Clothes swap is a free spree |

Clothes swap is a free spree


The skirt was just above knee-length: burgundy, silky, cute. Every woman in the room tried it on. But on each, it hung low, and little puffs ” dreaded puffs ” jutted from her hips.

Then Heather, with her gymnast’s build, pulled on the skirt. Suddenly, it worked ” “Maybe because my waist and hips are the same size!” she joked ” and she added it to her stash, amid cheers.

“Oh, good,” said Lisen, who’d brought it. “I loved that skirt!”

“Want it back?” Heather offered.

“Nope. I had that skirt for a year and kept telling myself I could make it fit and I could not,” said Lisen firmly. It was a designer skirt; she’d bought it at a garage sale in Aspen.

The scene was a clothes swap, a giveaway. Flowery dresses, lace blouses, and Gore-Tex parkas hung from the living-room mantel; yuppie black linen shorts and faded olive Royal Robbinses lay on the floor beside patchwork hippie skirts. A pair of knock-me-down strappy black heels stood on the hearth. Dozens of women dotted the room, industriously hauling on one item after another.

Nearby, temporarily ignored, was a table of potluck dishes and (always) chocolate.

Five years ago, the first time Heather called to ask me to a clothes swap, I absolutely missed the point. Thinking just that it would be fun to see the “girls,” from whom the domestication of parenthood can separate me, I only brought any clothes at all as a hasty afterthought. They were two thick tops I hadn’t worn lately, old but warm.

I found myself agog at the closet-cleaning efforts of others, from Ralph Lauren shirts to ski socks, with a smattering of household goods. I had blown it. But now I knew.

I’ve since heard of other swaps, especially in mountain towns. There’s even one in New York, with the sassy name of Switch ‘n’ Bitch, in honor of the guaranteed chat.

At the end of our gatherings, someone takes all leftovers to a women’s shelter or thrift shop.

Our little area event became an annual, at least roughly, occasionally even a semiannual. One winter my husband, Mike, organized a backcountry ski trip (I couldn’t go) on which, midday Sunday, the women hurried back to the trailhead. “They were all going to the clothes swap,” he said wonderingly.

I’ve reached the swap on crutches before, and I was not the only one.

Countless times in my office, a compliment about apparel has met the singsong reply: “Clothes swap!” I’ve been to a party where two women sported outfits from it. One set had been mine, and drew from me the ultimate compliment: “Hey, why’d I give that away?”

Once I went to a Cinco de Mayo party where my friend Katrin, hosting, wore an off-the-shoulder pink-flowered black sweater. “I got it at the clothing swap,” she said, beaming. “I’m expecting somebody to walk in tonight and say, ‘Hey, that was my shirt!'”

Among my scores has been a pair of velvet pants, never even worn before, that I still trot out every year at the holidays.

Says Lisen, “Clothes-swap clothes are all I ever wear. I don’t know what I used to wear.”

Mike even takes the chance to clean out his closet, and once handed me a stack of beat-up jeans that became the meet’s hottest items. Two days later, Tracy’s ripped as she wore them. “Tell Mike I want a newer pair of old jeans!” she said.

Certain items are traded repeatedly: “Hey, if you don’t like that, bring it back next year, I’ll take it.” Tracy and I passed a denim dress back and forth three times, saying, “Your turn.”

Choices are easy, because a jury is always present to applaud or hoot. But any quandary is resolved the instant you hear those magic words, “Why’d I give that away?”

Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at

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