Smart Spending: 5 tips on holding a clothing swap

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PORTLAND, Ore. - If you're looking to spruce up your wardrobe this fall but don't have a dime to spend on it, consider throwing a swap.

Call it a "naked lady party" or call it "swishing"; simply put, it's a gathering where people informally trade things they no longer want. It's also an environmentally friendly and increasingly popular way to score new duds and have fun at the same time.

"A lot of people think it's just popular because of the economy, but women need alone time with their friends," said Suzanne Agasi, who has hosted more than 150 swaps nationwide as founder and director of Clothing Swap Inc., a large-scale swap organizer. "Plus, you can get that shopping high without spending any money."

And, though most swaps involve women's clothing and accessories, men hold them too. And you can swap children's clothing, books, toys, craft supplies or plants — anything that you find useful or that you own in excess.

Here are tips on how to pull off a swap:

1. INVITATIONS: Start small. Those in the know suggest inviting five to 10 people for your first swap event at your home, although much larger events exist. Using a Web-based event invitation service can save time (and most are free), but old fashioned cards that include a request for RSVPs will do the trick.

Invite people who have some interest in the goods you're swapping. And keep personalities in mind: You may want to think twice about an especially aggressive friend who may not see fun the same way! Some veteran organizers suggest inviting guests who wear similar sizes to maximize each attendee's choices.

But Agasi, of Clothing Swap Inc., says to invite whomever you want because shoes, accessories and general merriment can be enjoyed by all.

2. TIMING: Swaps can happen any time. But the turn of the season, when people are critically eyeing their wardrobes and other possessions and hoping to update, is optimal.

Give guests several weeks' notice to make sure they have time to clean out their closets and decide what to bring.

3. WHAT TO SWAP: All items should be in good or excellent condition, clean and mended.

Some hosts suggest letting guests bring as many items as they want, while others limit the number of items each person can contribute to focus on quality.

4. PREPARING THE VENUE: It's a party, so make sure the place is comfortable. Drinks and snacks, while not mandatory, certainly are a plus. Ensure there are mirrors, adequate lighting and enough space to try things on.

You may want guests to sort their own items as they arrive, placing clothing in one area, accessories in another and so on, said Susan Beal of Portland, Ore., who wrote about hosting swaps in a book she jointly authored called "Super Crafty."

Beal also suggests that anything not up for grabs — coats and other personal items, for instance — be stowed in a separate room.

5. HOW TO SWAP: This is the fun part.

Some take a formal approach, holding up each item and giving first dibs to the first person to raise a hand. But this can be time-consuming if there is a lot to swap.

Others start off the night with "window shopping" — a half-hour, say, when guests can socialize and peruse the entire selection before starting to swap.

The least formal but most popular approach is to let guests grab whatever interests them and, if there's a dispute, to settle it with a roll of the dice or drawing of cards or straws.

Terri Potratz of Vancouver, B.C., said she decides who gets contested items either by having other attendees compare how well something fits or by sponsoring a round of rock-paper-scissors. She also said people often trade pieces they've "won."

Beal suggests a "rule of three": Once guests have claimed three items, they should give others a chance. Some organizers limit participants to leaving with the same number of items they donate.

Anything leftover at end of the night can go to charity.


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