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Raid your donation bags and have a workplace clothing swap

It started when someone brought a little pile of clothes into the Tampa office of tbt*'s publisher, the St. Pete Times. She didn't want them, and set them out for the taking.

Office news coordinator Stephanie Bolling and graphic designer Amanda Mabry started thinking. They had burgeoning donation piles at home, too. What about a clothing swap? These grass-roots events have popped up all over the country since we've all gotten really super poor. They've been written up everywhere from the New York Times to the Today show.

Stephanie sent out an e-mail.

We have a decent amount of women in our office of different tastes and sizes that there should be something for everyone. What do you all think?

The collective group practically squealed. They were so in.

There are different ways to have a clothing swap, sometimes called a "naked lady party." Some people get super type-A about it, issuing a ticketing system — one piece for one piece. That seems extreme. Some people avoid battles by making friends model a coveted item while the whole room judges who pulls it off better. Wine helps in that scenario. Some people just dump everything into the middle of the floor and let guests dive in like Scrooge McDuck.

Stephanie and Amanda decided on something in the middle:

1. Everyone had to bring one item of clothing, pair of shoes or accessory, but you could take home as much as you wanted.

2. Everyone had to bring a bag to take stuff home.

3. Everyone had to be nice. No knocking each other down with foam pouring from the mouth to get to the last pair of Steve Maddens.

I had two bursting bags of clothes (and three more at home, but I didn't want to get carried away), a bag of shoes and a purse full of, well, purses. It felt good knowing I would simplify my life a little, trade all these things I didn't want for a few things I did.

The morning of the swap, everyone brought their clothes into the office and split them up on tables according to size. This was a little tricky, as we all know a large at Forever 21 is another woman's extra-small. But we eyeballed it. We split off the shoes and accessories and hung some of the nicer jackets on the backs of office chairs.

There. Were. So. Many. Clothes. The leftovers would go to charity. Laundry detergents wafted through the air. "It's amazing how fast it starts to smell like a thrift store," Stephanie said.

At 1 p.m., it was time. We trickled in and started picking through the piles. The group was hesitant at first, but once someone grabbed a top, it was a green light. Then it got really fun. "Ooh, this is a pretty skirt," someone would say. "That's mine!" came from across the room. We all had stories about how we once were thin, or fat, or more apt to wear tiny skirts. Someone lobbied for her favorite old suede skirt, which no longer worked due to a personal conflict with her waist.

The piles were full of wacky gems, like a shirt that said, "I'll like you when you're more like me," a pair of almost new polka-dot cork heels and pointy-toe black pumps. The accessory table was brimming with bangle bracelets and necklaces. We went to the bathroom to try stuff on, a couple at a time. It was like being at the mall with friends. "How does this look?" "I can't wear orange." "Does my stomach hang out the bottom?" "Can I pull off this many sequins?"

At the end of the hour, I came away with an awesome haul of stuff, including a pair of Industrial Cotton jeans, a baby blue Banana Republic sweater and a super sparkly teal sweater caplet, which I'm convinced I was always meant to have.

Grand total? Free. Not bad for a lunch break.

How to host a workplace swap

Make sure there's a place to change and try on clothes, be it a spacious bathroom, a well-shrouded empty office or a screened off corner of the swap room. People are more likely to take things if they know they fit and look good.

Turn on some music to grease the awkward first few minutes. Cookies never hurt, either.

Stretch the swap over a couple days in case some people forget their contribution or get sick. If you can reserve the office space, great. If not, move everything into a closet and set it back out the next day.

Don't be shy. Part of the fun is wearing the clothes to work and wondering who they belonged to first. And the best part? Hearing those almighty words, "It looks better on you."

Have a swap annually, or even twice a year. It'll keep all our lives simplified, and our wallets happy. What more do you need?

Raid your donation bags and have a workplace clothing swap 10/28/10 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 5:31am]

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