Have You Thought About Upcycling Your Clothes?


When economic times are tough, what can we do to save on our wardrobe? Here are 4 easy to follow budget fashion tips for the Recessionista Fashonista.

Recessionista Fashionista Tips

1. Alter

You can make a garment fit properly with alterations.  I spend a lot of time in wardrobes pinning garments, adding darts when it’s too boxy, taking up hems that are too long, putting ruching where there was none.  All these things make a garment fit better and flatter more.  Throwing out is not the answer.  A good alterations person can actually change the size of the garment sometimes quite radically.

2. Dye

My clients are often surprised when I suggest that instead of throwing out a garment that is in an unflattering colour, that they could try dying it into a great shade for them.  Especially if they like the garment and it fits and flatters and is good condition.  Natural fibres dye, synthetics don’t.  Why not give it a go?  I once got a black stain on a white silk shirt.  Instead of throwing it out, I bought a box of navy dye and dyed it, the stain has disappeared, and the shirt has a new lease of life, in fact, I prefer it navy instead of white.

3. Revamp

Often buttons are a sign of the age of a garment, swapping your old dated buttons for something modern can really lift a garment.  Making an armhole smaller can also take years off your look (and slim down the size of your body in the process).  What other ways can you modernise your existing wardrobe?  You might wish to embellish in some way (though beware the bedazzler!), done tastefully this can lift a plain garment into something that appears designer.
Here is a great example by Kathleen Dougherty of GrograinFabulous



4. Fix

If the button has fallen off, sew it back on, if the hem is coming down, sew it (or if you have to, get some hemming tape and iron it) back up.

Time is money, and we are all time poor these days.  The time it takes to shop for a new garment, plus the money you spend on it, is usually more than the cost of a revamp or alteration.

There are lots of books out there that can give you inspiration too:

download free resources

Download free style ebooks and printables


I'm not sure if it's for you but how would you feel if you learned all about the colours and styles of clothing that suit your individual personality, shape and style? Just imagine what it would be like when you can open your wardrobe and pull together fabulous outfits that make you look and feel amazing every day? If you'd like to stop wasting money on the wrong clothes and accessories plus join an amazing bunch of very special women also on their style journey - then my 7 Steps to Style program is right for you. Find out more here.

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  • I have spent big money for years on alterations with unsatisfying results. usually, the more complicated, the wider the margin for disappointment.

    The tailor must be skilled and the task achievable. The same alteration can be performed by a superb tailor/average tailor and the results will be totally different.

    My reminders to myself are
    – Pants: only go down one size if altering overall fit. I now refuse the false hem (for too-short pants) as they often look lumpy.
    – Jackets and coats: simplest alterations only, like sleeve length or darts in bust. Messing with shoulders is asking for heartbreak. Armholes cannot be made smaller at the point of insertion to jacket (think about it: where is the extra fabric in the jacket body?)
    – Skirts: Simpler cuts take alteration well, do not mess with complicated gored skirts or most bias cut fabrics. Sometimes skirt has to be entirely taken apart and re-cut. Is it worth it?

    Most ‘clever re-fashioning’ done by owners look amateurish to me. I’d rather give items to Goodwill where someone whom they fit can be delighted. I did have a skirt made from bottom half of a dress, was fine.

    My most frequent and successful alteration is changing buttons, usually when I buy the garment.

  • I have this great red, fitted jacket I wore for many years at Christmas time, it was fabulous. Then it started to look real 80’s (because it was) so I changed the buttons. It still looked 80’s so I found new buttons and changed it again. That still didn’t work, I realize then that it was the length of the jacket that made it look dated. So it still sits in my closet but I should probably send it to the sally ann at this point.

    Great post! And quite the transformation on that blouse!

  • One more thing, the last time I bought a dress right an knee length, I decided to take it in get it hemmed. But I was STANDING when she hemmed it so it ended up too short (and that you find out the minute you try to SIT DOWN OR BEND OVER) I really wish the tailor had actually suggested I sit down so that I could notice for myself that it was going to be too short. The dress is good for a 20 year old now. So I’m with Duchesse, you have to know what you are doing, or be reading your blog, to learn these things before spending good money on changes that still don’t work anyways.

