Susan Dromey-Heeter's Budget Vogue: Finding magic at the swap

SUSAN DROMEY-HEETER June 01. 2013 1:59AM

There have been moments in life when I knew I was exactly where I should have been.

The day I noticed Omar Sharif in Paris' de Gaulle Airport. The evening I first spotted my husband across the room at the Officers' Club in Geilenkirchen, Germany. The mornings of my daughters' births. The afternoon last month I spent at the Portsmouth Public Library's fourth annual Women's Clothing Swap.

Wait - what?

Some moments, of course, need no explanation. OK, so Omar had aged quite a bit since his "Dr. Zhivago" days, but it was still a thrill to see him. My husband and daughters? There really is nothing so wonderful as love at first sight.

But, hold on. Perhaps there is something as wonderful as love at first sight. "Wonderful" only begins to describe the clothing swap the Portsmouth Public Library hosts each year.

So, what exactly is this clothing swap? Well, on Saturday, May 18, the swap was open to anyone. The idea was to "bring a bag of gently used, clean women's clothing and accessories and leave with a bag of new-to-you items." Why? "To clean out closets of things we don't need or want anymore. To maybe find a new, well-loved item for our wardrobe and to donate to a good cause - Goodwill."

This year's event was wonderfully superb, fabulously superb - up there with Durham's 700 Family Yard Sale as one of the reasons I am delighted with my geographic locale. And my favorite parts were not necessarily acquiring more couture, but rather seeing my necklace freshly adorning an old woman's neck and watching my friend Sandy's sparkle dress being tried on at least 12 times. This was the same dress Sandy's soon-to-be ex-husband had given her - the one she wanted to mail him with a note reading, "Maybe your new girlfriend can wear this!" We ultimately decided the karma was much better at the swap.

But, then again, everything was better at the swap - the laughter, the camaraderie. One of the marvelous workers brought in a cake for a colleague, and all "swappers" stopped to sing "Happy Birthday." I thought, "Now THIS would be the BEST birthday party EVER" and promised myself I'd host my next celebration at the swap. You're all invited; just bring a bag of clothes.

But why wait until May of 2014? I plan on orchestrating one of these swaps at my own place of work next fall. Why? Let's face it: Do we not all have too much in our closets? And while I do love to gather goods and bring them to my favorite venues of thrift, this exchange is more about providing another way to downsize and supporting locales I greatly appreciate.

My place of work happens to be Dover's Saint Mary Academy, a most wonderful Catholic school where our uniform exchange has been in place for years. Need a new uniform? Take one. Outgrew yours? Leave it in the bin for someone else. We've been green since before it was fashionable.

My vision is to open this up, a la the Portsmouth event, to include items beyond clothes, particularly items children do not necessarily need new: lunch boxes, unused notebooks, outgrown soccer cleats, mittens.

The Portsmouth swap had piles of clothes labeled by color and was magnificently organized chaos. Rifling through piles of blouses and gowns and pants that afternoon was delightful - well worth the hunt for the Lilly Pulitzer dress I'll be sporting this summer. Thanks to whomever set this lovely piece free from her closet!

I envision much the same for the Saint Mary event but with the opportunity to save some money (how great is it to shop without a wallet?) and see what is left over to donate to area thrift shops.

And, dear readers, OF COURSE there will be a table reserved solely for women's clothes.

In the meantime, enjoy your digging, your special moments, and start putting aside those items yearning for another's love.

Happy Summer Budget Vogueing .

Susan Dromey-Heeter's "Budget Vogue" column appears the first week of every month in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email her at

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