“Dress for Less?” NO! Dress for FREE!

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Ladies listening to talk
The ladies being given the big list of “2 Rules” before shopping!

We hear a lot about dressing for less, sustainable fashion, thrifting and doing with less. How about dressing for free? Who wouldn’t love to dress for free?

A while back, when I was married to a financial IDIOT, there was absolutely no money left at the end of the month for buying clothes. Heck, there wasn’t even enough money to pay the bills, lets be honest! There I was, working as a Realtor, in the day where you wore a suit, heels and PANTYHOSE for work every day. To “be a success,” you had to dress in the “appropriate attire!” Great if there was money to do so. One can only rework your combinations of suits so many ways before you begin to look tired, and feel bored!

Woman in Chinese robe
Char got this AMAZING Chinese silk robe with embroidery at one of the swaps! The back has a huge stitched dragon on it! I was a bit jealous of this one!

A PLAN IS FORMED

I had had an idea kicking around in my head, but wasn’t sure how to do it, or if it would even work. I decided to try to put together a clothing swap, where a bunch of women got together and brought some of the stuff from their closet that they weren’t wearing. I didn’t have a big “structure” to it. No specific way for it to be done. I just wanted to get together for a fun evening, and hopefully everyone would find something fun to add to their wardrobe. At that time I had never heard of anyone doing it.

I’ll never forget the week I was having the first swap. My computer had crashed and wiped out my whole client data base. My phone had crashed and wiped out all of the phone numbers for friends, family and clients. I had 3 big escrows fall completely apart (all of the properties I had in escrow at the time I believe). I had WAY more bills to pay then there was money, in fact, it was probably one of the million times my ex had managed to overdraw our bank account by thousands of dollars……….

Not my best week, to say the least!

Char got this gorgeous LBD at one of the clothing swaps. Imagine the places you could wear this little number!
Stella in a classic white top and slacks she got at one of the recent swaps!

But, we had the clothing swap set. It was to take place at another woman’s much bigger home. I went, feeling about as low and depressed as I think I possibly could! We had a few dozen women, there was a lot of laughter, a few drinks, and FREE clothes to shop for! I remember coming home at the end of that party, with a huge stack of beautiful clothing- much of it with BRAND NEW TAGS on it! I couldn’t have felt more lifted up! It had been forever and a day since I had had anything new to wear. And here I was, with what seemed like a new WARDROBE! I remember one outfit- a turquoise top with a long golden India inspired skirt. The woman who had brought it to the swap said she’d only worn it once. I LOVED it! I had the perfect belt and jewelry at home. There was a Realtor’s event coming up at the race track, so I took a hat I owned, spray painted it bronze like the belt, added some flowers and turquoise trim and felt like a million dollars- all for the price of the paint and flowers!

My daughter KT with one of her finds! This dress looks GREAT on her for business functions!
My daughter KT with one of her finds! This dress looks GREAT on her for business functions!

AN ADDICTION IS SEEDED…

That was the beginning of two addictions- clothing swaps and dressing for little to no money, and still looking like a million dollars! Here I am- twelve years later, LONG away from that financial sucking marriage, in a position to spend whatever I want on clothes, but still LOVING “dressing on a dime!” It’s my passion!

It’s a rare day that I don’t get a number of compliments on what I’m wearing, and that I have gone into a clothing store and paid retail for ANYTHING I wear, other than undergarments and shoes.

Woman posing in dress
This fun and comfy little dress could go from casual to dinner, depending on the accessories you’d choose! Not bad for FREE!

COULD I spend more on my clothing? ABSOLUTELY! I’d rather spend my money on travel, adventure and nice restaurants. OK, I’ll admit, I’d rather have a $15.00 fancy-schmancy martini, than spend $150.00 on a dress. It is about priorities. There is no better money spent than on travel, in my opinion, and I’d rather travel more lavishly, and go looking great in an out fit I spent five dollars on!

Woman in black dress.
Karen found this great dress at one of our swaps! Imagine what you could do with it! Here she wore it to my Breakfast at Tiffany’s brunch. It would also make a great flapper dress, not to mention a fabulous LBD for a dinner date!

IT’S SIMPLE, NOT STRUCTURED!

People always ask me what the “formula” is for the clothing swaps. A question I get often is, “Do people get to take one item for every item they bring?” or “Do they put the value of an item and trade for similar costs?” OH HELL NO! Ain’t nobody got time for THAT! I’m not into all that structure!

Woman in robe
Char found this fabulous brocade robe, lined in terrycloth at one of the clothing swaps! So pretty and so cozy!

The way we do it is SIMPLE! I just put up a few clothing racks and make sure there is some table space cleared. As the women come in, they hang up clothes where they can pile folded things, and come into the kitchen for a little food (and a signature martini.) Everyone brings a little something to share.

I ask the women not to start “shopping” until it looks like most of the women are there and the clothes have been put out. That way everyone is on a pretty even playing field. I’ve only had that rule, and one other in the dozens and dozens of clothing swaps I have done.