  • At the fashion show I was in this past weekend, there was one designer who took vintage clothes and turned them into DARLING kids clothes. They were unique, with lots of button changes, appliques, dyeing and such. That, and the book that you gave me, “Just For the Frill of It” make me want to just rip something apart and rework it.

  • Such fun suggestions! I’m not crafty enough to do any complex alterations myself, but swapping out buttons is easy-peasy.

  • The cost of good alterations is usually about equal to the cost of a new garment. I’m with Duchesse on the tickytacky look of most do it yourself makeovers.

    I had a friend who followed a Martha Steward project and covered an orange juice can and a desk blotter with a map. This was a “desk set” gift for a nephew, whose father was verrrrrry wealthy. Still, the gift looked like an orange juice can and blotter covered with a map. In other words, I would have saved some time and bought a nice book.

  • I had a Burberry wool coat altered by (supposedly) the best tailor in town after I lost weight. I may as well throw the thing away, though I can’t quite bring myself to do it. The coat is indeed smaller now, but just doesn’t hang right and the armholes look downright weird.

    The only alterations I’ve had success with are hems and a nip at the waist. Otherwise, it has always been a failure.

  • I like to look at websites for Lucky magazine or the Jak and Jil blog picture archive and try to find new ways to wear what I have. I wear a lot of J Crew so I use the catalog pictures to get ideas.

  • Imogen: I love this subject and it’s one I’m investigating personally as I embark on a two-month shopping hiatus and wardrobe refashioning stint.

    All these good comments point out that one has to know what one’s doing with alterations or changes. That’s true with any pursuit.

    For those of us who live where shopping choices are slim, and who need to try things on (thereby making most online shopping impractical), I feel that refashioning and altering are viable choices.

    There are good and bad tailors, like any other professional, and good and bad refashions. The bad ones don’t make refashioning itself a waste of time. You just have to know what you’re doing–and probably some younger refashionistas don’t care about looking amateurish.

    I think this approach works better for some lifestyles than others. For much of my life, not only do I NOT need designer clothing or perfectly tailored pieces, in somd business settings such clothing would immediately brand me as an untrustworthy outsider. I need a workable wardrobe for my lifestyle. Refashioning allows me to take what I can find where I live and make it work for my taste and budget.

    As far as frugal fashion tips go, I’m also big on taking good care of what I have. Cleaning, polishing, and maintaining protect an investment, big or small.

    Thank you for this topic. Maybe sometime it would be interesting to discuss how our location affects what we wear. I thought about this for a long time on my drive through the Rocky Mountains today.

  • I just say to myself when in a shop – ” Do I really love this and do I really NEED this??”
    I have walked away many times – money saved! LOL

  • Most ‘clever re-fashioning’ done by owners look amateurish to me. I’d rather give items to Goodwill where someone whom they fit can be delighted. I did have a skirt made from bottom half of a dress, was fine.I am not sure what tye of refashions you mean, but I think that the refashion is not very clever if it looks amateurish.

    As a designer I am pretty confident that my refashions don’t look bad. There are may who refashion because they want to look artsy and creative. The look of handmade with big stitches and such is something some people like. Also a lot of refashionistas are just beginning to learn to sew and are proud of their little accomplishments which I think is admirable. I know that the first thing I made was not perfect and I probably wouldn’t wear it now, but I did proudly for months after I made it.

    Refashioning isn’t for everyone, but for those who like to create and love to wear one of a kind garments it is a very frugal way to build a wardrobe.

  • Christina – dye is the easiest way to improve many garments!

    Duchesse – true – bad alterations do not improve anything, but good ones can immensely.

    Maria – yes – a garment does have to be able to be saved!

    Karen – I look forward to seeing your efforts!

    Sal – Buttons and dye are a great place to start. Taking up a hem is also something we can get a tailor to do easily and cheaply.

    Frugal Scholar – probably depends on the cost of the garment at original purchase! If it has great fabric and a colour you love, sometimes it’s hard or impossible to find this, so an alteration is worth it.

    RB – keep searching for a great tailor!

    Leah – glad to see you back on the blogsphere – looking round for inspiration and current trends is a great way to get ideas.

    Kelee – i’m sure you do!

    Sallymandy – location does affect our choices – I’ll do a post on it sometime!

    Lady Jicky – great questions to ask.

    Cosmo – true – you never improve if you don’t try!

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