Can't bear to open your closet door one more time and face that tired, lackluster, out-of-date wardrobe? Outraged by high department-store prices for new clothes? Bored by traditional resale shop selections? Wondering what to do with last season's sequined knickers or Aunt Millie's best-forgotten feather boa gift?

Don't despair. Relief is on the way. The name of the game: the Great Clothing Swap. The present audience is largely women and sometimes children. Old hands at the clothing-swap game report that men are apparently not quite ready for this phenomenon.

This is an idea whose time has clearly come, particularly in today's difficult economic climate. Working women need to routinely refurbish their wardrobes. Unemployed women need to maintain a professional appearance to conduct job searches. Non-working women, like everyone else, are seeking frugal solutions to clothing problems. And kids continue to outgrow their clothes.

What makes the Great Clothes Swap so attractive is not simply a low-cost response to a need. It is a no-cost alternative. In these inflationary days, such alternatives are difficult to ignore, and easy to promote.

How does this panacea to the creeping wardrobe blues work? The mechanics are straightforward. Groups of friends meet in a party setting to exchange unwanted clothes. Some include accessories (e.g., belts, scarves, shoes, et. al,). and some include child apparel and child guests as well.

Each participant searches through closets and drawers for unwanted but useable items, and brings them to the swap session. The clothing and accessories are arrayed in piles on the hostess' floor, organized by type: sweaters, handbags, skirts, hats, etc.

Then the fun begins. In the general frenetic atmosphere of a Loehmann's dressing room, everyone dives in and makes selections. Choices are tried on, opinions shared. No money exchanges hands.

Attending or sponsoring a clothing-swap session is something of an event. You might be surprised to see familiar friends or casual acquaintances take on new roles in this festive setting.

A usually reticent individual may dash about the room putting together outfits for everyone else. ("Look, this purple-striped blouse is just the thing for the green polka-dot slacks and the yellow snakeskin belt!") A life-long preppy type may decide to experiment with a Frederick's of Hollywood look. ("Do you think this plunging neckline is really me?") A generally tactful soul may blunder in the midst of the general camaraderie. ("Oh no, that's not you at all." "Sorry, it's what I came in wearing!")

Remember, it's a party.

The advantages of the clothing swap are obvious. First of all, it's a terrific chance to pick up the best sort of bargain: the one that costs nothing at all. Second, it's an opportunity to unload unwanted items without waiting for a truck pick-up or a school function. Third, you may emerge with some unexpected fashion-savvy advice from friends whose wardrobes you've always admired, but whose look you were never able to emulate. Fourth, it's a good excuse to get together with friends.

This is not to say that there are not disadvantages to the system. You may end up with a bunch of junk if you're not careful about setting some minimum standards on the quality of the clothes brought to the swap. The range of sizes among the invitees, an obviously difficult factor to control among acquaintances, may be too broad to do anyone much good. Some friends may shy away from the environment of a mass try-on. But, at the very least, you'll have a good time.

Some ground rules to make everyone's life easier:

* Identify a suitable hostess. It should be someone who's reasonably enthusiastic about a substantial group of people using her house as a dressing room.

* Make sure physical requirements are met. The hostess should have a large open room for the arraying and trying on of garments and accessories. A full-length mirror is important. A private room should be available for those shy about disrobing.

* Decide on your audience. Will it be limited to women, or will children be invited? Will only personal friends be included?

* Determine whether or not there will be a theme. Seasonal clothes? Professional? Sportswear? Any type? Accessories? Make sure participants understand that the items should be useable, albeit unwanted.

* Arrange for refreshments. Each guest can bring her own contribution, or invitees may bring cash to defray the hostess' expenses. Some combination of both may be workable.

* Set the tone. This should be fun.

And remember, that what turns out to be the wrong choice at one session can always be recycled at the next.