Between frequent moves, the confusion of multiple female roommates and my own uncontrollable urge to lend books out, ownership has become a mutable thing — a shirt that is underfoot one weekday morning is noticeably absent when I want it for a Friday night out. With no overflowing closets or boxes of unwanted clothes gathering dust under my bed, I consider myself something of a minimalist.
For that reason, I find the idea of a “swap” so intriguing, a sort of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Instead of relegating my unwanted things to the trashcan or the racks of a consignment store, I can trade them for someone else’s discarded items. It’s sustainable living at its finest: prioritizing what is new to me over that which is merely new.
Such is the prevailing logic behind the Boston-based Swapaholics, Amy Chase and Melissa Massell, who boast a philosophy of creating an environment where “retail therapy meets recycling.” The Swapaholics have hosted clothing swaps all over the Boston and Worchester area, encouraging men and women alike to treat fashion in a new, collaborative way.
With the first annual National Swap Day coming up on January 22, last night’s event, dubbed “Exchange Your Ways,” kicked off a frenzy of sartorial trading that saw over 200 eager participants. Though the Swapaholics promised a family-friendly, controlled event, I remained trepidatious, for hell hath no fury like a fashionista denied the perfect skirt. I feared the hair-pulling, sharp elbows, and ripped clothes that accompany most events where things are basically given away for free.
For the record, this is not your grandmother’s swap meet. Held in the spacious Center for Arts at the Armory in Somerville, the swap was carefully organized: hordes of smartly dressed volunteers carefully sorted and folded the swappable merchandise by style as the waiting swappers enjoyed snacks in the upstairs lounge from event sponsors Vita Coco and Pretzel Crisps.
From this vantage point, eager swappers eyed up the items, waiting for the doors to open at 8 p.m. Veterans regaled each other with tales of plum items scored at previous swaps as first-timers debated whether any of the cute heels lined up on the stage would fit. The attendees were almost exclusively women in their 20s to 30s, though a couple weary-looking men filled out the crowd, presumably accompanying their significant others.
Like me, Natasha Mogilevskaya was a newcomer to the world of swap. A Mass Art student, Natasha had trekked from Allston with several bags of clothes for the event; “I didn’t want to take the clothes to Goodwill. I’d rather get something for them,” she said. Unlike some of the girls around her, who were organizing elaborate plans of attack, Natasha felt she didn’t need a strategy. “That’s one of the advantages of being small,” she explained. “I can easily squeeze through the crowds.”
And crowds there were. With a mere 20 minutes remaining until the swap, the line to get onto the floor had already wound up two flights of stairs and through the lounge area. The anxiety was visible – tapping toes, double-checking of watches, and repeated furtive glances at the veritable treasure trove of fashionable items laid out on the tables below.
At 8 p.m. sharp, a high-pitched roar went up from the crowd, and the air exploded with the thunder of heels and boots on wood floors. Though my fears of trampling and elbowing had been mildly soothed by a veteran swapper, who informed me, “nobody’s mean, it’s just chaos,” I was pleasantly surprised by my fellow swappers’ politeness and restraint. Women expertly weaved around tables, passing clothes to each other for the seemingly standard examination of fabric quality, size, and designer.
Within 30 minutes, the racks were picked clean and the swappers had retreated to the edges of the room, comparing scores and stripping down to undershirts to try on some of their finds. Rejected items were returned to the tables, where they were immediately snatched up by some of the more patient shoppers. In addition to clothes and shoes, swappers eagerly pawed through the collection of donated CDs, DVDs, books, and video games.
Mildly shell-shocked from the rush, I found myself at The Weekly Dig-sponsored music table, browsing through strangers’ mix CDs from 2002, which my curiosity would not allow me to pass up. My provided shopping bag was full to the bursting with cute plaid tops, a couple v-neck sweaters and the piece de resistance – a beautifully structured grey dress that fit me perfectly – all for the price of a ticket and the donation of a couple excess bits of my admittedly modest wardrobe. I was, for lack of a better word, addicted to the swap.
“There’s kind of a cult following,” explained Adam Towner, who was photographing the event at the behest of the Swapaholics. At this point, Towner is a old hand at the swap events. According to him, the chaos that overwhelmed me this evening was nothing compared to the event the ladies hosted for Swap.com during Boston Fashion week, where 450 swappers cleared out the clothes in 15 minutes flat. For some, this is more than just a shopping excursion: “There are girls who change their whole wardrobes with each swap,” Towner said.
Though I lack that sort of commitment, my interest in attending another swap is certainly piqued. Hell, even this self-proclaimed minimalist has a few old DVDs and shoes I’d be willing to trade away for some new summer clothes.