The trickiest part of a kids' clothing exchange is the variety of sizes among all the kids. Second-toughest is making sure the clothing brought in isn't too worn out to last for another rough-and-tumble kid. Plan for these two complications with some clear communication before the big event.
With the invites, attach a short survey for the guests to fill out and return before the big day. Include questions that ask parents to provide the clothing sizes of the items they'll be bringing to exchange, as well as the number and type of clothing they intend to bring. Set a minimum number of items for each parent so there is enough clothing to exchange in each size category.
The survey should also ask parents what sizes their kids are currently wearing so that you can ensure there will be the right-size clothing for every parent to exchange. Also request that parents inspect the clothing for excessive wear and tear before bringing the items to the party.
Once you have all the surveys back, double-check to make sure that the sizes of the clothes needed and the clothes being donated match up. For example: If a parent is bringing size 4 girls items and needs size 5 girls items, make sure another parent is bringing some size 5 girls items, while a third needs size 4 girls items.
Of course, the problem remains that the oldest siblings among all the invited guests won't have anyone larger to exchange clothes with. To handle this issue, ask all parents attending the event to contribute a small sum toward gift cards for the oldest/biggest kids. Sidestep the new clothes controversy by purchasing the gift cards at a local clothing exchange store or a thrift store.
Every successful event needs refreshments, and most kids expect take-home favors at parties -- but don't blow the money saved through the clothing exchange on an expensive spread or a multitude of door prizes.
Go with generic sodas and bottled juices for your beverage options. For food, request that parents attending the event bring a bag of chips or a box of cookies to share. If you'd rather plan the party around a meal, request parents bring a salad to pass. For the entree, pick up inexpensive hamburger patties, hot dogs and buns.
Party favors go a long way toward pacifying those kids who yearn for brand-new school clothes. Hit your local dollar store to purchase inexpensive school supplies that are both fun and useful -- such as colorful folders, pencils and novelty erasers.
If you've planned properly, you'll have several kids needing and several parents donating for each of the clothing sizes represented at the party. Keep kids from fighting over the clothes they want by devising a playground-style selection system.
Have the kids in each clothing-size group pull a number out of a hat. Follow the order forward for the first round, meaning that the child with "one" selects first and so on. For round two, reverse the order so the last child with the highest number selects two items in a row and the child with number one selects last.
When the party's over, chances are you'll have a selection of clothing that no one took home. Put these leftovers to good use by selling the items for cash that can go towards the gift cards for the largest-sized children.
As a second option for the un-exchanged clothing, consider donating them to a charity -- perhaps even one that gives out free school clothes to other needy children.