Shop - Clothes Swap
MULTICOLOURED SWAP SHOP
Acquire a whole new wardrobe, just by trading items you already own. Kirstin Innes investigates ‘Switch and Bitch’ parties and the growing phenomenon of online swapping.
Photography: Kate V Robertson
Additional research: Diana Kiernander
I hate this dress. I bought it in a sweaty panic in the tenth shop I’d run into, after discovering that a boyfriend’s sister’s birthday party was going to be more formal than anticipated. It’s silk, I think. Two layers, scarlet and cream flowers, knee-length. More expensive than any other item of clothing I’ve ever bought, and it doesn’t even suit me. At the party, the boyfriend’s sister sidled up to me and murmured, ‘Oh, that would be really nice . . . at a summer wedding.’ I hate this dress.
I haven’t worn it since, but the memory of the price tag stops me from handing it into a charity shop, and it has glared out from between saner purchases in my wardrobe ever since, a perpetual reminder of the perils of pressure shopping. However, it was the first thing I pulled out as appropriate for the clothes swap evening at the Che Camille showroom in Glasgow.
Clothing swap parties have been running all over the US (where they’re often called ‘Naked Lady Parties’ or ‘Switch and Bitch nights’) for several years, but they have only started to take off in the last couple of months over here. The principal is simple - everyone has clothes they don’t want, and everyone wants more clothes. Some organisers recommend running the parties like auctions; sometimes everyone throws everything into a pile and there’s a free-for-all.
At this particular party, hostess Camille Logorio welcomes everybody into her studio/swapping space by establishing her ground rules: be sure to make someone an offer if you want to take something of theirs, and feel free to try everything on with no pressure.
Over on a huge trestle table in the middle of the room, people are piling up and pulling out wools and satins and sequinned corsets. Hesitantly, I pick up some floral material, in its own matching bag. ‘Do you need a hand?’ says a giggling girl behind me. She fiddles with some tapes, and it becomes a pair of open-leg trousers. ‘I’ve got a friend who lives on a trailer park in the States, and she offered to make them for me. I couldn’t really say no.’
Meanwhile, someone has picked up the red dress. ‘No way! I own this,’ she says. I quickly try and explain that I’m giving it away for sentimental rather than taste reasons so as not to offend her, but she doesn’t seem remotely bothered and tells me she has far happier and more glamorous memories of hers. ‘I bought it to wear the first time I went to the Cannes film festival,’ she says wistfully. This happens quite a lot - original owners will hover nearby as you look at their clothes, making sure you’re aware of the stories behind the labels and snagged threads. These aren’t just anonymous garments.
Of course, some of the swappers are more practised and determined than others, and they ferret out the good stuff - vintage gowns, 80s-inspired tops, quality knitwear and sequinned belts - with incredible speed. To bag something worthwhile you need to be bold and take risks, and while I was fairly good at charity shop raiding as a student, Topshop has made me lazy of late.
Swappers drift in and out of the space throughout the night, clutching beers, gossiping and dragging new acquaintances over to try on items that might suit them. Although, in the end, I don’t manage to pull off anything nearly as impressive as the complete new outfits being modelled around the room, my haul does include two skirts, a wrap, patent shoes in this season’s royal blue and one of my own skirts, which I decided I didn’t want to part with after all.
Two hours and much swapping later, no-one wants the red dress. It must be cursed.
If you’re itching to swap something and there isn’t a swap party happening right this very moment, you could always try the internet. A number of swapping websites have evolved out of the eBay revolution, operating on the same principle as the online auction site, but with swappers setting their own form of currency, often exchanging expensive, unwanted items for aspirational goods they couldn’t otherwise afford.
Even if you don’t have anything to swap, it can make for interesting reading. ‘Donna Karan gentlemen’s camel overcoat’ reads one online entry, ‘will swap for Sony Ericsson w950i’. Another woman wants to swap her size 20 Mori Lee designer wedding dress (unworn) for a people carrier - ‘must take seven people. J-reg or newer only.’
Often it helps to have an open mind. Writing ‘WHY’ (what have you?) in your ‘willing to swap for’ form invites people to make you offers for goods and could in theory net you something you had no idea you wanted.
Just like the clothing swap parties, there’s a social aspect. Both www.iSwap.co.uk and www.Swapz.co.uk come with sprawling forums where swappers can announce new acquisitions and warn each other about any ‘bad swappers’ who don’t fulfill their promises. Many people are simply looking for a bit of extra cash, but they are regarded as crass by the swapping purists.
The fairy godmother of all clothing swap sites is www.whatsmineisyours.com, where ‘fashion-literate’ members exchange high-quality vintage and designer labels. Rummage carefully and you may spot a pair of pea-green Stella McCartney stilettos or a vintage Susan Small cocktail dress lurking amongst the 70s patterns.