It was the invitation of a lifetime. Not a weekend with Johnny Depp. Or a tour of Sarah Jessica Parker’s closet. Something more fulfilling. A Swap Party!
Here was an excuse to clear my closet of clothing and accessories I no longer wanted, exchange them for someone else’s discarded treasures, and donate the remains to Dress For Success or Goodwill. It didn’t hurt that the hostess was a professional pastry chef and that the hour of reckoning, a cocktail certainty 5pm.
I flung open my closet and embarked on a purge. If I hadn’t worn it in two years – out it went! This took courage. We women bond emotionally with clothing in ways that most men, other than Rupaul, can’t understand. We don’t just store clothes in our closet. We store memories. Here is the dress I wore when I fell in love, had dinner in Paris, walked the Red Carpet. You get the idea. Add to that the clothes we buy, not for our actual life, but for our dreams. The black leather groovel skirt we’ll wear when we lose twenty pounds. The low-cut, red, silk charmeuse sheath we’ll need…..never. No wonder there’s never enough closet space!
I arrived at the party with enough clothes, shoes and jewelry to dress the Rockettes. Some had hardly been worn. But their time was up. I followed my hostess’ instructions placing tops, bottoms, dresses and accessories in different parts of her living room. Guests continued to arrive, refreshing the selection of clothing and raising the volume. In all, around twenty-five women participated.
“I originally invited sixty women, knowing only twenty or thirty would actually come,” Dianne said.
Although I knew only one guest other than the hostess, within twenty minutes, I felt as if I was on a sorority cruise ship, only slightly more diverse . What we had in common, besides being of a certain age, was our connection to Dianne who had drawn up her guest list from her many different worlds. Women she knew from her work, from volunteering at the library and from her involvement in the local dance scene. Gathered around the dining room table, we sipped Chardonnay, nibbled flat breads and exchanged ideas that had nothing to do with clothes.
“I’m taking a screenwriting class,” proclaimed one.
“My husband wants to open a B&B, but I’m allergic to laundry,” said another.
“I’m ready to quit my job and open an art gallery,” said a legal investigator.
Meanwhile, every time the front door opened, all eyes turned toward the fresh bounty. I caught myself eyeing things that were taboo. An embroidered jacket that would look fine on a matador but foolish on me. A blouse cut down to there. A vintage Versace silk sarong. (For a nano second I thought, if I don’t have an occasion to wear it, I can frame it .)
In spite of lux labels – Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney, Eileen Fisher – the mood was relaxed and cheerful–never descending into a Filene’s Basement free for all. Women happily stripped down to their bras and panties, slipping into sweaters, slacks and dresses. A petite redhead threw a sexy green silk Nili Lotan slip dress over her t-shirt and leggings and paraded around the room to enthusiastic applause. Unsolicited comments came as freely as last call at a bar.
“That color is good on you!”
“Wear that with nothing underneath!”
After several glasses of “knock me down” Cabernet and a almond tuile that made me swoon, I snatched up a pair of lavender, polka dot, fleece pajamas that still had a Macy’s tag and were as soft as a lamb, a Downton Abbey-like cloche with a perky feather, two artsy necklaces, a large hammered silver ring, a silk shawl and a lace-trimmed cami. In other words, nothing I really needed but all things I loved.
Time flew by. Before leaving, I exchanged email addresses with several of my new best friends and congratulated the hostess on a highly entertaining gathering. The combination of women, food, wine, clothes and donation to a worthy cause are the ingredients of a perfect party.
Swap Party Tips
- Schedule the event for late winter or summer when women tend to change over their seasonal wardrobe.
- Send invitations one month in advance to give guests time to sort through their clothing.
- Invite a diverse range of women – all shapes, sizes and styles.
- Ask guests to bring food or beverage.
- Set up the food and wine in a separate room from the clothing.
- Offer a bedroom for women who don’t want to try on clothes in the open.
- If you have kids, pack them off to Granny’s. This is an adult gathering.
- If there’s a man in the house, send him to the golf course or tennis club.
- Be prepared to donate all of the remaining clothing. Many volunteer organizations will be happy to pick up your contribution.
- 10. If you haven’t worn it in two years – out it goes!