Monday, 9 September 2013

Week 10: the swish

Could clothes swapping be the new mother's little helper?

This week, I went to a swish party organised by a friend I met through NCT classes. It was about as middle class as they get: a group of around 40 bubbly-supping women, all connected via circles created during the pre- and post-baby scramble to make friends.

Back then, we'd all paid for the privilege of sitting in the front room of someone's tastefully furnished house, telling ourselves we'd gone to learn how to breathe through the pain, when what we really wanted to do was make friends with people who shared our trepidation.

We were a group of well-educated women, about to share the experience of 'leaning out', albeit temporarily, of careers we'd spent the best part of our adult lives cultivating. And those of us who went back to work post-baby, went back changed. All that wiping, poo, snot, breastfeeding and....well, love had added a new dimension to post-work downtime. In short, there is now no such thing. As several of my working friends have told me, despite the high-powered, stressful jobs they perform well, they look forward to going to work because, in comparison to looking after small children, it often feels like a rest.

And there we all were, eyeing up each other's tasteful cast-offs in the upstairs room of a pub. Ours was among thousands of other similar parties. New lives, changed women, economic downturn and the rapid descent of our planet into a broiling mass of greenhouse gases have heralded the rise of clothes swapping. Lucy Shea cleverly rebranded it as swishing back in 2007 and, as this article shows, it's shot up among the ranks of women who might feel a bit sniffy about saving their pennies by seeking out designer garb at a charity shop.

Even though I'm not one of those - I love a good rummage through mothball-scented railings - I do confess to missing the buzz I used to feel when spending my leftover twinkie cash on a frivolous piece of overpriced frippery. But even if I had the money now, that kind of material indulgence just wouldn't seem right. We're not living in the 80s; these days, it's cool to care about the planet and, what's more, people have cottoned on to the fact that spending (or not spending) can have social benefits.

Take the swish party I went to, for instance. The friend who invited me was one of a handful of women who had pitched in to organise the swap in aid of the Demelza Children's Hospice and the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital. The three year old daughter of one of their NCT friends had died of a brain tumour, and care had been given to her and the family by these charities.

This story was doubly heartbreaking because the little girl was the same age as all our own children. Maybe  empathy had fed the organising team with extraordinary energy because, as well as organising the clothes swap, they had managed to round up a list of at least 25 restaurants, shops and theatres into donating genuinely brilliant gifts for a raffle.

My own raffle stubs won me a pair of premium tickets for Wicked - woohoo. There was also an auction of some of the classier items - which included a natty jacket worn by ex-Spice Girl Mel C (or was it Mel B?) - and, in exchange for some treasured garments from pre-pregnancy days (lovely as they were, in reality I'm unlikely to ever fit into them again), I came away with a few nice items of clothing. I even felt the old familiar shopping buzz, from pre-pregnancy days.

The event was perfectly pitched. A tenner, whatever you wanted to spend on the raffle, and some decent clothes from the back of your wardrobe; in exchange for a glass of wine, a chance to catch up with friends, and the opportunity to nab the dress you knew was much better suited to your own curves than those of your friend. The funds raised through the entrance fee, raffle and auction reached well over a thousand, and I came away feeling great, despite having been a bit teary over the story of the little girl who died.

It was a special evening.

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