You know what they say -- one woman's trash is another woman's treasure. And when it comes to scoring a new wardrobe by shopping your friend's closets, with a glass of wine in hand, well, we're all for doing that sort of digging.

A swap party is a chance to pick up new-to-you swag and relieve your wardrobe of stuff you don't want -- those pants you waited too long to return, that impulse parka, the skanky party clothes from college you can't bring yourself to donate to Goodwill out of pure shame.

Read on for a how-to guide on organizing a swap party that will empty your closet and, thanks to style karma, fill it back up with fresh fashion worth swapping for. All you need, really, are a few willing friends.

Inviting Your Guests

When to Invite
Preparation is important. Give guests around a month's notice pre-swap by emailing a quick save-the-date. That way, anyone particularly attached to their closets have enough time to finally let go of their freshman year fashion.

Remember that RSVPs lie -- expect about 60 percent of those who said "yes" to actually show up. To keep shoppers from literally stepping on one another's style, plan your space to provide enough room for seating, mirrors, the swag and enough elbow room to comfortably move between them.

Whom to Invite

Whom you invite can make or break a successful swap. If you invite a group that includes a 4-foot-10 girl, be sure to invite another friend someone who's at least semi-close to her body type for balanced swapping to occur. Try to be accommodating of everyone, size-wise, and encourage bringing accessories to ensure that something fits everyone.

How to Invite
Forego overplayed (and often overlooked) Facebook event invites and try the more elegant Paperless Post to email an invitation direct to people's inboxes that's appealing enough to open.

Use the invite to tell guests what to bring -- and what not to bring. That means no damaged attire (we see you, pit stains) and everything must be clean. Note that a swap party is not a donation center drop-off -- you don't want guests bringing a truckload of stuff into your living room. Keep the swap space from looking like a free-for-all sample sale by telling guests to bring fairly current clothing only.

Setting Up Swap


While you can't quite transform your living room into Saks, you can create a space that's more suited to shopping than watching "Project Runway." Remove stacks of magazines, pet toys, remote controls and other unsightly clutter. Hang a tapestry over your fireplace. Play music to set the mood.

Use a coffee table to fold sweaters or pants that can't be hung. Decorative plates, mugs or even a bulletin board help to display jewelry DIY-style. Temporarily remove silverware from its drawer organizer and use to compartmentalize jewelry in one place. Take down paintings from your walls and use the nails beneath to hang long necklaces and bracelets. Grab a dish rack or drying rack from your laundry room to position scarves, belts and other skinny pieces of clothing or accessories.

Every guest is going to want face time with a mirror, so don't just reply on the one in your bathroom .Ask a few guests to lend you full-length mirrors that you can spread around the space.


Throwing clothes on the floor for guests to sort through is the simple option, but definitely sans style. Invest in a few cheap and collapsible (read: easy to store) clothing racks, like this one from Target. (Or pick them up on the cheap on Craigslist.)

Don't want to throw down the cash for something you'll only use once? Reinvent your living room by using curtain rods, fireplace mantels and even the back of doors to hang clothes. Or direct traffic to your bathtub and repurpose the shower curtain rod into a makeshift clothes rack -- just don't turn on the water.

Reminding guests to bring their own bags for take-home purposes is the least stressful alternative to actually seeking out the bags yourself. Or, if you've been hoarding plastic and paper shopping bags from the grocery store anyway -- now's the time to reuse them in their full glory!

Position bags openly in the swap area, encouraging guests to place their finds in bags as they shop to prevent clothes from laying everywhere and clogging up precious seating space.

Food & Drink

Keep food and drink light and bite-friendly. Try cheese and crackers, small cupcakes, hummus and carrots and other utensil-less munchies that people can walk with. Sure, you may have a mean recipe for meatballs, but do you want marinara on any of the swap merchandise?

To help guests lessen their load, suggest that they bring a bottle of wine instead of a dish. They'll have less to lug into their cars and into your home, and you'll have some leftover bottles of wine for future events -- or just a Friday night in with a few glasses of vino all for yourself.

Swapping in Style

Shop Start

Give guests an hour or so to arrive, munch and mingle before the official swap start. That way, you can organize their clothing by size for more organized shopping. Provide plenty of seating space for pre-shop socializing -- comfortable guests are more likely to help dress and encourage one another to try on items.

Print a short swap rule sheet for guests to read when socializing pre-swap. Some rules to consider:

  • Thou shalt shop this swap like a regular store
  • Thou shalt return items to their original location
  • Thou shalt try on no more than 3 items at a time
  • Thou shalt respect all styles (these are the old clothes of attendees who may overhear comments)
  • Thou shalt take no more swap items than one brought
  • Thou shalt encourage and applaud the style of swap partners
  • Thou shalt have fun!
When your shoppers seem swapped out, dive into the racks and pull items to display and suggest specific shoppers. Encourage guests to try on pieces you'd like to see on them most -- your roll as swap host is a powerful influence. Remind guests that they don't have to personally wear everything they take. You may not realize it now, but that too-small-for-you sweater could just what your mom wants for her birthday. Swap a few extra pieces to hold for future birthday and holiday gifts.

Wrapping Up Swap

After you've picked up a new wardrobe that's all your own, use leftover shopping bags to fold away the remaining stock swap and stow it in your car. Don't throw anything away – it may be unwanted by your guests, but there's still life to that style.

The swap benefits don't stop when the last guest leaves. Take leftover items to your local Goodwill or Salvation Army and feel good knowing you're donating clothing to benefit charity. Tip: While you can often leave bags in stand-alone donation bins in parking lots, giving bags directly to charity store associates allows you to ask for a donation tax receipt. Estimate the worth of what you're donating to use as a tax-write off come April.

Swap Bonus!
As host, you get dibs on leftovers! Snag something you wouldn't normally wear for cost-free experimentation. Swap parties encourage the birth of new style without charge-card risks. So go ahead and wear that freebie -- if you don't like it, you can always keep it for next season's swap encore!

sammy davis Sammy Davis spends her days doing what any thrift nut loves most: finding beautiful vintage clothing to bring into the closets of the contemporary NYC girl through her company, Sammy Davis Vintage. When not rummaging through secondhand stores across the Northeast, Sammy's planning RoadHug USA, a road trip to discover this country's best food, fashion and music. Got a question about fashion or just want to shout her a holler? Drop her a line here, and she'll hit you back ASAP.