Whether you’re on a limited budget, want to reduce landfill waste – or both – renovating your existing wardrobe instead of buying a new one is easier than you think. A good wardrobe is a must-have for many, and we tend to invest in new clothes without taking stock of what’s already hanging in our closets. You can resist the temptation by giving your wardrobe an economical but fun fashion facelift.
Transforming and tweaking your wardrobe instead of buying a new one saves money. Maybe you’re a single mom whose job requires a high-level wardrobe, or you’re young and just building up a solid income. Perhaps you’re interested in recycling and upcycling. We have some great advice and techniques to find both budget-easy and Earth-friendly ways to update your wardrobe.
A Second Life
We all have our clothing secrets, those gotta-have purchases that we hang in the closet, waiting for the next perfect occasion. Except, that perfect cocktail party or night on the town just never materializes. Eventually, we forget it’s hanging there, tags still attached, and now it’s no longer trendy or it doesn’t fit like before.
Don’t just toss clothes: consider giving them a second life. Most of our clothes eventually end up in a landfill. In 2015, more than 10 million tons of fabrics went to landfills, according to the EPA. Yet within that same year, only about 14% of clothing and shoes were recycled. Producing new clothes and other textiles requires energy, water, and other resources. By renewing your wardrobe (and other household textiles like linens, bed sheets, drapes, and blankets) instead of discarding, you can do your part to reduce landfill waste.
Clothes Renewal Selection
Let’s dig in and decide which clothes stay, which clothes leave, and which are good candidates for a transformation.
Go through your closet. Take clothes out and start working on an organization system. Some people organize types of clothes together: button-down shirts together, slacks, pants, skirts, dresses, etc. Others group their wardrobe according to use: work clothes, party clothes, casual clothes. Still, others group their clothes according to colors.
Whatever organizing system you use, stick to it, and revisit the selection process every few months, or at minimum once a year. You may discover clothes you haven’t noticed for years. Rotating them into your regular wardrobe choices brings new variety.
How Often Do You Use it?
As you go through your closet, question how often you use it. How about that outdated pair of slacks or that forgotten dress? These slacks make a good candidate for re-homing or renovating, and you could transform that dress into a cute blouse. If you haven’t worn something for a year, give serious thought to renovating it or removing it from your closet.
Does it Still Suit You?
You adored that skirt 10 years ago when you couldn’t resist buying it. Still, think you can’t live without it? Do you have the same feelings for it? This kind of item in your wardrobe might be a good candidate for a subtle or grand transformation.
What to Do with Clothes you Don’t Need?
You should now have a keep pile, a keep but renovate pile, and a “leave the house” pile. What do you do with these clothes? Evaluate them: If they’re good quality and not hopelessly outdated fashion-wise, you may consider selling them at a consignment shop or online through social media groups, or Facebook Marketplace.
If you don’t want the hassle or the clothes aren’t top quality, donate them to a thrift shop or a program that helps the disadvantaged. You can also offer them for free on sites like The Freecycle Network. This way, the clothes have a use for others while staying out of the landfill.
Once you’ve chosen the clothes you want to renovate, here are some techniques and tips to renew them.
Upcycle, Downcycle, and Renovation Techniques
Your wardrobe is a great source of creative upcycle and downcycle projects.
Upcycling involves turning an existing item into something of higher value. Those tired old jeans could become an on-trend, functional shopping tote, a denim tank top, or a woven sink floor mat. Upcycling saves energy and materials used by new-item manufacturing processes. Some people earn income by crafting and selling items using upcycled materials.
You can also downcycle your wardrobe – that is, turn the fabric into something else useful but less valuable than the original item. Turn soft but no longer wearable cotton T-shirts into dust cloths, a sweater for your dog, or a snuggly small pet hammock. Downcycle shirts to wax your car. Crafty people have recycled clothes into sewn protective face masks, using t-shirt strips as tie straps.
Check out hundreds of amazing second-life ideas for upcycling your clothing. You’ll be amazed what some creativity, scissors, and maybe some sewing thread can accomplish. You don’t have to be a professional seamstress or DIY fashion guru to achieve beautiful results.
There are some great fabrics for craft or upcycle projects that are probably hanging in your closet right now:
- Denim, like jeans and jean jackets
- Cotton shirts
- Cotton blouses or dresses
- Flannel or plaid shirts
- Wool sweaters and blankets
By using various techniques and some handy online tutorials, you can cut, sew, glue, and transform unwanted, tired fabrics into new, exciting clothes, home decorating, or craft creations. Here are some ideas for transforming closet rejects:
Fabrics and scissors are a perfect match when you’re giving new life to clothes. Renovations can be as simple as cutting slacks into shorts and hemming the frayed ends (or leave the frayed ends for a casual statement). Cut strips and weave together for a rug, tying off the ends or cut clothes up for future quilting pieces.
Transform Dresses into Trendy Tops or Skirts
Remember that cute dress you almost never wore? Turn it into a top or even a skirt. This may be as simple as hemming the dress a little higher and adding a cute belt. Look online for inspiration and tutorials.
