Clothing Swap: interesting observations on human behaviour

Clothing swap is a great way to pass on your unwanted clothes.

I went to my first publically organised clothing swap  last Saturday in Surry Hills. Over 50 women (and a handful of men and children) had travelled through the cold and wet to wait patiently outside the library. We’d been told to come early to check in our donated clothes in exchange for buttons.  Each button entitled the bearer to take away a preloved item. It sounded like a fun way of passing on clothes I no longer wanted.  There was also a delicious possibility I’d find something different to try out.

Waiting in anticipation

As I was waited in line, I surveyed the scene and eavesdropped on conversations.  A small group of French women in their mid-twenties at the head of the line were chatting about clothes and bargains.  A girl behind me was telling her friend how important it was to jockey a position in full view of the check-in table.  That way she could see what people were donating and where the organiser was going to hang it.

She sounded like an hard-core regular. I scanned the room and I thought I could pick out women who had been to a clothing swap before.  They were dressed in simple sweaters and leggings(the easiest outfit to try clothes on in public). Others came with their own shopping bags ready to haul away their spoils.

And the doors open…….

At precisely 11am, the organiser greeted us and explained the only rule they had: if two people wanted the same item, the organiser would decide with a coin toss.  It seemed perfectly civilised.   Then she moved back and I rode a wave of female frenzy and excitement into a room of neatly hung clothes.

I was stunned at how order degenerated into chaos in seconds.  I felt like David Attenborough filming a documentary on predatory hunting behaviour. I saw some women grab mountains of hangers and clothes and retreat to a corner to try things on.  I saw other women trying items on right in front of the racks, thus blocking access to others.

photo credit

I selected two items and went into my corner.  Again the conversations I overheard shed light on how complex and contradictory we are as human beings.

“This doesn’t really work on me, but what the hell. I’ll take it anyway.”

“Excuse me, are you taking this?  Can I have a look at it if you don’t want it?”

“That looks good on you. You should take it.”

Some women rehung their unwanted clothes back on to the racks so other women would have a chance; others left their piles on the floor.

The frenzy died down after 35 minutes.  Then I overheard one woman say to her friend, “Don’t go yet.  People will start putting things back on the rack. Maybe there’ll be good stuff that didn’t fit.”

I lined up to hand over four buttons for the four items I had found.  The line wasn’t moving because one woman was demanding her donated item back.  From what I gather, it was a brand name and worth more than anything she’d found that morning.  “All clothes are treated the same whether they originally cost $200 or $2.  You can’t have what you donated back.  You should only donate clothes you’re willing to let go,” explained the organiser patiently.

It was an exhilarating 45 minutes.  I saw how competitive and ruthless women could be when it came to free clothes. I also saw how polite and encouraging they could be with each other.

Is it for everyone?

Would I recommend going to a clothing swap?  Of course.   If you have clothes you don’t wear, set them free so someone else can enjoy them.  You’ll appreciate the mental and physical space you create for yourself. My only piece of advice when going to a clothing swap:   Have no expectations.  If you give to get something in return, you will be disappointed.   In clothing swaps and in life.

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