A group of enthusiastic women went shopping recently, finding all sorts of fashionable outfits.

What’s so unusual about that?

For one, they took away armloads of clothing. For another, they didn’t spend a dime.

This is shop until you drop with a twist.

They were members of a local Weight Watchers group participating in a clothing swap – a way for those losing pounds and inches to stay well-dressed without breaking the bank as they slim down.

A clothing swap is something from which even the most svelte can benefit.

As the economy lags and gasoline and food prices climb, often it is the clothing budget that suffers most. Attending clothing swaps and shopping at thrift stores are ways to make ends meet.

Swaps – which can be done in person or online – are good ways to combat wardrobe fatigue and say good riddance to outfits you’re tired of wearing. Besides fighting money doldrums, clothing swaps are fun.

At the recent Weight Watchers’ swap, Nancy May backed up her SUV near the door and had to enlist several friends to carry the trunk full of clothing she was swapping. The retired schoolteacher had more than 200 items to share.

“It’s a great idea; when you are shopping in stores, you spend a lot of money, not to mention all the gas going from place to place,” she said.

Meredy Brownstein, grabbed up a red wool coat that May brought in. “It’s gorgeous,” Brownstein said.

Besides saving a lot of money, she likes swaps because there are no salespeople gushing that an outfit looks wonderful on you, whether it does or not.

“The swap is a safe place where friends will tell you: “Don’t you dare wear that in public,”‘ she said.

Besides saving money at swaps, new outfits can boost self-esteem – and swaps are a chance for gal pals to bond, notes Pat Gillaspi, the Weight Watchers leader who organized the recent swap.

The stigma of wearing used clothing all but disappeared in the 1990s, when garage sales and thrift store treasure hunts became popular. Online flea markets such as Craigslist and eBay have made the search for a bargain trendy.

But nothing beats a homegrown clothing swap where everything found is free, says Martha Johnson. And there’s one other good reason to shop on the cheap: It’s green.

“We need to be recycling more,” she said. “We need to recycle more than just plastic bags.”

How to host your own meet

A clothing swap is simple enough to organize. But there is a right way to do it for optimum success. Here are some tips from Pat Gillaspi and others on how to create a successful event:

– Women wear 20 percent of their clothing 80 percent of the time, according to swapstyle.com. If that’s you, it’s time to organize a swap.

– Are you one of those people who can’t part with a dreadful skirt you wore – once – 10 years ago because you spent so much money on it? If so, enlist a friend to help you purge your closet.

– Swap meets can have themes. Moms could have a baby-clothing swap, guys could swap sports clothing, teens might have a summer camp or back-to-school swap.

– Use the “one in and one out rule.” For every item you donate, you can take one item.

– No shirts with ketchup stains. Accept only clean items. Don’t swap items that would be better used as a dust rag.

– No unmentionables allowed. But everything else, including shoes, can be offered up.

– If you have a panic attack and can’t let go of an item, take it back as one of your items.

– Avoid chaos. Use folding tables and portable laundry racks to display clothing.

– Organize clothes by size and type – sweaters here, dresses there.

– Set up at least one mirror so participants can see what they look like in the clothes.

– Be sure to have a couple of dressing rooms for modest shoppers.

– Urge everyone to try on something they never would have imagined themselves wearing.

– At the end of the event, donate leftover clothing to a thrift shop.

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