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noun [uncountable]

the activity of swapping clothes, shoes or other fashion items with other people, usually at an organised event


verb [intransitive/transitive] noun [countable]


noun [countable]

'A school will hold a swishing party to raise money to buy books for its new library … PFA chairwoman Diane Fare said: "It promises to be a fun evening, and a brilliant way to rejuvenate your wardrobe."'

Hebden Bridge Times 9th May 2012

'Any item can be swished, from evening gowns to winter coats and shoes to scarves and jewellery. The only thing we won't accept is underwear.' … Registration starts at 10.30am, where swishers drop off their clothes and pick up their registration card.'

This is North Devon 17th May 2012

If you're fed up with pulling on the same old clothes week, month or even year in, year out, but your budget is somewhat restricted in these cash-strapped times, then there's a new way to break the monotony without breaking the bank. A practice known as swishing is an innovative approach to rejuvenating your wardrobe which is becoming increasingly popular, not only for its economic benefit, but also for its eco-friendly credentials.

each piece of clothing is designated a specified number of points, and participants, known as swishers, can swap one or more garments which have the equivalent number of points

Swishing is, fundamentally, the simple practice of swapping clothes with friends or other acquaintances, but instead of doing so by ad-hoc or chance arrangements, the swapping takes place at an organized event created especially for this purpose. At the event, usually known as a swishing party (or sometimes simply a swish) people bring along any garments that they've grown out of, either literally, or simply because they just don't love them like they used to.

On the basis that we all have different attitudes to and restrictions on the amount of money we spend on clothes, some swishing parties employ a 'grading' system for the garments, which among other things aims to discourage any unscrupulous participants from thinking that they can bring along a cheap and nasty item and trot off with a piece of designer gear! Each piece of clothing is designated a specified number of points, and participants, known as swishers, can swap one or more garments which have the equivalent number of points, or even top up the points with cash if required to do so by a fellow swisher. This means, for instance, that a high-end cashmere sweater sporting a designer label might be exchanged for several pairs of chain store jeans.

Any clothes left over at the end of a swishing session are usually donated to charity, further contributing to swishing's strong ethical and eco-friendly mentality. Enterprising swishers will often use the event as an opportunity to exchange ideas about upcycling, in which they might give existing clothes a fresh lease of life by adding buttons, ribbons and other adornments.

Background – swishing

The verb swish has existed in English since the mid-eighteenth century, and its standard definition refers to the action of moving with a hissing, rushing sound (the Macmillan Dictionary even has a sound effect for it, which you can listen to here).

The term swishing in reference to clothes swapping first began to appear in 2000, coined by Lucy Shea, director of UK sustainable communications agency Futerra. The idea was to make a connection between the 'rustling' denoted by the verb swish and the idea of 'rustling' (i.e. acquiring) clothes from friends. The connection might seem rather tenuous, but the new usage has begun to catch on.

On a similar theme, the British retail giant Marks and Spencer recently launched an initiative it refers to as shwopping. Each store currently provides large donation boxes in which customers can dispose of unwanted clothes, whether or not they were originally purchased there. In collaboration with international aid organization Oxfam, the clothes are later resold, reused or recycled in order to support people living in poverty.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 13th August 2012.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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