DUBLIN (Reuters Life!) - Like most parties, it tends to start with drinks, nibbles and casual conversation, until the guests suddenly start swapping clothes.
Invented before the credit crunch but becoming more popular as a free substitute for shopping and entertainment, welcome to swishing.
"Swishing dos" are parties where people swap second-hand clothes, following a few commonly agreed rules along the following lines:
Pick a date and venue, invite friends, prepare some food, let people browse the clothes they have brought while enjoying a glass of wine; at a previously agreed time, count down to the "Swish," and start swapping.
The website www.swishing.org says everyone must bring at least one item of clothing and that no-one can claim items before the "Swish" officially opens. And one final warning which also reveals the gender makeup of most swishing parties: "Remember ladies: no scratching, spitting or biting!"
"People still love to go shopping and be glamorous," said Ashley Dow of London-based communications firm Futerra which runs the website and claims to have invented the term around two years ago.
"I think a lot of people have seen that this is a nice outlet to save money and still look fabulous," Dow said.
Futerra, which advises organizations ranging from the British Council to McDonald's mostly on corporate responsibility issues, posts upcoming parties on the website but allows others organize them.
Recent ideas have included special "accessories swishes" and "wedding swishes," with detailed rules and variations left entirely up to the organizers, Dow said.
The Sheeben Chic restaurant in Dublin for instance runs a "Swap Idol" event in its basement on Saturday afternoons. Every item of clothing brought in is exchanged for a laminated replica of an old Irish 20-punt (pound) note and these coupons can be used to "purchase" clothes.
Food and drinks can be bought in the restaurant upstairs, where there is more swapping to do.
"All these things you can see, people can come in and swap things, like chairs," said the restaurant's Katja Dittmann, who comes from Germany.
The restaurant's decoration -- a disembowelled computer mounted on a board, pairs of toilet seats arranged in 'S' shapes on the wall, an empty painting frame -- came from friends' sheds and antique auctions and are all up for grabs if something of equal aesthetic value is traded in.
"It's very busy," Dittmann said of the swap shop. "Obviously, it's going very well with the times, the recession, people having to tighten their belt," she told Reuters while dozens of women browsed clothes downstairs at a recent session.
"Basically, I've lost my job, had no money to buy clothes so I just thought it would be a great idea to swap," said one patron, 23-year-old Seona Carney.
The recession drives people to the swap shop, but it helps that only recently Ireland was still enjoying an unprecedented 'Celtic Tiger' boom.
"Some clothes we've been given still have the price tag on them," Dittmann said. "People obviously have a lot of money, or did have a lot of money and spent them on clothes and they actually never fitted or never had a reason to wear them."
The shop occasionally sell clothes for a few euros if someone has no clothes to offer in exchange, otherwise the swap shop is just there to generate publicity for the restaurant and provide a service to the community, Dittmann said.
"The times are perfect for it," she said.
Editing by Paul Casciato