9 Easy Tips for Making Over Thrift Shop Clothing

One of the beauties of thrift shops is that you never quite know what you’ll find.  Of course, one of the downsides is also that you never quite know what you’ll find, or worse yet, you’ll find something that is almost perfect but not quite there.  This happens to me all the time.  I used to automatically put the item back and keep foraging, but have since discovered the fun and magic of tweaking thrift shops finds.  This list focuses on clothing, but there are other websites that offer great improvisational ideas for furniture, toys, household decorations, and home improvements.  Most of these tricks involve basic sewing knowledge and may take up to a couple hours, depending how complicated your design becomes.

Without further ado, 9 easy tips for making over thrift shop clothing:

1.    Shorten the hem.  This works especially well for pants and skirts; sleeves can be a bit tricky, depending on the type of garment.  The simplest is to just turn the hem under and sew it into place.  If you want less bulk, cut the fabric and turn under twice before sewing.  Tutorial here.

2.    Change the buttons.  Buttons can really date a garment, but they’re also cheap to come by and completely alter the look of an outfit.  Be sure to substitute buttons that are similar in size to the originals.

3.    Add trim.  Lace, ribbon, buttons, embroidery, appliqué, vintage trim, doilies are all great embellishments and really make a piece pop.  Ever wonder why Anthropologie can get away with selling their clothes for so much money?  The money’s in the details, and they use embellishment to their advantage like no other.  Phenomenal examples here, here and here.  I haven’t read this book myself, but it gets rave reviews for garment embellishment ideas.

4.    Take away ugly trim.  Thrift with an eye for potential, not necessarily the garment in hand.  Is it well constructed, made of high quality materials, or have a classic cut?  If so, it may be worth the half hour investment to freshen it up by removing sequins, an oversized collar or other decorative details.

5.    Applique over imperfections.  Applique, or sewing fabric shapes onto fabric, is perfect for covering up logos, rips, stains, and holes.  Examples here and here, basic tutorial here.

6.    Dress up a simple tee or skirt with fabric paint.  The paint bonds permanently to the fabric, and you can go crazy with all sorts of shapes that make your outfit perfectly one of a kind.  A popular technique is to cut shapes out of freezer paper for a one-time-use stencil, or you can freehand as well.  Tutorial here.

7.    Salvage jeans with elastic in the waistband. Have you noticed that woman’s jeans no longer curve inwards from the hips towards the waist, so that if your waist is at all narrower than your hips you’ll spend all day hiking up your pants?  This trick solves this problem in about 30 minutes.  Just snip a small slit in the inside part of the back of your waistband, thread a piece of elastic through it, and sew it into place on both sides.  This shrinks the waistline enough to keep the pants sitting on your waist.  Thanks to this, I’ve gone from 1 pair of functional jeans to enough pants to get me through winter.  Brilliant!

8.    Alter a dress to skirt but cutting off the top and making an elastic waistband.  This works best with dresses that are several sizes too large.  When thrifting with potential in mind, don’t forget that you can make one piece of clothing over into another, or that a garment that’s too large or too small may still be salvageable!

9.    Cut down a too-small waistband to make it fit.  Have you ever bought a piece of clothing thinking, “This will fit perfectly if I just lost 5 pounds!”  Come now, don’t be shy, I’ll admit to it if you will …  A couple years ago I found a great skirt for $2 that was just a tad snug but that I couldn’t pass it up.  It sat in my closet for over a year until I finally trimmed about an inch off the top of the skirt, then bound the raw edges with bias tape, which is a stretchy finishing trim.  Tutorial here.  Now I wear this skirt all the time and love it!  This tip is a bit trickier and involves more extensive sewing abilities.  Just remember, when cutting down a waistband even ¼” goes a long way, so trim conservatively!

If you’re interested in learning more, there are entire websites and books devoted to restoring, altering, and refashioning vintage clothing.  One of my favorites is Wardrobe Refashion, a collaborate blog that chronicles the efforts of people as they pledge to purchase no new clothing and instead refashion vintage clothing, make it from scratch, or make do with thrift shop finds.  I’ve taken a four month pledge this time around (over the summer I pledged for two months) so I may not be entirely unbiased in recommending the website, but you really should pop over for a peek – there is a whole range of projects that will change the way you see garments and everyday objects!


Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: