since they need time through sort through their closets. Make sure you give them at least 3 weeks of advanced notice. If you know even earlier, send out a “Save the date” email so they can start mentally setting things aside.
- State the purpose of the party clearly on your invitations and note what time you’d like everyone to arrive. A clothing swap might be a new (or weird) concept to some so begin by explaining briefly what it is and what you’d like them to bring.
- I think it’s best to suggest a minimum number of items (say about 5) but to encourage them to bring as many as they’d like. You can also say things like “any season” or “spring/summer items only.”
- Be sure to also specify what is NOT ok (e.g. “Items should be clean and free of stains or tears. All seasons are OK, but no used bathing suits, socks, or lingerie, please.”)
- If you’re planning on serving food or if you would prefer people to bring something, state that on the invite. (e.g. “Lunch and champagne will be provided. All you need to bring is your clothing you’d like to swap!” or “I’m making guacamole and hummus; feel free to bring anything else you’d like to snack on!”)
Beyond a good excuse to see your friends, do some free shopping, and doing something good for the environment, clothing swaps are also a great way to donate to a worthy charity without writing a check.
- Pick a charity to donate the leftover clothing to the day after the party. (And yes, there will definitely be leftover clothing.) In New York City, I’m a huge fan of Housing Works, but there are also Goodwill and Salvation Army stores around the country. Many suburban grocery stores also have clothing drop-off boxes in their parking lots. You can also look into local thrift stores, or check in with your church or a nearby women’s shelter to see if they accept clothing donations.
- Make sure to determine if there are any restrictions on what can or can’t be donated ahead of time so you don’t end up driving around town at the last minute with a big box of shoes.
- Decide this in advance and let all your guests know where the clothing will be going (you can put this on the invitation).
Food & Drink
While you don’t need food to host a party, I think it’s important to have something to offer your guests. If you're on a budget, you can definitely still make this happen. A few ideas:
- A few bottles of wine or champagne will help guests relax, but there is no need to spend out. Instead of champagne, look for sparkling wine or Prosecco; there are several delicious options for under $10. You only need a few, and you can even ask guests to contribute. Or make a big bowl of punch and let them serve themselves! Don't forget to make sure you have some equally delicious non-alcoholic options for the drivers and non-drinkers.
- I love a brunch/lunch party with a full buffet, but if you don’t want to make a whole meal, try setting out a selection of small bites and dips from the local gourmet or grocery store that will allow the ladies to graze while shopping. Olives, cheese, grapes, hummus, bread, guacamole, and crudite are universal crowd pleasers. For dessert, check out the recipe index for a selection of easy cakes that you can quickly throw together. Add some strawberries or sliced melon and you're good to go!
- Though the idea might seem good in theory, I would avoid a potluck since your guests will already be lugging in bags of clothing. It's not fair to make them also carry a casserole dish!
- Avoid messy or saucy foods like pizza, pasta, or fondue; you don’t want people spilling things all over the clothing!
The Day of the Party
- Plan to have guests arrive at least an hour to an hour and a half BEFORE you start swapping. I had guests arrive between 1-2 and we started the swap at 2:30. This gives everyone a chance to organize their clothing, have a cocktail or two, and get to know each other.
- Designate “dressing room” areas where guests can try on clothing. This doesn’t have to be totally private (a hidden corner in the next room works nicely), but be sure that it’s well-lit and that you have mirrors available (at least one full-length) so they can see how it looks.
- Set up a rack or two, where guests can hang the dresses and other clothing they bring. Bed, Bath & Beyond sells some great $20 racks that are collapsible and can be easily stored in a closet or cabinet when not in use. (You can use it to hold people’s coats during winter parties!)
- Have a flat table or bed where people can display folded items like pants and sweaters. Shoes can go on the floor or on a different surface.
During the Party
- As guests arrive, show them where to leave their coats and where to set up the clothing and shoes they brought. Advise them to keep an idea of how many items they brought.
- Once all the guests have arrived and set up, you can begin the swap. Encourage everyone to shop like they would in a regular store and to just grab and try on items that they like. Tell them to keep the original number they brought in mind as a guideline for how many items they can take (don't feel the need to be strict about it though; in the end just let people take what they want).
- When you notice a lull, or when everyone seems to stop shopping, take over. Go through each unclaimed piece and show it off. If you see someone you think might look good in it, suggest it to her. Do this with every item until everything has had a full consideration.
- Remind guests that they can easily get things altered if it's not an exact fit. ($30 in alteration fees on a free dress is still an amazing deal!)
The Day After
- Fold and sort all the unclaimed items into bags, and deliver to the charity you chose.
- Don't forget to send a thank you note to your guests! You can include photos from the party or let them know how big the final donation was.
- Have plenty of shopping bags available so that guests can easily bring home their new finds.
- I’m actively working to bring back the goody bag for adult parties (why should kids get all the fun?) and am a huge fan of sending my guests home with favors. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy: a little bag of candy, a pretty soap or candle, even some homemade cookies make guests feel special and give them something to enjoy the next day. (See how excited Vanessa was to get her goody bag?!)
For my clothing swap party, I gave each guest a small bottle of hand lotion, a nail file (decorated with illustrations of clothing!), a small basil or parsley growing kit, a little bottle of bubbles, a chocolate truffle, and a candy necklace.
Remember to enjoy yourself! There is no reason why you shouldn't be a guest at your own party. (And as a bonus, the hostess gets one last glance at all the leftover clothing before it gets donated. I found these beautiful shoes after everyone had left!)
So, tell me! Have you ever hosted a clothing swap party? Any other tips that you'd suggest?
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