After volunteering to help man the Swishing rail at a village event run by our local Women’s Institute (WI) later this month, it occurs to me that perhaps I ought to find out exactly what I am letting myself in for. I know that in this context swishing means swapping clothes, but I’m intrigued by the derivation of the term.
In a word association test, the first words that pop into my head after “swish” are “of the Curtain, (The)” – the title of one of my favourite books when I was a child. Pamela Brown’s classic children’s novel is the first in a series about seven young people who transform a disused chapel into their own theatre company. The sound of the stage curtains swishing open symbolises the success of their project and the lure of the acting life.
When I first read The Swish of the Curtain when I was about 12, I was going through a brief stage-struck phase, attending the Saturday morning drama club at the famous Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama, literally at the end of the road where I grew up in Sidcup, Kent. The book inspired young actors everywhere, but it also fuelled my more enduring ambition to write fiction, because Brown started writing her novel when she was just 13, finishing it when she was 16..
Like Brown’s book, the Swishing Movement, founded in 2000 by Lucy Shea, also takes its name from the sound of rustling fabric, in this case of the alluring sound of moving silk.
But it’s also tangentially related to “cattle-rustling”, ie cattle theft. The Swishing website defines it as “to rustle clothes from friends”.
This is because at a Swishing event, no money is exchanged – you just take along old, unwanted fashion items and help yourself to new. Well, new-to-you, anyway.
I don’t suppose cattle-rustlers ever swapped their old unwanted cattle for new ones better suited to their current personal style, so there the similarity of their rustling habits end.
The thesaurus lists “swish” as a synonym for “posh”. That’s also appropriate for swishing events, as items donated should all be of good quality and in good repair, rather than of jumble-sale standard.
Swishing events thus provide a great opportunity to refresh your wardrobe with covetable clothes without spending money or impacting the environment.
So this month, if you’re within reach of Hawkesbury Upton Village Hall on Saturday 18th February and you fancy revamping your wardrobe for free, with swish clothes that may or may not rustle while you move, you know what to do.
Just don’t bring any cattle.
This post was first written for the February 2023 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News