A clothing or accessory swap sounds like it would be great in theory. It’s a win-win-win situation: Your old things get new owners, you get your friend’s necklace or dress you’ve always coveted and the rest is donated to charity.
But a swap party definitely holds a certain possibility for disaster—or at least some major awkwardness or embarrassment. What if you bring your pricey Louis Vuitton purse, but your friend only comes with a clutch she bought from Target? Or worse, what if nobody takes any of your stuff? Ouch.
We went ahead and did our own office accessories swap, to test it out and come up with best practices. Use these tips from the LearnVest team to throw your own chic and drama-free swap party.
Pick a Theme
What kind of swap do you want to hold? We decided on an accessories swap to make it easier for people to try on the items in the office, but you could certainly organize a swap for clothing, or even for specific items of clothing, like shoes or dresses.
A dress swap might be particularly popular if you’re still in college. Our sales and marketing intern, Marjorie, points out that students may not bring enough accessories or clothing to school to have extra to trade, but they’d benefit from temporarily swapping dresses for formal events.
You can think outside the box, too: It doesn’t just need to be about clothing or accessories. “I think we could expand and do a housewares swap,” editorial intern Joyce suggests. “There are so many things lying around the house that you don’t know what to do with it.”
Set the Rules
Once you choose the theme of your swap party, decide on the rules. It might be best to set limits on how many pieces or what brands your guests can bring, says our creative director and project manager, Tiffany. That way, your swap is more like a consignment shop with a few high-quality designer pieces, rather than a free-for-all jumble.
Send Classy Invites
Now that you’ve got an idea of how you’ll organize your swap party, write up your invitations. Make sure you outline the rules clearly: As editorial assistant Gabrielle noted, not everyone knew they could bring shoes to our accessories swap. Include the time, place and a request for an RSVP.
You could go with snail-mail, but it’s fastest to send the invitations by email. We used adorable e-vites from Paperless Post.
Set the Mood (And the Room)
Set the tone with a fun, party atmosphere: String up holiday lights, play upbeat music and set out finger food. While we ordered in sandwiches and salads, it might be nice to serve cocktails for an evening swap party. Alden, one of our editorial assistants, advises that you make clear drinks, so they won’t stain the wares if they’re spilled. Set up the display as you collect the clothing and accessories. Also provide mirrors, so guests can see how they look.
Categorize the Items
“I think it was important to have all the different types of accessories separated out, so you could see everything,” says Marjorie. If you’re swapping accessories, group like kinds of jewelry together, and arrange them in a way that makes it easy for guests to pick them up and try them on. The same goes for clothing, but keep in mind that you’ll need more room to lay everything out. Coat racks, hooks and clothes hangers can help you capitalize on the space you have.
Keep it Anonymous
“It was nice that it was anonymous, so you didn’t feel self-conscious. Nobody would know if no one took your stuff,” says Joyce. To avoid that awkwardness, don’t label the items with the original owner.
Give it Structure
Editorial assistant Gabrielle suggested we have participants go in rounds. For the first round, we told everyone to choose two items. It made everyone think hard about what they really wanted, and kept it fair. (Our CEO Alexa was still in a meeting, so it also made sure it wasn’t completely picked over by the time she got there!) After one more round of two items each, we let everyone take whatever they wanted that was left over.
Share Your Finds
You can keep it anonymous while people are picking items, but after a couple rounds of choosing, pause and then encourage everyone to pick up their drinks and mingle. Guests then can share their finds and, if they want, reveal which items they donated. “It was fun to see what friends and colleagues wear—to see what their ‘alter egos’ are like,” says Ashley, an account executive.
Give the Leftovers to Goodwill
After the display has been picked over and the guests have gone home, round up what’s left and bring it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. All of the 20 participating ladies got several accessories, and we still ended up with a whole grocery bag full of items at the end of the swap!
Like product intern Emily says, our LearnVest accessory swap was a classic case of "one man's trash is another man's treasure." We got rid of some of the jewelry cluttering our drawers, and we’ve been sporting our new bracelets, necklaces and rings all week. We’d call that a success!
Check out the photos we took of our swap in the slideshow below. And if you’ve ever thrown a swap party—or you’re thinking about organizing one now—sound off in the comments.