How to have the best clothing swap ever. Clothes hanging on a wood dowel.

How To Have The Best Clothing Swap EVER


I’ve been to A LOT of clothing swaps, and by now, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. And I’m not just talking about clothes either! I’ve noticed that people tend to get a little freaky when they try to throw their first clothing swap. I’ve been to some with really strenuous rules and others that just felt like a normal party with free clothes. Take a wild guess at which I prefer. 

And that’s why we’re going to cover this once and for all to save you from clothing swap ruin, make you and all your friends walk away with some stellar clothes, and ensure everyone has a good time. Because clothing swaps are a ton of fun! I’ve ended up with some beautiful clothes that I still wear regularly, even years later. 

But first, why swap? 

Why You Should Throw A Clothing Swap

Aside from the fact that trying on other people’s clothes is super fun, swapping clothes is waaaaay better for the planet than buying new clothes. As I mentioned in my post about why refashioning clothes could save the planet, 26 billion pounds of textiles are wasted every year. That’s 26 billion POUNDS, incase you weren’t paying attention the first time. People keep buying more clothes and throwing those clothes away. But, tons of cool clothes already exist, and clothing swaps are a great way to get your hands on those clothes without spending a dime. 

Not only does a good clothing swap help the planet and save you money, didn’t I already mention you get to try on people’s clothes? I’m an only child so I never had that cool older sister to steal clothes from. Sometimes the older girl with better fashion sense would give me her hand-me-downs in middle school because our moms were friends. I didn’t mind getting used clothes, and I loved raiding her cast-offs. It was like I could finally get my hands on those pieces I’d been eyeing at school. 

I get the same buzz from clothing swaps, only I feel like I’m also simultaneously fighting to keep good clothes out of landfills. 

So how do you throw a clothing swap? 

Clothing Swap Basics (or, the rules) 

Shoes, clothes, and flowers for a clothing swap.

The first rule of clothing swaps is to throw out all rules around clothing swaps. 99% of the time, newbies overthink clothing swaps. It makes sense: No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings if someone doesn’t end up with that shirt they were eyeing, or someone’s stuff doesn’t get taken. I get it, and as a super sensitive feely person (sometimes my patronus is a Carebear) I want all of my friends to be happy too. 


I’m here to shed some light on you: No one gives a pickle about what they missed out on at clothing swaps. For real. People move on pretty quickly, it is the nature of the swap. 

Keep things real simple:

  • Don’t clutter your clothing swap with lots of rules.
  • Let people browse casually, don’t make them draw straws for who goes first.
  • Don’t restrict people to how many items they can take home.
  • And please don’t make two people fight for the same garment in a fashion show where the rest of the clothing swap guests rate you on how well you wear the item. 

That last one sound kinda nutty? That was a real rule that I read when looking up tutorials for how to throw a clothing swap. That rule sounds like the basis for how to feel super uncomfortable around your friends. Forever. But those “rules” really exist in clothing swap articles around the internet because people overthink things. 

I would never want to go to a clothing swap where I had to compete with anyone, I’ve got too much laid back, California chill going on to care. If someone gets a shirt that I wanted, it wasn’t meant to be. 

Repeat after me: IT WASN’T MEANT TO BE.

The best swaps I’ve been to are free-for-alls where you arrive, are immediately handed a drink, and you spend the next 2 hours trying on other people’s clothes as you amass a big pile to take home. No one worries too much about who got there first. You’re allowed to browse at your own leisure. This is what makes swaps fun. 

In fact, I would worry less about people taking too much stuff home or fighting over items, and more about people having enough to take home. People are very subjective when it comes to their clothing tastes and what feels comfortable. Everyone has a different body. I have friends who will only take home one item at clothing swaps but many humor me by coming back time and time again, in the hope that they will find something. 

When A Clothing Swap Works Well

Clothing hanging up for a clothing swap.


I know, I said no rules! Think of these less as rules and more like loving suggestions. I’m going to lovingly suggest some takeaways for you so that you can truly have the best clothing swap ever, and because I feel bad for lamblasting you with a bunch of don’ts. Clothing swaps work well, in my opinion, when the following happens:

Tip # 1: Lots of people and lots of sizes 

A swap with five people of various body types doesn’t really work. If enough sizes aren’t represented, your buddies won’t get to take home any clothes, and that sucks. I usually invite a core group of people, and then encourage those people to bring friends. Then, I hound those friends and make sure everyone is coming and bringing clothes. 

Also, don’t assume that someone won’t want to come based on gender. I’ve been to clothing swaps before with men’s clothes, and it was totally fine. Living in the Bay Area, where my friends are a whole spectrum of genders in addition to being women and men, I find it’s just best to ask and let that person make the decision for themselves on whether it makes sense for them to go. 

Tip #2: Invite people well in advance

I find that people are really busy where I live. Weekends get booked up well in advance, so I try to get invites to anything I’m hosting at least a month in advance. That way, I can guarantee people will come. 

Tip # 3: Organize the clothing by type

Put the shirts with the shirts. Put the pants with the pants. Hang the dresses, even if it’s just on a doorway. Random items I like to put in a big fun mystery pile. People really appreciate the easy and organization of being able to find stuff. Then, when everything ends up in a big pile anyway because people keep trying stuff on and taking it off, suppress your need to channel your inner Martha Stewart and don’t freak out. 

It can help to put small accessories like belts, scarves, and jewelry, on a coffee table, or in a basket. 

Tip #4: Have 2 Mirrors

No one wants to fight for mirror space, make sure you have at least 2 set up. If you only have one mirror in your place, ask a friend to bring one. Or ask your mom like I just did. I knew she had a mirror and yes, I totally invited my mom to my latest clothing swap. 

Tip #5: Offer numerous spaces to change

I’ve been to clothing swaps where everyone just gets naked in front of each other, which is cool, and I’ve been to clothing swaps where people are really shy. Don’t anticipate your crowd, just make sure you have a few places where shy people can try on clothes. Your bedroom, your bathroom, and a random closet are all great options. I like to wear clothing at swaps that yield well to random changing: a cami and a loose skirt are great. 

Tip #6: You offer to donate all the leftovers at the end

No one wants to figure out what they brought and take it home at the end of the clothing swap. That just sucks. Offer to schlep all the clothes to your favorite charity at the end of the swap, and people will love you. Not only do you get the added benefit of going through the leftovers one last time, but also you will take a huge burden off your friends. 

Tip #7: You wash your finds before wearing them 

Moths, fleas and other critters tend to hide in people’s clothing. Even the cleanest of your friends might have moths (full disclosure, I have moths in my house). Also, I find most laundry detergent smells unbearable so I usually want to give stuff a good soaking before I wear it. 

Allow All Kinds of Clothing, Even Pajamas

Rose gold clothing at a clothing swap.

Sweatpants? That random Halloween costume? Bridesmaid’s dress? Yep! All should be welcome. You cannot predict the style needs of your friends and they will surprise you. I’ve scored fantastic pajamas at clothing swaps. Amanda once found workout pants that she loves. Open your clothing swap to ALL THE CLOTHES and it will feel a lot more like a party and less like a society banquet. 

I’ve even seen underwear at clothing swaps, and though I’m personally not super into sharing my underwear with people, you gotta do you! 

When people limit clothing swaps to “New” or “Designer” items it really takes away from the camaraderie of the swap. I don’t have a ton of designer clothes laying around waiting to be swapped. I’m just not that high of a roller. I tend to have a lot of casual shirts, pants, jackets, and even shoes. The occasional blazer.  Sometimes I’ll even have a nice dress to offer. Most of what I end up offering at clothing swaps are nice things I got at other clothing swaps that didn’t work for me in the end. 

Which brings me to another point: 

It’s completely ok to swap twice or even thrice. Some clothing bounces around clothing swaps for a long time before it finally ends up with someone who loves it. I’ve taken home stuff from clothing swaps and brought the same stuff back to a clothing swap with the same people. No one notices, and when they do it’s kind of funny. More often, I take stuff to a clothing swap with different people, however, because it’s slightly better etiquette. 

Food & Drink Is A Requirement 

Treat your clothing swap guests to a little party. I like a good late morning clothing swap with mimosas or elderflower cocktails. Evening clothing swaps with wine are nice too. Bake some scones or cookies. Pop some popcorn. Heck, bust out the hummus. Whatever you do, ofter sustenance. People get grumpy when they try on too many clothes. And the alcohol is great for loosening people up enough to try on some weird stuff. 

I find a good spread for any event (and I used to work as an event planner, so expert advice here) is to have enough food for 50-70% of your guests to nibble on. Some people will eat a ton (me!) and some people won’t eat at all (also me, depending on the food). For sustainable fare, limit foods to those that can be eaten with the fingers (strawberries, chips, crackers, or crudite) and offer cloth napkins. 

Always have a non-alcoholic beverage available for guest who don’t drink or who are sober. Tea, juice, or sparkling juices are great options. You’ll probably only need one bottle. 

Also, always offer at least 1 gluten free option and 1 vegan option. It’s always better than not. 

Why Stop At Clothes? 

From kid and baby stuff to books, to kitchen gadgets, you can swap basically anything. I recently accompanied my neighbor to a baby stuff swap and it was pretty cool. There were clothes and toys, even stuff for expecting parents. Heck, you could even swap home decor if you were really committed. 

No matter what kind of swap you decide to throw, make sure it’s fun for you and the people involved. 

Well, that’s the ins and outs of throwing a killer clothing swap. Have any of you hosted clothing swaps in the past? What were your experiences like? And what’s the coolest thing you’ve ever taken home?

How to host the best clothing swap ever.

More Sustainable Fashion 

I Refashioned My Wedding Dress, Nothing Is Wasted 

How Refashioning Clothes Could Save The Planet

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