This past Sunday, I attended my very first clothing swap event. I was invited by one of my local Facebook friends and mostly went because I was intrigued and wanted to get out of the house. I still had some of the clothes I’d purged during my May “KonMari Process,” as the local consignment store was only interested in a portion of my cast-offs. So I decided to take those items with me to the clothing swap and see if anything there caught my fancy. In today’s post, I share my clothing swap experience and what I learned from it.
I had no idea what to expect from the clothing swap, but as I wrote above, I was curious. The event was being held in a fairly upscale area of town, so I had high hopes that I might find some hidden gems there. Not that I was in search of anything really specific, but I liked the “treasure hunt” aspect of such an event. That element was what used to have me visiting consignment stores on a regular basis. I never knew what I might find and I always hoped I’d discover a “diamond in the rough” among a vast array of virtually worthless rocks.
The Clothing Swap Experience
When I entered the event on Sunday afternoon, I was told that there were no hard and fast rules. There was no cost to participate and one wasn’t limited to going home with the same amount or fewer items than she had brought with her. Many clothing swaps are fee-based and include item limits, but this one was a lot more open-ended: bring what you want and leave with as much or as little as you desire. The clothes and accessories (there weren’t many of those) were all arranged by category across a series of long tables in a large room. I was instructed to lay my items out in the appropriate places and then peruse the offerings to see what I might find.
As I laid out my items, I quickly realized that my offerings were clearly the best of the mix. My garments were only gently used and my jewelry pieces were in good shape. Everything I brought with me was of at least moderate quality and many of them could be considered high quality. There was really nothing wrong with any of them except they didn’t work for me and my life any longer.
The same could not be said for most of the other items that were piled onto the tables in front of me. What I saw were a lot of worn out, faded, stretched out, shrunken, and pilled garments. I spent roughly thirty minutes going through what was there and it didn’t take me long to feel that I was going to leave empty-handed. Nothing I saw met my high standards in terms of quality, style, color, and fit. To be fair, I think I was in a somewhat older age group than most of the participants, as many of the styles I saw looked quite young and trendy. In addition, the other women who were there were mostly younger than me, more in the 20-35 age group. But even so, I didn’t really see any garments on the tables that were of decent quality. It all looked sub-standard to me…
All Was Not Lost…
I left the event feeling like it had been a waste of my time to go there. All was not lost, however, as I was able to enjoy a healthy dessert (who knew that raw, vegan, gluten-free carrot cake could taste so good?) at the venue’s café before I left. That gave me some time to think about what I learned from attending the clothing swap and how I might be able to share those lessons in a blog post. I also pondered my recent second-hand store experiences and noticed some common threads. The following is basically a free-flow “brain dump” of those musings.
I used to be a “more is more” person when it came to my wardrobe. My focus centered mostly on the acquisition of new pieces and I was always on the lookout for bargains and discounts. I didn’t give too much thought to garment quality and wardrobe longevity. If something was new, cool, and interesting –and offered at a low price, I had to have it. I didn’t give much consideration to how I would wear it, where I was going in it, or what I would pair it with. This attitude resulted in a disjointed, hodge-podge closet filled with mediocre pieces that I didn’t truly love. My outfits were mostly uninspired and I kept feeling like I had “nothing to wear,” which spurred on shopping for more new bargains and “deals.”
My Wardrobe and Shopping 2.5 Years into Blogging
As a result of writing this blog for 2.5 years and making a concerted effort to build a workable wardrobe, my closet is in a much better place today. While I still feel like I have some work to do before I feel truly satisfied with my clothing and personal style, I have made a great deal of progress. I no longer regularly buy things on impulse or go for quantity over quality. These days, my purchases are much more considered and deliberate and are based more often on true wardrobe needs rather than fleeting whims.
I now almost exclusively shop retail and I have very little interest in the consignment shopping that used to be a mainstay for me. Not only did I realize that resale shopping led to a lot of mistakes (see this post for my analysis of that), but I also came to feel that my time spent trying to find “hidden gems” could be better utilized on other pursuits, many of which are not related to clothes or shopping at all.
Declining Quality or Raised Standards?
Since the beginning of the year, I have probably made five trips to drop off castoffs at what used to be my favorite consignment store. I generally have to wait at least twenty minutes for the staff to go through my items and select the pieces they’d like to sell, during which time I look through the store’s offerings. I have increasingly become less and less impressed with what I’ve found there. I have often wondered why that was the case. Had the items there declined in quality or had my standards increased? In truth, I believe it’s a combination of these factors. Garment quality has gone down, which motivated my writing this post (I still plan to create a permanent page on the site for quality clothing recommendations), but I am also a lot more selective than I used to be.
I wonder if I would have felt differently about last weekend’s clothing swap it had been held three years ago. Would I have ooh’d and aah’d about what I saw there like many of the other attendees? Would I have plucked out a handful of “almost” or “it will do” items simply because they were free for the taking? Would I have tried to rescue ill-fitting garments through alterations instead of leaving them behind? In my heart of hearts, I know the answer is yes. The Debbie of yesteryear would have come home with probably at least five pieces, most of which would have been worn only once or twice, only to hang in my closet and induce feelings of guilt and then be passed on a year or two later.
I Have Changed…
I realized as I pondered my clothing swap experience that I have changed. I am no longer highly motivated by the acquisition of new clothes, shoes, and accessories at all costs. Clothes and shopping are no longer my primary interest and aim in life. I still care about what I wear and how I look, probably still too much, but that’s a topic for another post.
I think it’s fine and even good to care about clothes. Shopping isn’t a bad hobby to have at all, despite what the “mean girls” wrote on their forum back in April. It’s all about balance and how shopping and clothes fit into our lives. More importantly, what matters most is how we feel about the role these interests play in our lives. We are the only ones who can truly determine if something is innocuous or problematic for us.
After I left the clothing swap, I decided to drive home along the coast. On the way, I discovered a new beach that I hadn’t visited before. I became excited at the prospect of taking photos there and spent the next two hours happily immersed in that activity. Yes, I was still alone and I still need to work on cultivating new interactions and building friendships, but I felt a lot more peaceful than I have ever felt in a store or mall. I didn’t look particularly stylish in the baseball cap and warm jacket I put on to walk along the beach, but I embodied more confidence in that setting than I ever remember feeling while shopping. I was being true to myself and it felt good. Here are a few of the photos I took that day, including a “selfie” of me next to the famous Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach:
Shopping Isn’t Bad or Wrong
Now don’t get me wrong… I haven’t done a complete 180 such that I look down on the activity of shopping and those who enjoy it. I am still one of those people after all and probably always will be. I am just beginning to feel that maybe, just maybe, shopping is falling into its proper place in my life. It is no longer my be-all, end-all activity, the default thing to do whenever I have some free time and feel up to leaving the house. I still sometimes choose it, as I did with the clothing swap, but my day no longer feels wasted or ruined if I come home empty-handed.
I got a lot more than a few new items of clothing last weekend. I came home with some nice photos, memories of my time at the beach, and the realization that I truly am a recovering shopaholic. I am getting closer and closer to my goal of trading my full closet for a full life. As I typed that, tears welled up in my eyes, but they weren’t tears of sadness. They were tears of joy and hope, hope that maybe I will finally be able to live a life that will truly inspire me, filled with things that no store sells and which money cannot buy.