Vintage fashion contest or amiable exchange?
My tips for a successful clothes switch.
Stories Behind Things
February, Hackney Wick
A converted brewery in Hackney Wick sprinkled in bright Sunday morning sunlight. A Gottwood style DJ set and a spinning disco ball. Poster blonde hippies smoking by the garage door entrance. Stalls of vegan cupcakes and macrame hanging plant pots. A small team of graceful, friendly volunteers taking clothes from a queue of stylish women. A scene set for a charming clothes switch event, hosted by the heartfelt duo behind ‘Stories Behind Things’, Ella and Jemma.
I arrived with a black lace Mango floaty dress still with its tags in, unworn and unloved. A grandpa jumper that’s so oversized it takes up a whole drawer and a stripy H&M mini skirt that just looks too much like a Rowntree’s Fruit Pastille ice lolly. These were traded in for tokens and I joined the group of coy, keen eyed girls wandering lackadaisically, whilst clothing rails were filled up and categorised.
There are oversized denim dungarees, sequinned dresses, leather jackets and reams of t-shirts and jumpers. After the first five minute race, the same items circle the rails, alternating between different people. Quirky prints that first caught everyone’s attention are passed over for clothing with a good structure and quality fabric. It’s hard not observe the ringleaders who spot the best pieces first. There’s a small current of people circling clockwise around the rails, interrupted with hands grabbing.
I left with a theatrical leopard print coat, gingham skirt, an orange flowery t-shirt and cream tie-up camisole.
To make the most of a clothes switch, here’s my dos and don’ts.
Assess the personal style of the event organisers and the crowd going.
Do you even like their style in the first place? Workout if the stock is going to be 50s tea dresses, Primark jeans or hippie crochet. From following Jemma and Ella on Instagram, I knew I liked their style and other people going would too.
Be strict with what you bring.
Don’t bring anything you’ll regret giving away but likewise make sure the items aren’t soiled and unwearable. The events rely on goodwill- not everyone can be a free-rider.
Go with a friend who has different tastes to you.
If you’re not as particular it needn’t be such a competitive experience but I have quite a meticulous thought process before adding something new to my wardrobe. I went alone but I imagine if I’d gone with friends of the same body shape and style, there’d be awkward moments.
Even if you’re not fussy, you still need to treat it like a race. The best stuff goes in the first minute. Turn up early, be in the right place at the right time. Otherwise you’ll get screwed-over and leave disappointed, with a pile of stained t-shirts.
I stayed and kept completely swapping my armful of clothes, surveying the new items that were slowly being added to the rails. Indecisiveness [and envy] make the event frustrating. As people left they passed on their unused tokens and I felt like I needed to use all of them up. Now, I’ve got a pile of smelly sweatshirts and tiny dolly dresses that are going to the charity shop. It defeats the point if you come back with more than you left with and it taints the experience. Don’t dull the few exciting additions to your wardrobe with bad decision clutter.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on clothes swaps, and the best events to put in my diary. I’d like to make them a regular thing, to stop the temptation of fast fashion through the changing seasons. Did anyone also go to the Stories Behind Things event in February or Depop‘s party on 5th April?
If you’re at a clothes swap do you treat it as a race and embrace the rivalry?
Images taken from Toby Hart, Stories Behind Things, Ella and Jemma‘s Instagrams. Video by What’s your legacy.