It started as a casual conversation with my coworker in the next cubicle of having too many clothes, and hey, we should have a clothing swap. The seed was planted, and it grew into action (make your ideas become action too!) The first day of summer, June 21st, we held our tenth seasonal clothing and accessories swap. Our winter one in January includes unwanted holiday gifts. My good friend Kristin who pens Wordfall is a fellow organizer.
We do these on our lunch hour and offer light refreshments: lemonade, roasted red pepper hummus with multi grain pita chips and organic cucumbers, strawberries and kettle corn. We also had cherry tomatoes, peaches, and mini campfire s'mores, and vegan cinnamon Cafe Twist cookies. Produce from New Jersey farms, the rest from Trader Joe's.
In the back are books, accessories and beauty products so all sizes could find something. I often hear, "You wouldn't want my things," but we really do! We donate leftovers and all sizes can benefit from secondhand clothes. We get so many small sizes that many people "shop" for their teenage daughters.
A small sampling of what we had. My sister gave me the zebra print bag to contribute. It was brand new but she decided she didn't want it. Someone took it. No takers for the blue broomstick skirt I brought. I would have kept it, but the elastic around the waste was too uncomfortable for me, so I donated it.
We include swimwear. I'm not skeevish about secondhand swimwear. I have two bathing suits both from CATS Resale Shop which I paid about $3 or $4 each for. I'm skeevish about retail pricing on bathing suits, and know from my mother who worked retail about the legions of women have tried those on in dressing rooms and knows how many end up on the floor of fitting rooms.
Here were my finds. I'm including country of origin, because I want to draw awareness to where our clothes are made (see my Origins of an American Closet post). If you're getting something second hand, you don't have to feel guilty contributing to the demand for new resources and questionable labor conditions.
A yellow m/m cardigan (made in China), four scarves (one is Jones New York, the rest are unlabeled, all with no country of origin), and a Body Shop cassis rose lotion (made in the UK).
Raspberry colored shoes perfect for the pool or beach. I would never shop for shoes like this on my own, but am happy to have gotten them. The black Ann Taylor Loft flip flops were donated from a woman who said they were the wrong size, were on the bottom of her closet never worn. Precisely why we hold these swaps! Both have no country of origin.
We donate the leftovers to charitable thrift shops: Housing Works, which benefits low income and homeless New Yorkers living with HIV, and C.A.T.S. Resale Shop in Westwood, New Jersey, which serves as a shop and shelter for homeless cats (they foster some dogs too), and money raised helps pay for veterinary bills and food. I love the idea of unwanted clothes and other items finding a new home, and helping homeless people and animals.
At the C.A.T.S. Resale Shop, I picked up this Old Navy lemon top, $2, made in China, and Jordache top, $2, made in Sri Lanka. I'll be the first to admit that if you gave me a map, I could not find Sri Lanka on it, yet someone there toiled to make this shirt for an American. Luckily that American donated it when it was unwanted so another American could wear it: me.
I love these cotton tops in the summer, which I pair with long flowy skirts and, now, wear the scarves I got at the swap in my head.
I've come across clothes in the garbage often (on the eve of the swap, I found 7 pairs of jeans, two tops, including one Banana Republic and four fleeces peering out of a garbage bin (not in bags), mostly made in China. This is disrespectful to the people who labored to make these clothes, to the planet (our landfills are full enough) and to the people who could benefit getting these clothes for free or a significantly reduced cost.
I get all my clothes second hand now, and if people want to put me down, I don't care. I have an increasing retirement and savings account, no debt, have traveled to Paris, Mexico, Spain, Morocco and more and paid for those trips outright, and it's not because I make an enormous salary. If someone wants to feel superior for paying $90 for something I spent $4 on, I let them!
As for stigma and brand obsessions, I point to the I Love Lucy episode that takes place in Paris. Lucy and Ethel long for dresses by fictional designer Jacques Marcel. Lucy stages a fake hunger strike in her hotel room (of course Ethel sneaks in food), and Ricky caves and agrees to buy a dress. When he finds out they were cheating, he gets a tailor to make dresses out of potato sacks and a horse's feed sack and put in a Jacques Marcel label. Fred goes in on it too. Thinking they are the real deal, Lucy and Ethel proudly stroll along the boulevard, but are horrified when they are told the truth. Jacques Marcel was at a cafe watching, loved the look, and copied them. Lucy and Ethel instantly regret burning their Jacques Marcel "originals." It's all about psychology!
I keep hearing about what lean economic times we are in, but everywhere I look I see women of modest means with expensive designer bags and clothes. My sister and I ponder, do people really like the bag because of the look of it, or it's because of the label? Personally, I wouldn't carry one of those high end designer bags if given one for free. I don't know why women feel the need to live the lifestyle of celebrities, and we should all be saving for rainy days (are these women saving?)
I used to think I was "treating myself" to Anthropologie clothes but now think it was a waste of money. Someone asked me recently, "Do you shop at Anthropologie?" and I said, "No but I wear their clothes." (like my $4 thrift skirt). I'd rather show off organic strawberries and thrifty used finds than a $300 bag. I'm more worried about what goes in my body, not what decorates it.
Our grandmothers made it through the depression and war years and acquired thrifty skills they kept for life, yet I don't know how much we've learned as a nation amid the Great Recession. I'm impressed by savings, resourcefulness, recycling, caring about workers' conditions, animals, and the planet. I'm never impressed when someone tells me they have an enormous shoe or bag collection. That's from an animal's sacrifice, from a worker's toil, from the Earth's limited resources. To me, that's greedy. I'm not envious of a Louis Vuitton bag. That's just a status symbol.
As for "trends" the "in" look thrust on American women by unknown forces each season, I reject that thinking, and encourage other women to. Who wants to look like everyone else? It's just an excuse for retailers to get you in stores. I don't need a woman in Indonesia working in a factory so I can look "in." I'd rather see her bent over a book. My sister said every time Kate Middleton wears something, it sells out. Why don't we work on developing our own sense of style?
Find a thrift shop for charity near you through ThriftShopper.com. Consider hosting a clothing swap with your friends or coworkers, or donate your goods to a charity, pass them on through freecycle, or even sell them. Keep the reduce, reuse, recycle thread going.
Check out Angela Barton's Thrift Threads column where readers show off their cute secondhand wears, and The Thrifty Chicks, who advocate for a robust reuse market (as do I!) I think every American town and city should offer a freecycle space for residents to keep things out of landfills and give residents a chance to save money getting things for free.
Have you ever attended a swap? Enjoy thrift or consignment shopping? Scoring thrifty threads at garage sales or on eBay? Swap maternity wear or kids clothing with family members or friends? Do you look at the labels of where your clothes are made and wonder about the conditions they were made in?