Guys, I'd like to start with fair warning that this month's offering may not be your cup of espresso. Sorry about that—next month we'll tackle a more gender-neutral topic. Meanwhile, feel free to run along (bye now!) while those of us of the female persuasion discuss a few things that are near and dear to our hearts. Namely: clothing, accessories, shopping, friends, parties, and how to combine them all into one fabulous event.

Now then, girls, you know how it is. Spring styles are sprouting up like wildflowers and, if you're anything like me, the desire to go out and pick a whole bouquet of new clothes, shoes, and accessories is all but overwhelming. Unfortunately, new stuff doesn't come cheap, which tends to bring out my inner accountant who invariably informs me, "You don't need that. It's frivolous."

"So?" I respond (silently, of course). "It's cute."

"You have perfectly good items in your closet you don't wear. You should be wearing them instead." My inner accountant tends to sound snippy.

"I'm tired of them."

"That's no excuse."

"I want something new."

"Have you checked your bank balance lately?"

"But it's cuuuuuute!" Sorry. When I start whining to myself, it's time to step away—from the coveted item and the imaginary dialogue.

Back to the wardrobe dilemma. You've probably heard the phrase "shop in your own closet" which refers to digging past your fave ensembles to see what you might be overlooking back there in the corner. That's great if you have things lurking behind that old bridesmaid dress just waiting to be found. But sometimes the problem is not that you don't know what you have—it's that you know it all too well. There's nothing wrong with it. It's still in style. It's just . . . boring. So why not try shopping in your friends' closets, instead?

Here's how to do that and not get busted for burglary: organize a swap meet. It's fun, it's virtually free, it's even "green." Not only that, it's efficient—you can weed out your wardrobe and feed your appetite for fresh fashion at the same time.

There are several ways to pull off a successful swap meet, but here's how I'd go about it:

Before the Party

  • First, decide if you want to swap accessories, clothing, shoes, or all of the above. If you're swapping clothes and/or shoes, you'll want to be sure to invite friends who are roughly the same size, otherwise it will be an exercise in frustration for everyone.
  • Next, decide if you want to establish a minimum or maximum number of items, like three or five each. It's purely optional, so go with your gut on this one. Don't worry, there's a way to keep the swapping equitable, which we'll get to in a bit.
  • Set a date and time. You can do a weekend brunch, a lunch-time swap, or an evening event—whatever works for you and your group.
  • Think about food. Will it be a potluck affair? (That's kind of like swapping food, so it fits the theme. Plus it's easy on you. It's what I'd do.) Or would you prefer to whip up some goodies, stop by the store for ready-made munchies, or order in pizza or Chinese? Whatever suits your party style and budget will be fine.
  • Send out invitations. Remember, the more people who come, the more merchandise you'll have to choose from.
  • Indulge in a little pre-party planning. You'll want to think about the following:
    • What you personally are going to swap.
    • Where you're going to set up the items. If space allows, you might designate one room as the "shop" and another as the "restaurant" where the food will be served. Don't forget to designate a space (even if it's just the bathroom) as a dressing room.
    • How you're going to display the items. For example, will you throw clothing over the couch or hang it from a temporary rack made of a broom handle suspended between two bar stools? Do you have a table or countertop big enough to lay out all the jewelry, scarves, purses, etc.?
    • Make swap dollars. Each item will be worth one swap dollar, so make plenty. You can cut several out of a standard 8.5 by 11 inch piece of paper (use a paper cutter; your fingers will thank you). You can find cute currency graphics online or make your own, but do not photocopy or scan a dollar bill. Uncle Sam defines that as counterfeiting and odds are they won't let you wear your cute new stuff with that orange prison jumpsuit.
    • Number slips of paper—one for each person who's coming—and place in a container.

At the Party