Swap until you drop

Remember when your parents made you wear your third cousin’s sweaters and jeans to save a few bucks and not waste more or less okay-looking clothes? Or when you were always jealous of your older siblings because they might have been lucky enough to get a brand-new piece of clothing once in a while — or at least something that didn’t circle your family tree for more than three generations.

Well, this usually traditional practice of passing your clothes on has more and more been turned into a trendy concept called clothes swapping, which has taken the concept of hand-me-downs and made it hip. One might think, “Why on earth would wearing other people’s old clothes be suddenly trendy?” Simply because this kind of swapping is rather like shopping, except without spending any money. And as long as a few easy yet important rules are followed, it is much more fun than going through dusty family closets or maxing out credit cards in the mall.

First of all, to ensure a great swapping experience, you need to know that not all of your old clothes are acceptable, especially if the event is larger scale and held by an organization or a store. Washed-out clothes with stains and holes are usually not accepted. Second, clothes are to be brought in before the event starts so that organizers can label and present them like any clothing store would. Third, you are usually allowed to choose only as many pieces as you’ve brought to the swap or as many pounds as your old clothes weighed.

While anyone can organize a casual swap among friends, also organizations have been turning locations into a one-evening swap shop. One such event was held in downtown Victoria on March 6. The Makehouse, a Fort Street business that typically offers workshops on making everything from underwear to fascinators, organized a clothing swap and welcomed women to trade their clothes and bring snacks and drinks to have a relaxed, fun evening.

“I’ve actually done clothing swaps since 1999, but I used to just do them in my apartment in England. That’s a really big concept over there,” said Makehouse owner Jenny Ambrose in an interview with the Martlet. Last September when she opened The Makehouse, she decided to continue organizing swaps but on a larger scale, as she now has the space to accommodate more people.

“I’m not a really a big fan of shopping malls,” said Ambrose, who has been living the concept of swapping and exchanging things for over a decade now. “There’s so much stuff that everyone’s sitting on in their own homes.”

Swapping doesn’t necessarily need to be limited to clothes. Usually accessories, shoes and bags are also traded at these events. But swap parties can also have a special theme, such as “vintage only” or “flower power.” Ambrose is considering hosting a shoes-only swap, or one aimed at men, because swaps geared towards women are far more common.

Swapping is not only a great concept for finding rare and unique pieces of clothing; it also helps reduce waste. Instead of buying new products, used clothes that lurk in the depths of closets are being reused and probably more appreciated by their new owners. At the same time, this new swapping trend is useful for saving money without missing out on new fashion items once in a while.

According to Ambrose, the swappers at her events are always very excited about their new treasures. “People always leave really, really happy with loads of new things to wear, and they haven’t spent any money.”

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