The jumpsuit that sporadically pops open and bares my bra. The T-shirt with a weirdly wobbly hem. The wrap dress my husband tells me looks “a bit Tory party conference”. I’m not proud to admit that my wardrobe contains many misfires. There are items that don’t fit, don’t suit me or which feel like souvenirs from a forgotten identity crisis. There are cherished gems, yes, but they are bookended by many more examples of buyer’s remorse.
But all is not lost. An increased interest in repairs and upcycling – seen everywhere from the rise of alterations businesses on Depop to the new repair “concierge” at Selfridges – could bring such unloved garms back to life. And with charity shops overflowing – and more of us wanting to save on waste, spend less money and keep our clothes for longer – making the most of what we have got could not feel more timely. You don’t need sewing skills to spin your wardrobe – all of the tips below could be taken to a professional – though you may need some time, and to think about your clothing a bit differently.
“As a society, we are so removed from the process of making an item of clothing that we don’t even understand what is possible using the clothes we already own,” says Layla Sargent, who last year launched The Seam, to connect customers with local seamstresses. The following expert tips will give you some ideas.
1. Cuff trouser hems
Sarah Hunter is a fashion fiend who started upcycling and altering charity shop finds – and her existing wardrobe – about a year ago, when she started feeling uncomfortable about “getting sucked into Instagram, and the idea of buying lots of new things for the grid.” Having studied costume design in the 90s, she has excellent sewing skills, and her Instagram is chock-full of fashion-hack inspiration. She promises me that elastic cuffing is very easy and can transform any wide-legged trousers, from jogging bottoms to jumpsuits, provided the fabric is “flimsy” enough to take the new shape. YouTube tutorials abound, but Hunter believes the simplest way is to make a small opening at the seam of an existing hem, feed the elastic through with a safety pin on the loose end, tie the elastic with a knot and sew the opening closed.
2. Rethink office shirts
When Gayle Bennett’s father died of cancer 18 months ago, she decided to transform one of his shirts into a top with a low neckline and a tie on the front: “My dad’s shirt, but in my style,” she says. Reworking men’s shirts is now a design signature for her Soul and Flare Depop shop, which sells vintage and customised pieces from a sewing studio in Nottingham. Bennett is passionate about low-waste fashion, and says that office shirts are great for upcycling (“first, because the cotton has already been produced, and is a beautiful fabric, and, second, because they are one of the hardest items to sell in charity shops”), given that many office workers want a crisp look and will only buy new. Bennett runs a customisation service should you have a shirt to transform, with prices ranging from £28 for a simple top to £98 for her “Renata” dress, which uses frills and pleats.