A Brief History of Clothing Swaps

Go Through Your Wardrobe Make Do and Mend

Although clothing swaps have been on the rise recently, the pastime of trading clothes goes far back in history. Clothing swaps, swap meets and flea markets have long been affordable ways for those without means to get themselves a new wardrobe. However, current culture has eaten up secondhand clothing as if it was the latest runway fashion. Fashion is changing and so is the way we acquire our clothes!

It is now popular, even trendy, to have items in your closet with storied pasts. Yet when clothes swapping first became part of society, it was embarrassing to own used clothes. In the early 20th century, post World War II, most of the population couldn’t afford new clothing and countries like the US and the UK couldn’t extend resources. Along with the “Make Do and Mend” campaign, swap meets became widespread in different communities. Unlike the way we think of clothing swaps today, these swaps were anonymous so as not to reveal anyone’s current economic situation. In accordance with many frugal spending practices, children’s clothing was the first to be swapped and mended. This evolved into men’s clothing, women’s, accessories and so forth.


As the 20th century progressed, clothes sharing went in and out of fashion. Each new clothing swap moment coincided with times of fashion extravagance such as the 1960’s and 1980’s. In the 80’s, donning the latest trends became vital to fitting into the workplace, community and social scenes. While everyone wanted to partake in these trends, not everyone had the funds to do so. Enter clothing swaps. Friends would get together with their “old” clothing items and spend a few hours together, curating new wardrobes with little to no cost! Even though both of these decades saw demanding trends and rapid changes in fashion, people were able to keep up – with a little help from their friends.

This pattern continued throughout the beginning of the 21st century and has now landed us in today’s world. Fast fashion is on the rise, consumerism is part of the everyday, and convenience is demanded. We are in a time of extreme excess and don’t know what to do with it all! With the “help” of companies such as Forever 21, Amazon, Walmart, H&M, Postmates, Grubhub, and more, we barely have to leave the house or make any real decisions of our own. Although many items are cheap at first, the ultimate cost is incredibly high—in human labor, environmental impact, and money in our pockets. The more we spend on cheap items, the more we will have to spend to keep replacing them. This tireless cycle is the reason why there has been another rise in clothing swaps around the country, and the world. When the culture starts screaming quantity over quality, that’s when value really starts to matter. It’s easy to get caught up in the commotion of consumerism, yet during this time it’s so important to keep a sense of perspective. It’s true that there are some things that money can’t buy.

Swap Society was created for a few reasons: to protect the planet from the fashion industry, to empower people to find their personal style, and to keep fashion accessible to all. Join the tried and true clothing swap movement and find the story behind your clothes. Check out our collection now!

Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She has attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, London College of Fashion, and received a BFA in costume design from the California Institute of the Arts. Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious fashion and hopes to continue to spread awareness and love for ethical consumption. Visit her blog audstant.com and follow her on Instagram for lots of #slowfashion inspiration!


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