Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Sites Let You Swap Till You Drop

Now that frugality is in, fashion lovers are feeling hemmed in by their bank balances, conspicuous-consumption guilt and eco-awareness. (At a time like this, how can you justify owning that many handbags?)

One way to satisfy a frustrated urge to shop is swapping gently used or even new clothing via the Internet. We tried three trading Web sites that offer the electronic version of the old-fashioned swap meet. All three sites --, and -- let you post pictures of items you no longer want, in hopes of trading them for stuff you do want. The sites are free to use, although the start-up Dig 'N' Swap plans to eventually charge a small transaction fee for each swap completed. And the sites offer accessories, books and other nonwardrobe items as well as clothes.

Anyone with a digital camera and Internet access can begin swapping clothes. Etiquette calls for an item to pass the would-I-give-this-to-a-friend test before it is listed, and that information on size and condition be truthful. Each site has its own swapper ratings system to keep users honest, and once a deal is struck users who are unrated or who have the lower rating are expected to ship first.

Australia-based offered us the option of swapping only with U.S. members to save on postage. It was easy to register and upload the optional member-profile photo. This is the only site that allows users to either swap or buy items from each other.

Swapstyle recommends users complete an "address verification" process that involves paying a $10 fee through Paypal to receive a letter in the mail with a personal verification code that the user then inputs into the site. This, the site explains, "promotes honesty and reduces the risk of unethical trading." We shelled out the $10 but over three weeks later still hadn't received our letter.

Swapstyle founder Emily Chesher explained that address verification is a fairly new feature and that the site has just switched to processing the payments in the U.S., where 90% of Swapstyle's over 30,000 users live. We noticed, however, that many users, including some active and highly rated members, weren't address-verified, and that neither of the other sites offered this feature.

We took pictures of 14 items and posted them. At first, the sheer volume of items available for swapping was overwhelming. But continued surfing sharpened our eye and we began to spot members whose style we liked. Our first attempts at negotiating deals were stymied by the site's confusing layout and lack of guidance. We couldn't find an alluded-to "Swap School" (still to come, says Ms. Chesher, though there is an instructional YouTube video) but eventually figured out how to make and accept bids.

After turning down several offers because we didn't like any of the users' items, we struck a deal with a highly rated user to trade our nearly new BCBG Max Azria capri pants for a pair of Ralph Lauren cargo pants. The trade was completed within a week via U.S. priority mail. We were pleased with the pants, but wondered if they were perhaps not quite as new as had been touted. Alas, when we went back to check the description of the sender's item it was no longer available. After an email exchange with the sender, we concluded the exchange was made in good faith and rated her accordingly.

We couldn't help but notice that on Rehash Clothes and Dig 'N' Swap, descriptions of already-swapped items remain available after the swap is completed; Ms. Chesher says Swapstyle is in the process of adding this feature.

At, we were charmed by the intuitive user-friendly interface. The site has a breezy and slightly irreverent tone, where users are rated with good karma or bad karma. (We were pleased to be given a big smiley face and described as "rocking a 100" in karma after our first trade.) Easy-to-use features such as separate tag "clouds," which show the most popular categories, allow members to quickly zero in on a type of item. The site's how-to guide is clear.

We received our first "friend request" from a member in California, whose pink tweed jacket we liked. Shortly after putting this on our "watch list" we received a bid from her: the jacket in exchange for our Japanese fabric purse. The swapper quickly complied with our request for jacket measurements, and determining that it would fit, we sealed the deal. We learned from the effusive reviews of this swapper that she even adds extras when shipping. Feeling the pressure to match her standards and earn good karma, we shipped the purse with a bonus gold hoop necklace. Within a week, we had our jacket, which fit perfectly, and a thoughtful present of a brand-new jar of body cream. We felt we hit the swap jackpot.

We had a few quibbles with the site, however. On several occasions, email was slow to arrive, or ended up in our junk email folder. Inexplicably, two of our items disappeared from the site. Rehash founder Anayma DeFrias counsels users to add the site to their address books to prevent email notifications being diverted to junk mail, and noted that the problem of disappearing photos once a trade has been initiated has been fixed.

The beauty of, which is in a beta, or test, stage, is its simplicity. We liked that the site asks you to send a test email to yourself through the site to verify that you can receive incoming messages from other users. There is also a one-click process that lets you notify your swap partner that you've shipped or received an item. We had plenty of offers for a striped Free People sweater and ended up accepting a swap that netted us a suede Giani Bernini tote bag, a Gap backpack and a pair of dressy black-velvet gloves. In exchange we mailed off our sweater and a small embroidered shoulder bag.

The downside of Dig 'N' Swap is that it was difficult to upload photos. After emailing the site for help, we got an email from co-founder Li Qiu suggesting we try to resize our photo. Eventually we found that cropping the photo before uploading also worked. Another minor annoyance was that the site required us to log in every time we visited the site to see our messages. Co-founder Ibrahim Elbouchikhi explained that logging in at each visit enhances the site's security by eliminating the use of "cookies."

The bottom line: If you've got the time and the patience, online clothes swapping can be a fun, rewarding and virtually cost-free way to rejuvenate a tired wardrobe.





Swapstyle (

You can see how many times people have clicked on your items. Address-verification feature of questionable use.

A fun "Style Diary" section allows users to upload pictures of themselves in their favorite fashion ensembles or of fashion looks they admire. Extensive Forums section, with topics ranging from politics to warnings about unethical "swaplifters" on the site.

The largest of the three sites, with the largest selection. The depth of the selection compensates for the less user-friendly interface.

Rehash Clothes (

"Watch list" allows you to flag items you covet and lets owners know of your interest. The site has a customizable look and helpful category and tag clouds, which show the most popular categories.

Fashion and environmental groups based on geography, size and shape and gender. The down side: The groups are still small.

User-friendly, sassy and fun, but still small in numbers of users and listed items.

Dig 'N' Swap (

Test email button eliminates losing emails to a junk-mail folder. Helpful tips on how to take photos of items and maximize trades, though uploading photos can be tricky.


The thought-out site is simple, intuitive, but still small in scope. Upside: founders tout a 20% growth rate per month.

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