Why shop when you can swap? This weekend, instead of daring the chaos of Black Friday sales, pushing and shoving in order to get that minimal discount, I decided to go for a less competitive alternative at Mrs. Bear’s Swap Shop. Mrs. Bear, otherwise known as Jo, allows customers swap each other’s unwanted clothes. For a minimal entry fee, you can bring a bag of garments and exchange them with ones that others have brought along.
In the festively decorated cellar of an East London pub, Jo welcomes me at a desk draped in fairy lights, and hands me a card with a stamp for each item of clothing I have brought with me. Blue stamps allow you to take designer clothes home and red stamps are for high street garments. Meanwhile, Mr. Bear hangs the items on clothing rails lining the room. The marks range from Primark to Reiss and the lower range clothing hangs separately from the high-end designer clothes.
Swappers mingle amicably and trawl through dresses, skirts, and all kinds of women’s garments. The sociable atmosphere is starkly different from the competitive nature of shopping in ordinary stores. The women compliment each other on how they look in their new found clothes, and chat about fabrics and shapes. One woman turns to me and exclaims, “You look so elegant. Now that’s what you call a good line!”
Clothes swaps, better known as ‘swishing,’ are for women who want to refresh their wardrobe without the ethical and environmental downfalls of buying new clothes from the high street.
The trend started under a decade ago, when a group of women gathered one cold November at London Bridge to both party and switch wardrobes. But the ethos of swishing has a long history, dating back to the wartime necessity of ‘make do and mend.’ Instead of wasting valuable materials, wartime women would repair as much as they could or reuse the fabric from the clothes they had.
Today Mrs. Bear has brought back that stoic spirit from times of crisis and provided women with a sustainable, ethical and environmentally-friendly means to reinvigorate the way they dress. I wander home feeling chuffed about the selection of dresses, tops and skirts with which I have replaced my timeworn clothes.