Beg or Borrow but Don't Steal, Dress to Impress (for Less), Going Green

A library of threads

Initiated by RMIT fashion student Kate Luckins in 2004, The Clothing Exchange has grown into one of Melbourne’s premier clothing swaps, reliably offering high street brands, vintage, and other quality pieces.

For last Monday’s National Swap Day, The Clothing Exchange coordinated swaps around the country, promoting eco-friendly, ethical, and social ways of consuming fashion.

The Melbourne swap held at Federation Square was an organised affair. A bevy of volunteers manned the desks, handed out baked goods, and screened all offerings. I nibbled at my lemon slice and watched apprehensively as they pawed through other people’s cast-offs. When it came to my turn, however, my volunteer reverently shook the folds out of each item, making me and my preloved contributions feel wanted and welcome.

I took my seat alongside other punters while we waited for the clothes to be sorted and arranged on the racks. Veteran swappers kept tabs on what they wanted to try on first. Some played size-guessing games. One woman complained that her ‘gameplan’ kept on changing. I pulled a face at fellow blogger Rhonda Perky, picturing scenes of swapping chaos: elbows, C-bombs, tugs of war.

Once the rules were established, the swap began with hundreds of women trampling down towards the stage. I spent the first fifteen minutes ducking and weaving rather than finding clothes, and there was a moment when I feared I would come out of the swap empty-handed.

As the racks thinned, however, so did the crowds, and while Rhonda and I were left with the clothes that nobody else wanted, our mission did become easier. We made several laps. Rhonda tried on a cute black cardi. I found a flattering shirt dress. My other finds were not so special: an Asian-inspired silk top, a knit, a necklace, a florid jacket from the eighties.

It was the same for the veteran swapper resting on the steps beside me. While she admitted that she wasn’t completely happy with her replacements, she didn’t mind. She might wear them once or twice and then bring the back to the next swap.

Hers was a philosophy that opposed my mustbethrifty ways. Instead of consuming throwaway fashions, I usually buy clothes that I know I will wear often and for a long while. However, when it comes to clothes swapping, experimentation is the key. I walked away from Federation Square with someone else’s dress, and a realisation that The Clothing Exchange and other swaps like it are communal wardrobes, clothes libraries for the mustbethrifty fashionista who doesn’t want to wear the same thing twice. I’ve already taken my new dress out on the town this week and, thankfully, it didn’t cost my wallet or the earth.

20 years and 8 months to go,

M.

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