There are several reasons that I love fat clothing swaps. They are a great way to make new friends (if you aren’t too shy!) and change up your wardrobe at the same time. They are also usually a nice space to explore different style choices and get lots of compliments in a fabulously body-positive atmosphere. And, if you’re fat and sized out of most mall stores, plus-size swaps offer very important resources that you don’t usually have access to (namely, clothing that fits for Goodwill-prices or–better yet!–free).
Some swaps are huge and benefit important non-profits, like next week’s Big Fat Flea in NYC whose proceeds go to NOLOSE (and is less of a “swap” I guess, but is similar in purpose). Others are fancy affairs organized by fashion bloggers and activists with sponsors like Lush cosmetics (see 2011′s The Gold and the Beautiful for a great example of this). Local chapters of non-profit groups like NAAFA often hold swaps for their members. But my favorite kind of swap is the kind you do in your living room with 10-30 of your friends and several full-length mirrors.
You don’t have to plan a plus-size-only swap, but I think for ease of organization and clarity of your event goals, it makes sense to figure out what your demographic is and promote your event to folks within that demo. Last year, I co-hosted an swap specifically for fat femmes–this not only guaranteed clothing in my size, but clothing in my style. That said, catering the event towards specific styles meant some of my friends were left out, and this year I planned something more inclusive.
Both events were exhausting and time consuming and took a LOT more organization than I expected, but they were also so very fun and rewarding! What follows are some loose guidelines for planning your own clothing swap.
What Do You Want?
First you gotta figure out what kind of swap you want to have. If you’re thinking a small get together with you and a few of your similarly-sized friends, you probably don’t need to do much planning or pre-event organization. But if you’re hoping to cover a wide size range or reach out to more than a few people, there are more things you need to consider. Do you want a gender-specific (as far as participants or clothing) swap? Do you want a swap for folks who dress in particular styles? Do you want to make your event as inclusive and accessible as possible?
Do You Have the Resources for Everyone?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to invite all your friends without figuring out if there will be clothes for everyone. If most of your friends are size 8-16, but you have one size 2 friend and one size 22 friend, it is likely that they won’t find much and may very possibly feel left out. If you are making your swap inclusive of all genders and gender styles, but have a majority of friends who identify a particular way (for me, fat femmes), how are you going to make sure that there is stuff for your friends who don’t identify as such? One of the best ways to make sure that there are options for people is to cast a wide net and invite more than just one person for any particular type or category (this could mean size, gender, presentation, style, etc.). It’s really shitty to be the one fat person at a swap, lemme tell ya.
Promote Your Event
You don’t have to get super fancy here, but it just so happens that I love making flyers. After you’ve figured out how you want to word your call for participants, you need to decide on your promotional methods. I use a combination of social networking and blogging by primarily advertising on Facebook, Twitter, and my tumblr. My friends do the same, and eventually hundreds of people have seen the invite (this is why I choose not to put my address on the flyers, and instead put it on the Facebook event page). You can also just email invites to your friends, or create an evite, which is apparently something people still do (but seriously watch that whole clip because Kumail Nanjiani is my fave recurring Portlandia guest star & I am definitely a ~Playground Diva~). Make sure you’ve figured out a way to track RSVPs so you know how many people to expect.
Things You’ll Need
Once you have an idea of what kind of event you are going to have and how many people you’ll be inviting, you need to consider the necessary organizational tools and day-of party-type-stuff. Here is a non-exhaustive list of all the stuff I ended up needing for both swaps:
-Rolling clothing racks (these are about $15 at IKEA, or hit up some of your crafty/sewing friends who may have a few of their own).
-Lots of garbage bags in which to put categorized clothing pre-swap (by size, type, etc.), and for bringing the leftovers to a shelter or Goodwill.
-TABLE SPACE (a must to fit all the clothes you can’t hang).
-Paper and tape to make organizational signs (again, for size and type).
-Friends to help you move your furniture around just prior to the event: I needed to radically alter the way my living room and office were set up in order to make space for all the clothes AND for walking around, socializing, trying things on, etc.
-Any snacks, food, and party decorations you may want (we used plastic cups and got bottles of cheap champagne and orange juice and asked friends to bring baked goods and went to the dollar store for table covers and streamers).
-NAME TAGS! This is important if you’re having strangers over, or friends who don’t know each other. We had a sign-in at the door where you got to make cute name tags before entering, complete with Rilakkuma and scratch-n-sniff cupcake stickers.
Accept Donations & Organize Accordingly
For smaller get-togethers, having everyone just bring their clothes the day of is probably fine. Otherwise, you should ask folks to drop off stuff at your place at least a few days in advance of the swap. This gives you time to go through everything and separate items by size and type. For example, I had a huge black trash bag for “tops” sizes large to XL, and another for “bottoms” sizes 22-24/3x. I hung up all nice items and dresses immediately according to size. All of this makes the swapping experience way more pleasant and fun. It also makes your house smell like other peoples houses, which will really confuse your pets and is kind of amusing.
Day Of Organizing
Hopefully you have a few friends who can come over pre-swap time and help you set things up. Setup includes:
-Organizing furniture, tables, and clothing racks.
-Hanging up the rest of the clothes and laying out non-dresses on tables according to type and size (or whatever organizational system you’re using).
-Putting up signs that point to what items are where.
-Setting up a name tag table (this is also the table where you can have a money collection cup, if you are using the swap as a fundraiser of any kind).
-Getting out the food, mixing the drinks, and whatever else you want to do for snacks.
-Any decorating you want to do — streamers are a fun and easy option, and I keep mine up for awhile out of a laziness and cuteness.
(Please note: if you cry during this phase of the swap, that is perfectly acceptable and probably normal if you are an anxious control freak like me.)
Now it’s time to swap! I typically pick out a few items for myself when I’m pre-organizing, so I can spend the swap being a good host and making sure everyone is having fun. I act as a greeter, or get a volunteer to do so, and play music (usually a Robyn-and-Beyonce-hybrid Pandora station). I drink champagne and socialize with some of the friends that I haven’t seen in awhile, and tell everyone how cute they look in their new clothes. Sometimes I talk about capitalism and accessibility and why swaps are so important to me. Most of the time I just let myself feel really good and maybe a little bit exhausted.
When things start to wind down, you can hang out instead of running around like a cute chicken with its head chopped off. For example:
Get your friends to help you clean-up and get your house back in order after everyone is finished trying on clothes and have totes and trash bags filled with their new things. If folks have volunteered to take leftovers to a shelter or Goodwill (or whatever equivalent where you live), help them fill up their cars with donation bags.