PORTLAND, Maine — It’s a Monday night and 10 women are playing dress up in a West End living room. Diving into piles of clothes strewn on the floor, one grabs a coral, pencil skirt and says: “Whose is this?”

Across the room, another woman shouts: “Are these overalls?”

And the outfit adventure is just beginning.

Clothing swaps, where friends trade clothes with each other, are an economical and social way to refresh a wardrobe. And the idea is catching on across the country. Decluttering closets, saving money and avoiding the malls and big box stores are turning the age-old swap meet concept into a mod night out — or in.

The scene at Sarah Schindler’s Portland home this week was far from the frenzy playing out a few miles away at The Maine Mall. Music played, beer and coffee was sipped from mason jars and vegan cupcakes were offered as sustenance in the kitchen.

“I’ve gone to four within the last month,” said Emma Reddy, packing up a bag of just-culled finds.

Announced by word-of-mouth or on Facebook, clothing swaps are a girls’ night out with benefits. Swappers can update their look without whipping out their wallets. Meeting new people in a relaxed yet purposeful setting is another plus, devotees say.

“I spend less on my wardrobe every season, and I get to rotate what I’m wearing,” said Laura DeHaan, a 26-year-old conference coordinator. “I absolutely believe I’m saving money and having new experiences with friends.”

Clothing swaps are also a place to jettison a garment that evokes memories you might want to forget. Schindler tried to interest friends in a sparkly, eggplant dress laid on her by an ex-boyfriend’s mother.

“This is a great dress, someone should take it,” she said.

Not everything goes. Clothes that remain post-swap are donated to Goodwill, said Schindler.

Just where the trend originated is hard to pinpoint, but in a post-recession era, clothing swaps are more popular than ever. And they could be the new Tupperware party.

A city-wide clothing swap called SwapMaine will take place 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 12, at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St. in Portland. Now in its third year, the event is expected to draw 200 to 250 people.

“It’s a great way to get a new wardrobe for no money,” said Laura Serino, a Portland fashion blogger and SwapMaine founder. “It’s your friend’s clothing swap on steroids.”

Drop off items 8 -10 a.m. to get in for free. Otherwise, a bag of clothes is $10. Proceeds go to the Goodwill Industries of Northern New England.

Serino, who chronicles the city’s fashion elite on ForeFrontFashion.com, says the homespun concept, popular from New York City to North Haven is here to stay. And yes, you can find stylish threads at a swap.

“It’s not your casts-offs in a bad way. People purge things they’ve had for a long time. I don’t think anyone goes into a clothing swap thinking they’ll get the latest Frye boots for the season, but maybe you’ll take a chance on something you wouldn’t otherwise,” said Serino. “You can’t lose.”

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.