Hand-me-arounds

Bryhanna Greenough swaps till she drops.

They say the moment it drives off the lot a new car loses almost a thousand dollars off its original value. Likewise, computers, cell phones and MP3 players have a shorter shelf-life than most dairy products.

The same thing happens with clothing. It’s nearly impossible to cash in on a newish pair of shoes, or a silk dress once worn. You can hardly even get rid of clothes you no longer wear – even charity organizations can take weeks to pick them up.

In other cities, I’ve consigned winter coats, vintage blazers and collector t-shirts to second-hand clothing dealers, but that didn’t feel right either. I’d get only a very small cut, even though my things would be resold at premium prices. I realized if there was money to be made off my stuff and I wasn’t getting it I’d rather have donated them to charity.

I do hold on to certain pieces to give to particular friends. And I love planting a box of goodies on a park bench, or setting a pair of boots on the curb for the random passerby. But if you rarely happen upon anything like that yourself, it begins to feel like a bit of a rip-off.

Although I supplement with second hand clothing, I’m definitely willing to pay for new pants that are kind to the ‘hind, smart shoes, well-constructed bras, and great fitting dresses. But even the most discriminating among us experience the unforeseen: the stylish sandals that grind heels into hamburger and the wrap dress that flips wide open in the breeze. The mechanics of your body, changing lifestyle, new job, and, let’s not forget, changing hair colour, can quickly make some of the clothes hanging in your closet obsolete.

My neighbour invited me to my first swap three summers ago.

It was just the excuse I needed to excavate my overstuffed dresser and spelunk the dark corners of my closet, investigating every scrap I owned.

About ten women each brought a bag of goodies, and poured them out onto the floor, making a mini mountain in the middle of the room. My first impulse was to dive in headfirst, but it was designed to be civilized and almost too diplomatic. We each took turns being the announcer, holding up one item at a time, and imagining a story about where one would wear the pair of green tights or what one would do in the silver pair of pants. Those who were interested in the item would draw from a deck of cards and the highest card won. During the off-times, the rest of us would sit back and nibble at the shrimp ring. It was fun.

But it took forever. And some people had wicked card drawing luck that nearly left others empty-handed.

The more traditional type of clothing swap is much more chaotic. Everyone dumps their bags of clothing all together and the digging begins. You try on clothes along the way, and if something doesn’t fit, throw ‘er back. Whatever is left over is rebagged and donated to charity.

Again, a snack table with a shrimp ring would keep things friendly.

In Vancouver, the Swap-O-Rama-Rama, now in its second year, has taken clothing swaps to a whole nother level. Held in a church, it is the equivalent of an old time rummage sale but without the floral-rimmed dishes, the miniature figurines, and also without the money. Promoted as a public event open to everyone, all it requires is a contribution of clothing and (plus a measly $5 entrance fee). Once inside though, clothes are dumped on tables and all are free to take as much or as little as they want.

The best part of Swap-O-Rama-Rama is the chance to be a creator rather than a consumer. Clothes altering stations equipped with sewing machines, beading and embroidery tables and screen printing stations – all stocked with donated supplies – are available to be used at the event at no extra charge. Handy technical support volunteers are on standby to assist, and participants could spend the afternoon learning new techniques and personalizing their finds in a creative atmosphere (with DJed music!) Over 400 people turned out to the last one.

On the other end of the spectrum, my friend Deanne told me about a swap she went to last year. Only four people showed up, several were late, and, as a kicker, one of them she didn’t particularly enjoy sharing company with claimed her expensive skirt while she went home empty-handed. If you throw a swap, make sure enough people come, and that they show up on time! (And remember the shrimp ring.)

That kind of thing shouldn’t happen, but even if it does, don’t let it discourage you. There are lots of treasures out there, ready to be swapped.

(Illustration by Kira sheppard)