Let’s get swishing!

Not since our grandmother’s day has it been so ‘in’ to make or revamp our own clothes. But with the environment in jeopardy and the credit crunch biting at our heels, more and more women are joining the ‘worn-again’ revolution. And you don’t have to be good with a needle, as Sally Jarman discovers

Hot on the heels of Twiggy’s Frock Exchange TV series last Autumn, and a high profile, record-beating, eco-fashion event at the V&A, museum, swishing parties are the place for smart women to be in 2009 – and the great news is that it won’t cost you a penny to join in!

The idea is to swap, rather than shop, and involves groups of women getting together to party, while each taking along at least one item each of unwanted but good quality, clean clothing or accessories that they would feel proud to hand on.

Over drinks and a good old chat, guests can browse the clothes, which the organisers sort onto rails and tables. Then on the given word everyone is free to indulge in an orgy of choosing, matching, trying-on and more good old chat. Until, hopefully, everyone leaves some time later with a brand new (to them) outfit and a warm glow of an evening well spent with friends. 

Of course there is a serious side to swishing as well. By recycling rather than buying new, we can help to reduce the one million tonnes of clothing dumped in our landfill sites every year, leeching chemicals into our eco system and harmful gases into the atmosphere.

Mary-Anne Masih, a self-confessed clothes-a-holic, says swishing has been a revelation: “I’m very style conscious and love retro clothes, so being let loose at my first swishing party, at St Aldate’s Church, Oxford, was heaven. There were clothes from all eras, all in good condition and all there in front of me ready to be tried on. I took my younger sister along and we both found things we liked, despite being amazed at how fast things were snapped up.”

The quality of the clothes and the way they are set out is important says Mary-Anne: “I was a little worried before I arrived that it would be a sort of glorified jumble sale, but there were designer labels as well as High Street fashions, and the clothes were all in sections on rails, while the accessories were neatly on tables. I really liked the fact that they all had a label on with ‘love from . . .’

“Someone had set up some mannequins and dressed them which looked great, and there were fashion students on hand just dying to help us create the best look, if we wanted advice. It all came together to make a really enjoyable evening, which can’t always be said for shopping trips.”

Having enjoyed the experience at her old church so much, Mary-Anne is planning her own swishing party in Leicester, where she now lives.

As a professional stylist, Sherelyn Montellanos is also keen on repeating the Oxford experience, with perhaps a regular seasonal ‘swish’.

Used to the excesses of the clothing industry, she loves being a part of the constantly changing world of fashion: “But I am also a Christian and passionate about the fact that we have a responsibility to care for our environment. Recycling is something we can all do easily and should do more of. It’s really worrying to me how many perfectly good clothes we just throw away.

“I think once people start trying the clothes on at a swishing party, and see the possibilities through their friends eyes, they get a real thrill. It’s quite exciting. And if something doesn’t fit exactly but you can see the potential, there are lots of places you can go have them altered if you can’t do it yourself.

“I took two items along and came back with five, and I did see some people take home the clothes they originally came with - their eyes opened to fresh possibilities.”

Churches are a great place for promoting clothes recycling believes swishing convert Christine Howson: “One of the key ingredients to the success of any party is getting like-minded people together, which hopefully is what we have in a church community, and from there it’s an opportunity to reach out to people in the surrounding area.

“Organise a swishing party and you not only spread the message about the role we can play in preserving our environment, you get to meet new people. We’re girls for goodness sake – most of us love clothes so we immediately have something to talk about with every single person at the party. There are not many events you can say that for.”

She says: “I love the party concept, browsing leisurely through the rails with a glass of wine in one had, chatting to friends, then taking time to try things on with more chat about what goes with what. It’s so much nicer than battling through the crowds on a Saturday, trailing from shop to shop to find a top that will go with the skirt you bought at the other end of town.

“At a swishing party it’s all under one roof, it’s free, and most of the time people are so friendly (unless possibly you want the same garment!). You can keep the High Street, I think most women would prefer this sort of shopping!”

Starting to swish

Elizabeth Laskar, ethical fashion consultant and swishing expert, has these tips for your Swishing party:

* Choose a theme to entice your target audience and focus the style of party. It can be anything from party season glad rags, a youth fashion show or disco, to toddler time.
* Make sure everyone knows they have to bring at least one good quality, good condition item with them.
* Make everyone feel welcome and special, with ready prepared gift tags for them to tie on their garments and a welcome drink. Background music adds to the atmosphere and nibbles of some sort are always appreciated.
* Make sure you have enough rails and tables, clearly marked for different clothes.
* Perhaps ask students along from a local fashion and beauty college, as advisers.
* Have a clear timetable of drinks and browsing until a designated time when trying on can begin, and explain it in a welcome talk once all the guests have arrived, reminding them again of the environmental impact of our throwaway culture.
* You can advertise your Swishing party in local press and websites and also on, where you will find reviews from other parties around the UK as well as hints, tips and practical resources such as invitations.