You will no doubt have heard the phrase ‘one (wo)man’s trash is another (wo)man’s treasure.’ Don’t believe it? Then you’ve obviously never been to a swish. A what? I hear you ask, as well you might. Allow me to explain.
As the economy spirals out of control and people feel the ever more pressing need to tighten their belts financially, a revolution is occurring. Though still small, the swishing movement is gathering momentum – even Marks and Spencer has got in on the act hiring Joanna Lumley as the face for its ‘Schwopping’ clothes recycling initiative.
Put simply, a swish is a gathering of people (most likely women, but in the name of equality let’s not exclude the boys) with the sole intention of swapping unwanted clothes. I say that’s the sole intention, but in reality it’s as much about socialising over a few glasses of Pinot Grigio and some sausage rolls as it is about the clothes – though that’s not to say they aren’t still the star of the show.
My first experience of swishing was couple of years ago, when I was invited to my friend Susy’s house for a clothes swapping soiree. Intrigued but also somewhat puzzled I turned up at the house with the three items of clothing, bottle of wine and wrapped up accessory the instructions had bidden me bring. Ever the glamorous hostess, Susy whisked away my items into a back bedroom and furnished me with a glass of wine before leading me into the living room where a number of other ladies were settling in for the night ahead.
Half an hour later and the booze and conversation were both in full flow. Susy breezed into the room carrying a number of posh shopping bags and gave one to each person. Inside, she explained, were three items of clothing. There would be three ‘rounds,’ during which everyone would have to ‘sell’ one of their items to the rest of the group – the aim being to generate interest in said item. If, at the end of the description more than one person was interested the item would go in the middle of the room to be decided upon later. If only one person wanted it, they could have it. And if nobody wanted it then it would go into another pile to be taken to a charity shop the following day. It really couldn’t have been more efficient.
By the end of round one we were howling with laughter at one another’s ‘selling’ techniques, and many of the items were in demand. Susy explained that the next step was to have a break during which the interested parties could try on the items and decide whether they wanted to ‘fight’ for them by way of a game of paper, scissors, stone. Cue more hilarity, as everyone bundled into the bedrooms to communally change.
(Side note: The nice thing about swishing parties is that, surprisingly enough, the vast majority of people are genuinely happy to hand over an item to someone else if they feel it looks better on the other person. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky in the parties I’ve attended, but there’s always been a refreshing camaraderie that really challenges the bitchy fashion industry stereotypes we’re fed in buckets by the media – and, indeed, in female clothes shops themselves, where stick thin assistants sneer at your choice of skirt with a ‘how can you think you look good in that?’ raise of their painted-on eyebrow).
After the third round Susy introduced her own little twist to the swish, bringing out the wrapped up accessories and distributing them so that everyone had one that was different to the one they’d brought. It was a lovely thought for everyone to give and receive a present, particularly for those who hadn’t found anything they’d liked in the clothes rounds. Gifts ranged from belts to brooches to hair clips and even toiletry sets, hair products and scarves. Most people were delighted with theirs, and even those who weren’t managed to trade with other people to get something they wanted.
Next up was the ‘luxury rail’ round, where Susy wheeled out a clothes rail containing those items she had deemed the most luxurious. Anyone who hadn’t found something they liked in the earlier rounds could have first pick from the rail (prompting groans from those who had taken things they weren’t really that keen on and had now fallen in love with something on the rail), after which the usual rules applied. Finally, the remaining items were brought in for everyone to sift through before unwanted items were again consigned to the now sizeable charity pile.
If I haven’t sold them to you after reading the above, here’s my final sell: Swishing parties are free, they’re fun and they provide a legitimate opportunity to get twenty friends in a room together and drink vast quantities of wine whilst gossiping non-stop. They negate the need to spend hours squeezing into tiny shop changing rooms being gawped at and judged by strangers and, what’s more, they even give back to society at large by providing clothes for charity shops.
Several swishes down the line I find myself wearing some of my spoils more often than the clothes I’ve bought. But don’t just take my word for it; why not hold a swish yourself? Here’s a recap of the rules: