Patti Paulson hasn’t bought new clothes in four years.
Instead, she shops her relatives’ closets. And her friends’. Even the closets of complete strangers — all through her group, West Metro Clothing Swaps.
Her best find so far? A pair of Ugg boots. “I wore the heck out of them,” she said.
Paulson started her gal-pals-only swaps in a friend’s home about six years ago. Now the swaps, which are open to the public, regularly draw more than 70 women of all ages to a church in Robbinsdale. She tries to hold them quarterly, but they’ve proven so popular that “people are demanding them a little more frequently,” she said.
Trading unwanted but still very wearable clothing isn’t new. It was popular in the 1980s, when pricey designer clothes hit the mass market. Now clothing swaps are making a comeback, this time fueled by the desire to reduce, reuse and recycle.
Paulson would argue there’s also a communal aspect to swaps, which she refers to as “girls night out — with a mission.”
Swaps allow people (OK, mostly women) to clean out their closets, update their wardrobes in an eco- (and budget-) friendly way and make new connections. At Paulson’s swaps, women often bring snacks to share, offer other shoppers honest critiques of outfits and thank one another when they make a trade.
Swaps also make it easier to let go of that too-small cashmere sweater or that too-short little black dress, in part because it’ll be going to a good home.
“There’s something that makes you feel more alive when you see your things going to someone else who is just going to love them,” Paulson said.
Some basic ground rules
Clothing swaps are as different as their hosts — some are friends-only; some are community events; some full-blown parties with wine, beer and craft cocktails.
Paulson said West Metro Clothing Swaps (facebook.com/wmetroclothingswap) is a bit laissez-faire: Just show up at 7 p.m. with the clothes and accessories you have to offer. The trading begins at 7:30.
Other local events are more structured. At a swap this year at West Medicine Lake Community Club, attendees received tickets (based on the number of clothing items they brought) to “spend” on items that others brought.
There do seem to be some basic ground rules, however:
• Don’t bring your tattered Twins T-shirts.
• Leave the wine-stained silk blouse at home.
• Check your ego at the door. (If your clothing fails to set anyone’s heart afire, it usually gets boxed up and sent to a charity.)
The need to pare down was what motivated Claire McPartland and four of her girlfriends to hold a swap in McPartland’s backyard in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. They were heading off to college, and knew their dorm-room closets wouldn’t hold the wardrobes they’d amassed.
McPartland offered clothes she had bought herself and still loved, but had outgrown — in size and style.
“You reach a moment when you look in your closet and realize, ‘I do not need all of these things,’ ” she said.
More than 50 of their high school friends showed up to the August event, which also featured gluten-free baked goods and a Spotify playlist called “Happy Summer Music.”
McPartland was adamant that the intention of the swap wasn’t to “glorify the material items that we are all privileged to have.” It was about community, she said. And about having one last chance to say goodbye to old friends — and old outfits — before school started.
For Amanda Stagg, who picked up a Ralph Lauren dress, the swap was a risk-free way to get a few new pieces. Because her friends had worn and liked the clothing, it came with a stamp of approval.
“Everything there is acceptable to wear,” she said.
Paulson, too, sees swaps as risk-free, but for a different reason.
“You can take a chance on the red high-heeled shoes because it’s not costing anything,” she said. “And if you decide you don’t like them, just bring them to the next swap.”
Danielle Fox is a freelance writer based in New York City.