A few weeks ago, a friend returned from New York with news of the Clothes Swap Party, where everyone brings clothes they want to get rid of and, in return, gets to choose what they want from the other guests' castoffs.

A very good idea, thought my friend, and immediately put together a similar party, starring clothes in colors the owner will never buy again, clothes the cleaners had reduced to Lilliputian proportions, clothes that had been grown out of and clothes whose charm had worn off before they wore out -- clothes that were still in the closet because most of us feel guilty about throwing away any still-wearable item (which does not mean, however, we will ever wear them).

It is an evening based on the old cliche: One man's meat is another man's poison (or is that the other way around?). Guests were instructed to bring clothes as the price of admission, as well as wine, cheese, vegetables, anything to munch on during the strenuous process of Trying Things On.

The party was given in a large room, so there would be a space to spread out the clothes; there was a hallway for trying them on and a full-length mirror to see if someone else's mistake was a mistake for you, too. There were about a dozen guests, enough to provide variety in the clothes but not so many it turned into a rummage sale.

Clothes were placed in separate piles -- coats, sweaters, dresses, even belts, jewerly and scarves -- to make things easier to get at, and there was only one rule. No one could scavenge until everyone had arrived. (There was another rule, but it was unspoken: Do not say yuck about someone else's clothes.)

The condition of the clothes was up to the people bringing them. Though there were little things that needed fixing, a small hold, a derailed zipper there was an equal number of clothes in almost-new condition.

What was amazing was how wonderful the dress you'd discarded could look on someone else, and how many new combinations emerged from the assorted piles.

When everyone had rummaged their fill, our hostess held up the remaining items, and most things found takers who'd missed them the first time around. What little was left was donated to a church re-sale shop. f

Though our Clothes Swap was a party for women, I do not wish to be sexist. Most men I know spend as much time on sartorial considerations as I spend on memorizing RBI average, but there must be males with large enough wardrobes to have built up a closet of mistakes.

They, too can discover how flattering, how charming, how free are the clothes of friends.