Are you inspired to host a swap party? Read on for Antje’s tips on getting organized and putting on a fun event.
Date, time, and location
The first things you want to nail down are date, time, and location. As the host, you get to pick when and where the swap is happening. It has to be convenient for you, and you also want to think about your attendees and what might work for them. Weekend mornings or afternoon seem to work well, especially outside major meal times. Having both attended and hosted swaps before, I find 2 hours just the right amount of time for everyone to get a chance to both browse and try on clothes, and to mingle and meet others. I find that if it’s longer than 2 hours, attendance spreads out too much and you don’t have a “critical mass” of women who bring and display their clothes for others to browse around the same time. And after 2 hours, you as a host might also just be ready to call it a day!
In terms of location, it seems easiest to host the swap at your home or a friend’s home – unless your house is real small or you expect more than, say, 15 people (in which case you could think about renting a space, for instance a room at a community center.)
Here is what you will need in your swap location:
- A space that’s big enough to display clothes and accessories in a way that allows for easy browsing. This might include clothing racks (see below), or tables. A medium-sized to biggish living room fits that purpose well (especially if you can clear some space by moving furniture to the side.) Depending on how many attendees and clothes you expect, you might want to designate specific areas of the room for categories of items, e.g. an area for shoes, a rack for dresses and skirts, a table for jewelry/bags/belts/scarves, etc.
- A “dressing room” area. This should be a separate room or a somewhat private area, where women can try on clothes and where you have a full-length mirror. Ideally, that room/space is adjacent to where you display the clothes. (If you don’t have a full-length mirror, ask around – one of the attendees might have a portable one they can bring.) If there is no separate room you can or want to use, you can create a separate dressing room area by hanging up sheets to cordon it off. Just make sure this area is truly private – you want everyone to feel comfortable and not think that neighbors can peek in, or your teenage sons to accidentally barge in…
- Optional: You might want to reserve part of your swap area for a little station with drinks and snacks, where women can just socialize.
For the swap area, try to set up some tables where women can put their clothes. Folding tables (e.g. card tables) work really well for that. If you don’t have any, ask around – many households have these and they are easy to transport.
Portable clothes racks (like these) are awesome. If you don’t have any, ask around – maybe friends or attendees have some (e.g. people who regularly do yard sales often have them.) If you want to invest in them, check Craigslist or other such sources – I checked the Seattle Craigslist and found many used clothing racks for sales for $10-15. There are also rental places that rent portable clothing racks for about $10/rack. This is not a must-have, but it sure makes browsing super easy. If you do use clothes racks, ask attendees to bring hangers for their clothes.
Note that an additional mirror in the main swap area (besides the one in the “dressing room” area) is super nifty – even if it’s just a smaller mirror that you lean on a chair.
This is optional, but having some bags or boxes handy for women to store their “loot” is a good idea, so they can tuck away items they already chose.
There are many ways of doing a swap. Personally, I like a very casual and “free flow” swap; all the swaps I attended or hosted worked well without “rules”. Every woman brought a stash of items, displayed them in the room, and then every attendee just browsed, tried things on, and took what she liked and what fit her. These were all relatively small swaps (15 people or less) and the attendees either knew each other or were connected through YLF, and so there was a level of trust and no one was worried about some attendee just coming to “score” as much as she could. It does mean that these are not “true swaps” in the sense that you might go home with fewer items than you brought, or even none, while some women luck out and find more items that they love and that fit them.
There are, however, also ways of doing a swap in a more “regulated” way, for example:
- Every woman who comes get as many “tickets” as she brings items of clothing, and then she can walk home with as many items as she has tickets for. Or:
- All clothes get displayed, and then attendees take turns picking out one item they like. Note that this process can take a while.
You choose how to handle this – whatever works for you and the attendees! Just make sure you set the right expectations when you issue the invitations.
This is completely optional, but I find that a small offering of drinks and snacks adds to everyone’s enjoyment of the swap. Don’t stress about this part – just a few little snacks, savory or sweet, that can be eaten without plates and utensils will go a long way. Coffee or tea, juice or mimosas add a nice touch if you feel so inclined. Keep it easy and “mingle friendly”, since you want women to roam about and not get stuck sitting in a chair. Finally, music is nice but of course not required. You might find this is overkill, so just do what feels right to you!
Again, the specifics of how a swap works vary. Here are some “guidelines” I have sent to swap attendees in the past (plus some explanatory notes in italics):
- You should bring at least 5 and no more than 15 clothing items to swap. I don’t encourage an unlimited amount of items, just because you will have limited space to display them, and if attendees bring huge bags of item they tend to include not-so-nice items that might better belong into a Goodwill bag. So the limit also encourages everyone to “curate” a bit.
- You can bring an unlimited amount of accessories, purses, shoes, scarves. These take up less space. Also, attendees who don’t share a dress size with other attendees can always score accessories.
- All items must be clean and in good condition, and if possible hung on your own hangers. Leave out the part about hangers if you don’t have clothing racks.
- This is not an actual item for item ‘swap’ so it’s possible you could bring 5 items and go home with 1 (or none) – there are no guarantees.
- Anything that is left over at the end of the swap will be donated to a local charity (unless you choose to take it back home with you.) See below for more on this.
- In your RSVP, please provide your real name in addition to your forum name, as well as your email address. This takes out the anonymity, and will make you and everyone else feel better about hosting a swap at your house attended by women you haven’t met in person before.
You will likely end up with a stash of “leftover” clothes at the end of the swap. My recommendation is to plan upfront what to do with those clothes and let attendees know. Of course, they can always choose to take their clothes back home. Most will be happy to leave them behind, though. What we have done in a prior YLF swap, is to donate the leftover clothes to “Dress for Success”, a non-profit organization that provides professional clothes for women who are in transition from being homeless to entering or re-entering the workforce. Angie has volunteered for Dress for Success for many years; she spends one day each month dressing women for job interviews and outfitting them for their first weeks on the job.
Any clothes that might not be suitable for Dress for Success (e.g. ultra-casual items) can be donated to Goodwill.
Last but not least let’s acknowledge that we all want to feel safe and comfortable at this event, especially if we are hosting this at our homes. This will likely be a semi-private event in that you issue the swap invitation to the YLF membership and to friends and friends of friends. I recommend that you ask every attendee to provide you with some personal information (e.g. full name and email address) so you feel like you “know” them at least a little bit and don’t have a gathering of anonymous strangers at your house. And then just apply common sense in terms of not leaving your precious jewels out, and confining the swap to a designated area of your house. I’m not writing this to scare anyone off hosting a swap, but just to acknowledge that it’s likely a new experience for some of you to invite people into your house that you have previously only known virtually. Hopefully you will all part as new friends.