R: On July 9-10, Alex and I participated in “Take Off Your Clothes!” clothing swap event at Place-des-Arts as volunteers and swappers…starting bright and early at 6:30 in the morning.
A: Our second year doing it. It keeps getting bigger.
R: Here’s some background on the S.W.A.P. Team – created in 2007, it is run entirely by volunteers and has chapters in Montreal, Calgary, Halifax, Toronto, Ottawa and Boston. The team’s goal is to “Promote eco-friendly and socially conscious clothing consumption” and provide good quality clothing to charities, and thereby reducing landfill waste.
A: So why do you swap?
R: When I first read about the swap event on Facebook in May 2010, I thought it was a great way to get some new clothes without spending much money because I was really broke back then.
A: For me it was part not wanting to buy new clothes, and part curiosity. I had never heard of clothing swaps and had no idea what it could possibly entail. New clothes didn’t hurt either.
R: The S.W.A.P. team puts a lot of effort into making the venue look nice and like a “boutique” (laying out the clothes on tables or hanging them on racks), which helps to attract those who feel wary about used clothes.
A: You’ve been to smaller scale swaps too, right? Does it actually make a difference in the swap experience, and do you think a swap’s quality is proportional to its size?
R: It does. I’ve participated in one “chaos” style swap where people just piled on clothes on top of each other. I used to think the whole “boutique” set-up was superfluous, but after the overwhelming experience of the “chaos” swap where I had trouble finding a matching glove, I’ve come to appreciate the organization.
Rosel’s Swap Finds – Almost An Outfit!
A: I agree that “authenticity” that the S.W.A.P. Team provides makes the fact that someone was wearing the clothes before you more palatable.
R: Yeah, I agree. the S.W.A.P team also has pretty strict standards (no tank tops, no t-shirts, etc) which I think is fair – I certainly wouldn’t think a tank top and a winter coat were worth the same ticket.
A: Do you think that the format of the S.W.A.P. Team event is an ultimately useful one? I mean, does making the swap more like a boutique store just reinforce the norm of shopping, or does it subvert it somehow?
R: I find the $10 admission fee to the events a bit problematic. One man who was walking by Place des Arts asked, ‘you have to pay $10 to just exchange your clothes?’ and I didn’t really have a good answer. It seems counter-intuitive to charge for an event that promotes more affordable clothes…I mean, it’s worth it if you bring a lot of stuff. But if you only have 2 things to give away, you wouldn’t want to pay $10 to do it, would you? This makes me think that swapping is really geared to the (upper?) middle-class demographic that has a lot of spare clothes to go around.
A: I disagree, at least to part of your statement. I think you need to charge an admission fee to cover rental spaces and promotions. You’re right though that there’s a class element. The people with clothes to spare pick through first and then we give the leftovers away. That said, I don’t think people would take part without some promise of class exclusivity. For example, if the sorters randomly took half the clothes and just donated them right away without doing a check for cool styles or brand names, and let the swapper pick through the other half, a lot less people would be motivated to participate.
R: True. The “chic” image of the S.W.A.P team certainly did them favours – A lot of media covered the swap event this time around (Montreal Gazette, Clin d’Oeil, and other blogs). How was your experience as a male swapper?
A: It gets better every year, but there’s honestly not a lot of great clothing available for men yet. I blame deep-seated gender norms; men, in general, don’t swap their clothing. Instead, they keep it until it can’t be worn anymore.
R: Yeah, the male presence is definitely less prominent than the female one.
Alex’s Swap Finds
A: And a proportionally more queer one. What fascinates me is that the gendered nature of clothes gets blurred outside of the store setting. When the clothes get sorted they aren’t labelled “men” or “women”, so you sometimes find women’s clothing in the men’s section. I took a great jacket home from a men’s rack and it was for women. Speaking of clothing adventures, did you unearth any great clothing treasures?
R: I received 25 tickets and picked up 11 items – mostly skirts and dresses, some scarves, and two pairs of shoes. What I’m most excited about is a red turban-style knit headband for the winter – I think it was donated by one of the vintage shops they partnered with, since it still had the “$18” price tag. How about you?
A: Aside from the jacket, a pair of dress pants and a brand name sweater. I even saw one of my own shirts and took it back. I guess that speaks to how much we want a piece of clothing by how it looks on a hanger. Oh, and a fedora that the resident stylist insisted I take.
R: Yes, the resident stylist by the change room was very enthusiastic about everyone’s finds…including a dress that was definitely too short for me (which he dubbed a “walking dress”).
A: So do you think more people should start swapping? I think it depends on their gender identity… guys should test the waters, but there’s tons of good finds for women.
R: I say yes, women should definitely try out clothing swaps. It is a great alternative if you want to a) save money and b) explore alternative and more ethical ways of buying clothes. The S.W.A.P. team has another event coming up in September.
A: Wait, I changed my mind! Isn’t the lack of men an issue at these things? We should be telling more men to jump in whole heartedly! Guys, get involved!
About the Authors
Alex | Alberta born, currently living in Montreal. He keeps busy by taking care of his vegetable garden and finches. Otherwise he can be seen putting his MA to work by watching TV, playing video games, or reading something postmodern. If you want to for some reason, follow him on Twitter: @alexkristof
Rosel | Hailing from Seoul and Vancouver, Rosel’s settled in Montreal (for now). She writes book reviews for the Montreal Review of Books, and discusses gender, sexuality, and race on her personal blog, What Are Years?. Follow her on twitter @jroselkim