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Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 17:20 UK

For women who love to swap

By Siobhan Courtney
BBC News


Siobhan Courtney is invited to her first swishing party

Want a new outfit but loath to splash out when every penny counts? A swishing party is a swap shop for the smart set.

"Everyone's swapping now, darling - it's so fashionable".

I nod at the immaculately turned-out girl flipping through hangers in a furious frenzy. I'm at my first swishing party at a beautiful Georgian house in East London.

Swishing is a growing trend, where a gaggle of fashion-loving women get together, feast on nibbles, guzzle wine and swap their clothes. Eco-fabulous recycling at its best.

It says on the invitation that everyone must bring at least one clean, good quality item of clothing to donate to the rails, but people can leave with as many items as they wish. Is this fair if someone brings just one item but sashays away with a handful of designer clothes?

My own donation is a skirt that cost 50 that I've worn once - hopefully someone will love it enough to give it a new home.

Worn again

The dictionary defines swishing as "to rustle, as silk" but Lucy Shea, strategy director of green PR firm Futerra, has applied the term to clothes swapping parties - similar in concept to Tupperware parties of yore.

Bring at least one item of clothing
No claiming items before the swish opens
No fighting over clothes

Women have swapped clothes for eons, and the success of eBay shows that women will happily bid for someone else's cast-offs. But that costs, and swishing is free.

After an hour of browsing - "of course I don't mind if you try this on," says more than one woman through gritted teeth - it's time to swish. All 40 of us step away from the rails as Lucy outlines the rules: "Remember ladies: no scratching, no spitting, no biting. Three, two, one - SWISH."

We all surge forward, a steely glint in many an eye. Several people make a grab for the same top; another two swap high-fives as they clutch their chosen items; and one woman looks devastated as another snatches a green tweed jacket from her hands.

But mostly the party-goers bond as they haggle over clothes. A trio huddle over a royal blue scarf, earnestly discussing whether or not someone with blue eyes suits it. The verdict, eventually, is no.

Reduce, reuse

Geraldine Brennan, a recent arrival from South Africa, is all for swishing. "Why not recycle - it's like passing good energy on. Not only are you saving the planet but you get a new wardrobe."

Why spend 100 on a new pair of shoes when you can come to a swishing party and get them for free?
Lucy Shea

Traid, the textile recycling charity, says 900,000 tonnes of shoes and clothing are thrown away every year in the UK. A clothes swapping party - whether an official swishing event or a DIY affair - can go some way to reducing this total.

Lucy adds although women love to shop, many feel guilty about splashing out on new clothes.

"Swishing parties are particularly significant in the current economic climate - why spend 100 on a new pair of shoes when you can come to a swishing party and get them for free? And, the best thing is you can have some glasses of wine, nibbles and make new friends who like you love fashion."

She has swishing hosted parties in New York as well as London, and says that the Americans are more ruthless than the mild-mannered Brits.

While some leave the party having hit the fashion jackpot, others come away empty-handed - much like a trawl around the High Street, but with the advantage of no cash outlay. As for my skirt, it looks far better on its new owner than it ever did on me. And in exchange, I can now add a silk and lace grey camisole to my wardrobe.

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