Woman posing in outfit
I got the lime green jacket at one of the swaps, along with the necklace. Neither are something I would have bought, but I’ve worn both NUMEROUS times! The dress is a Ralph Lauren that I got with new tags ($138.00) at a resale store for about $10.00! It makes me think of a Monet painting! Not bad for a $10.00 outfit, huh? BTW- You can purchase this purse from my on line store!

The second rule had to be put out there after someone showed up with her daughter, and, unbeknownst to me, grabbed huge stacks of clothing and walked out the door stating they could get money selling them……SERIOUSLY? So now I give a little 1 minute talk before declaring it “shopping time.” My talk is basically, “Don’t be a piggy! Take a few items, try them on and then take a few more when you put the ones you don’t want back on the racks.” It’s pretty simple!

What typically happens is that women who may not even know each other grab something off a rack, hold it up and say to another woman, “This would look great on you! You should try it on!”

A happy clothing swap participant! You can see the melee’ in the background! Clothes and people EVERYWHERE!

When I have the swaps I have to send my man away for the evening. We have women in every nook and cranny of the house trying on clothes. Every surface is usually COVERED in clothing. One woman might find 10 items she loves. Another, only one. Often women bring in huge bags of clothing, and they tell us they don’t want to take anything home. They are purging!

At the end of every swap I have numerous black trash bags full of clothing that gets donated to a local women’s charity. If there are women at the event who have a charity they’d like to take some of the clothes to, they are more than welcome to grab them and donate them.

WHAT IS VIABLE TO BRING?

Woman in black dress
Char got this gorgeous LBD at one of the clothing swaps. Imagine the places you could wear this little number!

What gets brought to the clothes swap? Obviously women’s clothing, but we’ve had some gals clean out hubby’s closet and bring those clothes. Kids’ clothes too! Shoes, belts, jewelry, scarves, parkas…… anything you can think of. We’ve even had some really great household knick-knack stuff brought here and there, and it’s usually snapped right up!

Some of my FAVORITE clothes have come from these clothing swaps! I personally HATE to spend money on exercise clothes. I am not one to wear casual clothes much, and my exercise clothes get worn for one thing……. working out. I have gotten GREAT exercise leggings, tops, tennies, sports bras,,,,,,everything I need to go to the gym! It’s like a DOUBLE BONUS to me to get this stuff free. None of it is that attractive to me, so being able to go work out without spending money on that ugly stuff make me REALLY smile!

Stella and Patti in clothes from one of the swaps.
Stella and Me at one of the swaps, both wearing outfits we have gotten previously at a clothing swap.

There is definitely something about bringing items from your closet, and kind of “knowing” the person who ends up with it! It seems easier to part with those pieces of clothing that might have cost you a lot when you bought them! We’ve even had a mini “fashion show” a few times when I’ve asked women to come wearing something they got at a previous clothing swap! Women always get a kick seeing someone else wearing what they have brought!

Gerri, shopping outside at a clothing swap
Gerri shopping. We had so many clothes we had to move racks outside to fit everything!

It’d do great to bring items from your closet, and kind of “knowing” the person who ends up with it! It seems easier to part with those pieces of clothing that might have cost you a lot when you bought them! We’ve even had a mini “fashion show” a few times when I’ve asked women to come wearing something they got at a previous clothing swap! Women always get a kick seeing someone else wearing what they have brought!

People ask if there are “fights” over the clothes. I won’t lie. There have been times for all of us where someone else spotted something we would have loved to have. But, it’s all in good clean fun. Many times two gals have had their eye on something, and one kindly says to the other, “You take it. It’s going to look better on you!” Stella and I both grabbed for the same pearl and rhinestone “statement necklace” one time, so we decided to have shared custody of it. We pass it back and forth as desired!

All in all, my clothing swaps are a hit. I’ve only been to one other than the ones I put on. I loved it. I’m a bit confused as to how I got there, however. I got an invitation through Facebook. I didn’t recognize the names of the gals putting it on, but I figured one of them probably had come to one of mine as a guest of a friend and decided to reciprocate. I went. They didn’t know me and couldn’t figure out how I had been invited. I didn’t know them. It didn’t matter, because I ended up with a boatload of great clothes!

Woman with a martini
I don’t know if Ohla found any new clothes, but she definitely found the martinis!

If you haven’t tried doing a clothing swap, do it! It’s a great way to weed out the dead wood in your closet and to get some fun new garments. At the very least, it’s a great excuse for a girls night out!

Picture of martinis
We can’t just shop! There are always martinis and food involved too! This time they had 2 different martini choices!

If you haven’t been following me on Instagram, I invite you to do so. @TheQueenofDarnNearEverything. I often post my “dressing on a dime” outfits, which come either from clothing swaps, thrift stores or plain ol’ hand me downs! It’s a fun way to see how you can dress on almost no money!

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