Sunday 10 July 2022

A beginner's guide to swishing

What is swishing? What to expect from a swishing event - and top tips to make the most of a swishing event!

When I first told someone I was going to a clothes swapping event they gave me a funny look and asked if it involved keys in a bowl. But swishing, to use its proper name, means keeping your clothes on - and doing your bit for sustainable fashion.

A clothes swapping event involves bringing along clothes that you don’t want any more, and swapping for ones that you do. No money changes hands, though you usually have to buy a ticket for the event - and it’s a great way to get a few (or a lot) of new items for your wardrobe.

Such events have become popular for the last few years and I suspect even more so now that we are facing the combination of heightened urgency to fight climate change and a cost of living crisis.

I’ve been to two swishing events and have booked for a third, with an organisation called A Stitch to Wear. They run events in and around Sutton in south London and they are brilliant! They are run in a particular way that might be different to other events so I’m going to share my top tips for getting the most out of a swishing event but my description of how it works may be different for other events.

What do you do at a swishing event?

You come to a swishing event with clothes you don’t want any more - at A Stitch to Wear, you are allowed to bring up to 10 items of clothing plus one item of homeware and one and unused makeup item or beauty product.

You are allocated points based on the brand of the clothing or item, which are written on a little card.

Then, you are free to rummage through the clothing rails - at this event they are arranged by size with separate clothing rails for different sizes. Pick out anything you want and take it to the desk to ‘pay’ with your points!

If you have points left over you can keep them until the next event and spend them there. 

A Stitch to Wear sells tickets (it’s £6.50 to go) for different time slots 45 minutes apart, so there aren’t too many people in the room at one time - and it means you don’t have to come right at the beginning in case all the good stuff is gone, because new clothes are added at each time slot. It means it comes down to pure luck as to what is there in each size at the time you go, but that’s part of the fun!

At the last event I went to my haul included clothes from Oliver Bonas, Mint Velvet, M&S, Primark, Gap, Crew Clothing Company and M&Co, plus two brands I hadn’t heard of which I looked up and seem to be mid-priced labels - Klass and W - and a more expensive brand I wasn’t familiar with called Hampton Republic. Not everything was for me as I picked up a few bits for my mum as well. You also get a hand made cloth tote bag at the events so I've got two of them now!

Top tips for getting the most out of a swishing event

  • If you’re just going for a browse and to try your luck then there’s no need for a game plan – but if you are on a mission to restock your wardrobe it may help to have a strategy – what I mean by that is, an idea of what you want to get. Are you in the market for clothes for this season (e.g. summer), or next (winter)? Do you want to aim for the best brands, perhaps labels you wouldn’t normally be able to afford to buy? Are you looking for a new outfit for a night out, or some work wear, or summer holiday gear?
  • The reason I mention this is because the event can involve a bit of fast-paced rummaging through rails with other people going through the same rack as you. The events I’ve been to have always been very good natured – no sharp elbows or grabbing something from under someone else’s nose – but it is very much a case of first come, first served. So if you have particular items or labels you are after, have that in mind, and do a quick sweep of each rail to see if you can spot anything quickly, before going back through and having a closer look.
  • It doesn’t matter what slot you book as clothes are restocked between events as well – but it makes sense to arrive at the start of your time slot and try to be near the front of the queue, then you get first dibs on whatever is there – and keep an eye out as the volunteers restock the rails as each person hands over their donations.
  • Take a rucksack or small shoulder bag that won’t get in the way as you will need your hands free to rummage
  • Take a large bag (I find the Sainsbury’s extra strong fold-up bags are the perfect size) to carry the clothes and items you want to buy. The first time I went, I draped clothes (still on their hangers) over one arm, and quickly found it difficult to keep browsing the rails with only one arm free (and the clothes were getting heavy). The second time I went, I took clothes off their hangers and left the hangers on the rails, and put each piece of clothing into the bag that I could easily carry in the crook of my elbow or put down on the floor while I rummaged.
  • Check the other size rails too. At the A Stitch to Wear events, clothes are arranged in pairs of sizes, so there are a couple of rails for 10-12, a couple for 14-16 and one for 18-plus, as well as separate areas for denim, bags, shoes and so on. It’s always worth checking the other rails in case items have ended up in the wrong place.
  • You can’t easily (or privately) try clothes on at the swap - but as they are free once you have paid the entry fee, I have no problem with using my points to buy something and seeing if it fits when I get home - and if not it can go to the charity shop or I can bring it back to the next swap!

Swishing events are really good fun and a nice way to change up your wardrobe at no more than the cost of your entry ticket. I’m currently loving my two floral maxi dresses from the last swap and have already bought a ticket to the next event in September!


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