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Managing Your Wardrobe: The Working Mom-cum-Recessionista Clothing Swap

Posted by: Michelle Conlin on December 17, 2008

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I recently found myself on the Lower East Side, arms loaded with the has-beens and cast-offs of my corporate wardrobe. It was a drizzly Sunday evening and I had been invited to a working mom’s clothing swap. The idea was that we would all dump our designer hardly-worns in a friend’s living room. Then paw through them. See if we liked anything. Leave with new items at zero cost. Zero guilt. A binge perfectly tailored to these layoff-laden times. Turns out we were merely the last to dip into a national trend.

I had no intention of picking up anything. I was merely trying to purge my closets of the detritus of my corporate wardrobe: the black Prada suit I hadn’t worn in a decade; the downtown working girl ensembles I had picked up at a Steven Alan sample sale in my twenties. I merely thought I would be doing a sartorial dump. But with thick black coffees in hand, we quickly defaulted to our gatherer natures and were soon, voila, shopping in each other’s closets.

The ceos among us barked out who among us should try on which items; the corporate followers, such as myself, did as we were told.

I had no idea I would find myself bagging up an entire Tory Burch mini-wardrobe from a beauty executive friend. We working moms had gone up and down in sizes over the years. We were all over the map in disposable incomes. But what united us was our mutual jonesing for a lift without having to whip out the plastic. We soon found that we were copping some serious dressing-room highs. “Imagine we are at Barney’s right now,” I kept saying. “We are at Barney’s!”

The Barney’s goggles actually turned other people’s cast-offs into choice bounty. I even picked up some brand-new Catherine Malandrino items—tags attached.

Our next swap is slated for the spring. For me it was a lesson in the upside of the downside.

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Reader Comments

Thomas Huynh

December 18, 2008 08:22 AM

Michelle, I think that's a great idea you have there. The mindset we need to visit the mall every time we need new clothes is simply wasteful, especially since the clothes that we and others have are often worn only a few times and for whatever reason never brought out again. Let's see if others might like or fit into it better. Thomas


December 18, 2008 08:50 AM

Thanks for your comment. It brought to mind something I should have mentioned in the post. At Yahoo, one of the most popular employee events is the company's Freecycle fests. The swaps include designer clothing, high-tech bike gear, Eames furniture--even David Filo's smelly sneakers.

Perhaps an idea for a new employee perk during a perk-less era?

Meghan Hughes

December 18, 2008 01:00 PM

I absolutely love clothing swaps. You make a great point about doing community trading or giving in these hard times. Recently, friends hosted an event for the homeless here in SF through "A good idea" to get them ready for job interviews. All of our clothes and shoes that were left over from our friend swap went straight to a cause. Truly a win, win situation!

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How can you manage smarter? BusinessWeek writers Nanette Byrnes, Patricia O’Connell, Emily Thornton, Matthew Boyle, Michelle Conlin and Diane Brady synthesize insights from the brightest business thinkers, critique the latest management trends, and comment on leaders in the news.

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