— Clothes swapping has become an increasingly popular way for women in the United States to give away undesired items from their wardrobes and get something fresh in return.
Enthusiasts in the Washington area and beyond have attracted hundreds of new participants to their events in recent months, using social media to spread the word.
Swappers say the events are an opportunity to stay fashionable on a budget, and to be charitable and environmentally friendly at the same time.
One of the area's most popular clothing swap groups drew a record crowd to its latest gathering at a high school in Springfield, Virginia on April 20.
Bartering for bargains
About 300 women came to the cafeteria of the West Springfield High School to lay out gently used shirts, dresses and other items they no longer wanted. In return, they could take home almost anything they like.
Student volunteer Ashley Moore loved the concept. "I brought five shirts and got two nice pairs of boots," she said. "They were like new, not even used!"
A resident of the nearby Virginia suburb of Alexandria, Daphne Steinberg, said she was attracted by the prospect of finding something special. One of her finds included a shirt by American brand LOFT, originally known as Ann Taylor LOFT.
"Ann Taylor is a really nice women's designer and I will totally wear this to work," Steinberg explained. "I love that I can outfit myself for work, have a good time doing it, not totally bankrupt myself."
Among the vendors offering special deals to the clothing swappers was Waldorf, Maryland-based energy healer Sandy Van Dusen. She liked the idea that clothes were finding new homes rather than getting thrown away and ending up in a landfill.
"It helps to keep the Earth green," she said. "There is no point, in my opinion, in continuing to buy new clothes when we can reuse what is already here, give it a new home, let somebody else love what you used to love."
Organizer Kim Pratt's Frugal Fashionista
group raised about $700 at the event, by charging a $5 entry fee for the swappers, a $25 table fee for the vendors, and selling raffle tickets for various prizes.
The group used half of the money to cover operating costs and donated the other half to the school's debate team.
The Frugal Fashionistas support several charitable causes through their events. They deliver all 'unswapped' clothes to shelters for victims of domestic violence and raise money for anti-sexual violence organization Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network
Pratt said her inspiration is Suzanne Agasi, who began hosting private swaps in San Francisco in 1996. After several years, Agasi's gatherings outgrew her home and she developed them into a business through her website ClothingSwap.com
"I learned about it from her online," Pratt said. "I started doing this myself four years ago, and we have been doing it for four years, getting bigger and bigger each time we have a swap."
Using the social media site meetup.com to promote the events has helped the Frugal Fashionistas to grow from 30 members to 1,300.
Most of them respect clothing swap etiquette. But Pratt said competition for desirable fashion can get heated.
"We have to tell people sometimes not to hover over the new people coming in with their clothing as they put it down. Some people tend to grab the stuff right out of their hands and it becomes like a free-for-all. We try to avoid that as much as possible."
Co-organizer Dianna Moy said the group plans to draw even more women to future swaps, but needs many volunteers to donate time, effort and money for that to happen.
"We found there is a big demand here in the DC area and very few that want to address it," said Moy. "We are very happy to help satisfy part of that necessity."
Enthusiasts also have been emphasizing the social aspect of their events to broaden the appeal.
Local group Dewdrop
is promoting a May clothing swap in downtown Washington by offering cocktails, style tips from experts and a fashion show to women who pay the $20 advance ticket fee.
At the Springfield event, a mini-dance party erupted in a part of the cafeteria as a female DJ played popular tunes like "Gangnam Style."
"We are all here because we like fashion," said swap attendee Steinberg. "Some of it might be like 10-year ago fashion, but we have a good time."