THE only currency is outfits no longer worn!
A WOMAN is excitedly stuffing her arms into the “free” tan leather coat she’s just whipped from the rails.
But the look of hope on her face swiftly twists into a grimace.
“No. Definitely too Starsky and Hutch,” she exclaims, taking off the offending article as fast as she can. “I feel like rolling over the bonnet of someone’s Ford Capri,..”
Undaunted, though, bargain-hunter Trudie Smallwood stuffs the double-breaster back on its hanger and sallies forth to the rails once more. There’s a distinct possibility that, in the 30 seconds it took for that coat to turn from potential prize find to reject, something far more covetable has arrived. This is a swish, where one woman’s trash potentially becomes another woman’s treasure.
And this is how it works: every item in the room is actually a cast-off. And clothes, rather than money, change hands. To get “free” secondhand clothes, you use the garments you no longer wear as “currency”.
Technically, nothing is actually free because your clothes cost you a fair penny in the first place, but female logic has a clever way of overlooking such matters.
Fashion’s version of the swap-shop has been around throughout the Noughties.
But the recession has really given swishing legs - because it enables women to trade on those jeans that cut them in half when they sit down and the shoes that never did feel comfortable from the moment they were first tried on. And all the tops and dresses that were bought as a result of passing fads, fancies, moods and whims rather than a real need. And at the same time, you free yourself of all the guilt that goes with them.
The only rules? Everything you take along must be clean and tidy - and you can only get back the same number of items as you put in. It absolutely isn’t about getting like for like - in theory, you could take in an armful of Primarni and exit with Armani if you’re lucky.
No one minds because, for once, common sense reins at a swish; you take in something you don’t want, and swap it for something you do. In all probability, the woman who off-loaded her designer-tagged togs is likely to be equally happy taking home a few bits of recycled chain store chic to fill the new gap in her wardrobe.
Meadowhall, where scores of shopaholics must buy something they don’t need every single day, was the scene for the nation’s biggest swish. It lasted for nine hours and more than 300 women turned up with 1,800 unwanted items.
Many a swisher, Trudie Smallwood and daughter Casey included, found it so addictive, they returned again and again as the afternoon wore on.
“That’s quite common. We’ve also had women ringing friends and urging them to come down,” said Nicola Alexander, of organisers Daisy Green Events. “We stage swishes up and down the country and women love them, It’s a chance to clean out your cupboards in a pain-free way.
“Statistics say the average woman has 24 pieces of unworn clothes in her wardrobe. They just hang there because you’ve spent the money on them. Handing them to a charity shop is very virtuous, but can be a step too far for women who don’t want to face the fact that they have wasted their money. With swishing, everyone wins.”
There were just 10 bags of clothes left at the end of the day, which were donated to Helen’s Trust, the local charity which provides at-home care and support for the terminally ill.
Gemma Noble, communications executive at Meadowhall, said: “The event was a great success. Loads of people asked when we would hold another swish; it’s definitely something to consider again.”
SELF-CONFESSED shopping addict Julia Patterson has scores of expensive clothes she has never worn – and never will.
The 40-year-old quality manager for a motor group and trustee for local charity Helen’s Trust loves buying clothes, shoes and handbags, but often ends up falling out of love with her purchases all too quickly and selling them for a fraction of their original price on EBay, or taking them to a charity shop. She had never considered swishing.
Platform M&S Autograph snake-print shoes: “that just hurt”
Pair of Spanish designer black evening heels: “I bought them and then go off them,”
Handbag: “bought on impulse in France a few years ago”.
Classic black trouser suit from M&S Autograph: “it’s just not a great fit”.
Black jersey dress by James Lakeland - cost over £200 and has only been worn six times.
Knitted designer dress - with the label on: “I bought it six years ago and I’ve never worn it. A few hundred again.
Silk wrap dress by Italian design house MaxMara. “I just look like Miss Marple in it. It doesn’t work for me.”
Grey tweedy dress she had made - and didn’t have the heart to tell the dressmaker it didn’t fit properly.
“I’ve come with an open mind, having never swished before. Maybe a couple of pieces to wear this spring.”
“I’m really pleased with my finds. I especially like the little Victorian style blouse I found, and a pale grey jersey top. They cost a lot less than the dresses I brought in, but that’s irrelevant; I’ll definitely wear them and that’s what counts.”
During 90 minutes of swishing, Julia got to see three of her items get snapped up by appreciative new owners. She commented: “It didn’t make me want them back; it made me feel very happy to know they weren’t being wasted any more.”
FORMER student Naomi Biltcliffe, 24, is still job-hunting and money is tight.
Swishing sounded like a good way of up-dating her wardrobe without having to spend money.
“I would be a real shopaholic if I had the money. But I’ve been reined in only by impoverished student life,” she says. “I’d heard about swishing and thought it sounded like a great idea. I am wondering how it will work at a shopping centre and over such a long period of time, though. I’m not sure I’ll find something I like.”
Red trapeze top: “I’ve lost weight so it’s a bit loose and you can see my bra.”
Topshop dress: “I used to quite like this, but now I feel it’s maternity dress-esque.”
White Primark smock top: “I’ve just bought a new white shirt so this one can go.”
A job actually, so anything smart I could wear to an interview.”
“What a result. I brought in inexpensive chainstore pieces I’d tired off and picked up two striking little dresses – plus Julia’s Spanish shoes! I loved them the minute she took them out of her bag and was so pleased to find they fitted me.
“I did feel bad that the stuff I got was more expensive than the stuff I’d brought in. But if everyone’s happy at the end, then why worry? I reckon swishing is the new black.”
LIKE many women, Jenny Biltcliffe impulse-buys when she’s feeling happy with life.
The heady rush of a rash new purchase is soon extinguished, though. The recently retired social work consultant ends up feeling guilty for wasting money on clothes she soon realises she bought for the wrong reasons.
Often, her impulse buys don’t actually suit her. Or she realises she has nowhere to wear them, so they go into storage.
In fact, she’s now got so many clothes, she’s just had to buy another wardrobe to accommodate them. “It’s time for some of them to go,” says the 60 year-old, mum of Naomi.
White floral top from White Stuff. “I still think it’s pretty but it’s just not me. I’ve never worn it.”
Sage festival chic kaftan top. “It doesn’t flatter me in any way. I bought it on holiday in Spain.”
A bright, sequin trimmed vest top. Another Spanish holiday buy that I quickly realised wasn’t really me. It’s too bright and too strappy.”
Kaliko pistachio skirt. “I did really like this, but I’ve tired of it now.”
“Something that is actually me and that I will get some wear out of.”
“I spent ages browsing and found of couple of bright tops that suited me. But then one of the swish organisers persuaded me that Julia’s silk MaxMara dress would suit me. I was amazed that it fitted me – and that it looked so good. I’d never have bought anything like it in a shop. The fact that I didn’t have to pay for it made me a bit more daring about going for it, I suppose.
I also found shoes and a bag to match so I got an entire outfit for no extra outlay.”
Jenny also got the satisfaction of seeing another woman gleefully snap up her khaki kaftan.