Repurpose Old T-shirts into Something New
Do you have drawers full of oversized t-shirts or old t-shirts? Give them a new life. Weave them into totes, make them into crop tops, or find other ways to reuse the fabric. T-shirt material is a dream to renovate, upcycle, or downcycle. When cut, t-shirts don’t fray, so you can cut and handle without the need to hem. You can also use T-shirts as knitting yarn to make rag rugs, macrame, pillow cushions, patchwork quilts, t-shirt bags, or even potholders.
Tie-dye never goes out of style. Vibrant and fun, tie-dyeing makes a terrific family activity. Transform white shirts or other clothes, even ones that may be stained. Chances are unless they’re bad stains, the tie-dye pattern will hide the imperfections, making that shirt wearable again.
Before you dive into tie-dying, watch videos online with step-by-step directions. There are lots of different techniques to achieve the patterns and color combinations you most love.
If you’re not into tie-dye, you can use different painting materials on clothing to change their look. Try acrylic pens, natural pigments, and even fabric paints watered down to make clothes look just like a dreamy watercolor painting. Sites like Pinterest.com have lots of ideas for bringing new life to your clothes.
If you have dark clothes, you can transform them into vibrant, eye-catching statement pieces by using a creative reverse dye technique process of bleaching out the color and then adding bright dye colors to the bleached, white sections. You can also use bleach pens to create cool, colorful images on fabric.
Knitting, Sewing, and Crocheting
Don’t overlook traditional methods to change up clothes you’ve grown tired of. Knitting, sewing, and crocheting are time-honored skills you can enjoy learning as you add beautiful accents to your clothes.
Hem a long skirt into a shorter version or transform slacks into shorts. Add a contrasting color block to an existing skirt. Sew a lace hem on shorts or a crocheted accent onto a blouse for a charming touch.
Repair Old Clothes
Instead of throwing away clothes, consider repairing them. Resist the urge to pitch clothes with a hole or missing button, Invest a little time in repairing instead of replacing, and you’ll save lots of money. Iron on or sew on a cool, on-trend patch on your jeans, and change out the buttons on your sweater. Browse online shops for eye-catching buttons that show off your personality.
If your sewing, darning, or sew-on button techniques are rusty or nonexistent, don’t worry: There are lots of tutorials online for almost any repair situation.
Denim Jeans and Jackets
Denim jeans are incredibly versatile for repurposing projects. Sew some patches or lace onto existing jeans or a jacket for an on-trend shabby-chic fashion statement. Use fabric paint to embellish with flowers, peace symbols, or cool sayings.
Denim’s fabric strength can be transformed into things like totes, light-blocking curtains, woven denim rugs, or reupholstering fabric for chairs for a fresh shabby-chic look. Make denim into pillows, baskets, or quilts. Make a braided tug-toy for your favorite pooch (make sure he doesn’t swallow the fabric) or, using elastic on each end of a pants leg, make a grocery-bag holder. There are lots of tutorials online with clever ideas for old jeans.
Clothes don’t last forever, especially if worn by kids. Sometimes quick patching can give clothes years more life. Find coordinating or contrasting colors to bring interest to your renovation. You can place the patch on the inside of the worn-out spot and sew it in for added textural appeal.
More DIY Wardrobe Renovation Ideas
There are other creative and inexpensive ways to inject new life into your wardrobe.
Update your Accessories. Haunt thrift stores and estate sales for sweet vintage statement pieces like bracelets, necklaces, or earrings. Browse vintage stores for a retro leather handbag. A new-to-you set of bangles can bring new sparkle to your ensemble. Or, switch it up with a luxurious-looking, oversized scarf or shawl for a pop of color or pattern. Add an accentuating belt.
Add a few “basics” to your wardrobe. Add a solid-colored jacket or sweater, a classic blouse, or a basic skirt that you can create multiple ensembles with. Thrift stores are a great place to shop. These basic additions can match with pieces already in your closet, providing a fresh look.
Mix and match colors and patterns. This increases your daily ensemble variety and choices. Don’t be afraid to buck the trend of a pattern paired only with a solid. Try some florals with stripes.
Have a clothes swap party. Invite friends over and ask them to bring gently-used clothes, shoes, and accessories. Share your own offerings. You can make this a fun, themed get-together.
Look for classic, casual, or business jackets that you can change out with different blouses and skirts or a good pair of jeans. Elevate an ensemble or rock a casual look, adding versatility to your present wardrobe.
The Sky’s the Limit
Renovating and rehabbing your wardrobe can be as extensive and as creative as you want – let your DIY fashion imagination soar. Try out a new painting, sewing, or tie-dye techniques, and if you mess it up, that’s OK: it’s all part of the learning and experimenting process. If you have kids, set them loose with some of their clothes and paint pens or other kid-safe fabric paints.
Find Joy in your Wardrobe Again
You can feel good about giving your clothes a new life and a new look. You’ll expand your wardrobe choices while saving money and being a good steward of the Earth.
The clothing manufacturing industry is harsh on our environment. Some companies are showing creativity in using throwaway items like water bottles upcycled into new clothes, handbags, and even bed sheets. However, until all technology improves with more sustainable and recycled materials, you can do your part by not buying new items. Instead, have fun using these techniques to bring new purpose to your existing wardrobe.
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