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This Thursday, Swap 'Til You Drop

Posted by Alex Pearlman  September 24, 2011 06:09 PM

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bfwswap2011eventbrite.jpgAlways being the smallest kid in class doomed me early on to a life of perpetual hand-me-downs. I hated having to wear everyone else’s “leftover” clothes that were at least a year out of date -- très uncool. But these days, as I stare in disbelief at the prices of dress pants on the mall rack ("They better be lined with gold for that much!"), I find myself thinking I really had it good back then and slyly hoping my friends will have an unfortunate dryer shrinking incident (kidding -- kind of).

Today’s slumping economy is no joke for the entry-level, underpaid, or “funemployed,” and a professional wardrobe will set you back a pretty penny. So how can you expand your work attire, grab some seasonal pieces, and keep up with the normal wear and tear on your clothes without dropping your whole paycheck?  That’s easy: Swap ‘em!

Amy Chase and Melissa Massello, two Boston-based sustainable style and collaborative consumption experts better known as The Swapaholics, started hosting clothing swaps in their living rooms and offices 10 years ago. Despite a snowstorm, 275 women turned out with a total of over two tons of designer and trendy clothing at their first large-scale swap in February 2009. In September 2010, The Swapaholics began a partnership with Swap.com.

“We're just scratching the surface of the swapping movement, which we've already watched grow more than threefold since we officially started,” Massello said.  Websites like Netflix, Gamefly, ZipCar, Airbnb, and Rent The Runway, among others, have proven that people are willing to share their possessions and borrow to save a buck. “Swapping is just so fun and such a smart way to cycle through the stuff in your life [that] it just now seems silly to people not to try it."

The Swapaholics will be celebrating fashion and technology in the Hub with a Boston Fashion Week Sip ‘N’ Swap this Thursday, Sept. 29, 6 p.m.-10 p.m., at the Microsoft NERD Center in Cambridge. Tickets are $10, but that includes complimentary cocktails, networking with local fashion designers and bloggers, a runway show of outfits assembled at the swap that evening, and, of course, all the outfits you can grab, so you definitely get your money's worth.

“[The swaps are a chance to] connect with other fun people over a shared interest, maybe even a shared item. It's shopping and making new friends all at the same time, while also recycling and saving money," said Massello. "On a more glamorous note, people also take more risks with their personal style when they're not paying for something, which is really fun to see happening.”

To get the most out of your swap experience, Chase, Massello (and I, a seasoned swapper) have a few tips:

Give Up The Ghost. Those high school-era skinny jeans that you’ll totally fit into after you lose those last pesky 10 pounds and that blazer you’ve been meaning to alter for several years now fit somebody -- and that somebody ain’t you. Set them free. You’ll feel better for it.

Stop Being A Clothes Hoarder. There’s nothing wrong with that shirt, per se, and you'd hate to throw away a perfectly good shirt, but you just don’t like turtlenecks. Still, it’s not ripped or stained or anything, and one day you might want to wear it. Hang all your clothes, hangers facing the opposite direction that you'd normally put them. As you wear and wash clothes, re-hang them normally. After three months, it's time to face the facts: Anything still facing the opposite direction, you never wear, so get rid of it to make room for something you can’t wait to wear out.

Be An Upstanding Fashion Citizen. You want to leave the swap with clothes that look good, so offer the same. Don’t give away anything that’s too obviously worn out or out-of-date. And remember: Slightly ripped or stained is still ripped and stained!

And Once You Get There, Be Ready For Madness. Organizers sort items into piles by clothing type -- shirts, pants, dresses, and so on -- but not by size, and when the swap officially opens, attendees stampede in, ready to strip the racks faster than Filene's Basement's "Running of the Brides." You've got to get creative to get what you want, and you've got to be ready to grab first and try on later. I once saw a girl come to the swap and strip down to a bathing suit so she could try things on right at the tables. That could work, but if you’re in a crowd that's going after anything that catches their eye, you might be stuck with slim pickings.

By Rachel Pennellatore -- I'm a tiny gal with big ideas who's always on the move. One day I'm going to use my vast amount of otherwise useless trivia knowledge to beat Ken Jennings' Jeopardy score. Likes: hula hooping, all things involving the 80's, delicious martinis, sunshine, proper grammar, baby animals. Dislikes: math, being cold, spiders, most vegetables, things in places I can't reach.

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