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5 Steps to a Fashionable Swap Party

Have your own Fashion’s Night Out by getting rid of unwanted duds and finding new—and free!—clothes.

When money is so tight you can’t even afford regularly priced kale (and yes, I speak from personal experience), the last thing on your shopping list is an immersion blender or a new sweater. While the occasional Goodwill or eBay purchase can get you some things on the cheap, you still have to shell out dough. Enter: the swap party, where you can score free stuff sans dumpster diving (gross) or stealing (illegal). Hosting a swap party is easy, cheap, and fun to do—it's like having your own free Fashion Week!

1. Find stuff to offer up. The classic swap party is for clothing. If that's the way you want to go, gather gently used clothes, shoes, and accessories you don’t want and put them in a bag. “But I love all my clothes, Anna!” No, you don’t. Stop lying to yourself, okay? You haven’t worn that high-waist black and white polka-dot pencil skirt in two years, so throw it in a bag. (But seriously, I’m looking for one. Let me know.) I challenge you to expand your swap-party horizons past your closet! DVDs, kitchen items, lamps, and old boyfriends work too.

2. Add friends. Involve others who have similar bags containing similar items by sending an invite to friends announcing your party. Possible cheap avenues include, but are not limited to: evites, emails, Facebook invites, smoke signals, and yelling.

3. Pick a swap site. Meet at a large location (say, your living room). Each swap participant should section off a part of the room to set up their goods, so that each of you can walk to the others' "store.” Set up a full-length mirror as well (if your party includes clothes), so that you and your friends can ogle at each other ("That looks so much better on you!”) Set up clothing lines or tables to display items; if you’re cramped for space, neat piles work too. Other organizational options include sorting by room, style, color, or type of thing.

4. Craft a swap strategy. Order, people. Without a solid swap strategy, you and your guests will end up brawling over blender attachments as pairs of jeans fly across the room. One possible strategy is to use tokens—one token for each item a guest brings. Another option is to take turns: draw straws to determine the order, and then let one person go at a time, limiting the number of items you can pick up per turn. The rest of you can nosh and sip while you wait. Speaking of which...

5. Provide cheap (and yummy!) snacks. What’s a party without food and bubbly, right? Serve small bites that friends can pop in their mouths while examining martini shakers. Why not serve White Bean Bruschetta, Cashew Coconut Date Cookies, Green Tea Cakes, or have your guests bring their favorite bites? And might I suggest some Champagne to go with that? I’m a sucker for bubbles. I’m an even bigger sucker for four-dollar bottles of bubbles. Plus, after a glass or two, everything will look great on you.

After an afternoon spent with friends, food, and fabulous finds, you will walk away with a slammin’ new cocktail dress or serving bowl, good memories, and a happy stomach. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is as true today as it was whenever that phrase was created (I’m picturing petticoats), so plan, swap, and enjoy your new finds!

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