Creating Recycled Fashions

upcycled fashion and sewing machine

In the fashion world, there's no denying that what goes around comes around; items that were once hideously out of fashion can be back on trend in a matter of years. However, with a little creativity, you can take the idea of fashion recycling to the next level. From shopping in thrift stores to modifying the items currently in your closet, you can reduce your environmental footprint without sacrificing your sense of style.

Upcycling: Creating Recycled Fashions with Cast-Off Clothing

Upcycling is the art of creating new items out of old or cast-off pieces. It can include everything from knitting a pair of sandals out of plastic grocery bags to reworking old jewelry to make a completely new design. When it comes to clothing, upcycling has many applications.

Shopping Your Closet (or His)

No matter how thrifty you are, you've probably made the mistake of buying an article of clothing that just doesn't get worn. Whether the fit is a little off or the trend that inspired the purchase has come and gone, you can give the piece a second life by making a few changes. These are some of the most popular and easy alterations you can try:

  • Add a little embellishment to a plain T-shirt. Sometimes a top is just too basic to be interesting. Show off your style by upcycling a plain T-shirt into a head-turning statement piece. Simply cut up old fabric pieces for patches, add beading or charms from broken jewelry, or remove the flowers and lace from a worn-out dress and apply them to the T-shirt.
  • Add length with a ruffle. If that once-beloved mini skirt is revealing a little more than you'd like, all you have to do is add a ruffle to the bottom. Choose a fabric you love or cut up another cast-off item. Gather the top edge, and sew it to the hem of the skirt. Leave the ruffle hem raw for an edgy look.
  • Turn a dress into a skirt. If you love the fabric of a dress but don't like the fit of the bodice, you can easily turn it into a skirt. Simply make a new waistband for the skirt out of a matching piece of fabric and a little elastic. Then remove the bodice of the dress, and reattach the skirt to the new waistband.
  • If you have a favorite wool sweater that's seen better days, you can create a cute felted headband. All you have to do is wash the sweater in the washing machine on hot, and dry it in the dryer. It will come out a lot smaller. Simply cut the waistband off of the sweater and open it up at one side seam. Adjust the band to fit your head, and resew the side seam to make a cute winter accessory.
  • Steal from his closet. There's something fun and funky about transforming men's staples into fashionable women's wear. To make a fun tunic, grab a men's dress shirt in a fairly small size. Turn it inside out and put it on. Then use pins to shape the side seams and add darts below the bust. Sew the areas you pinned and show off your new tunic with a pair of leggings.

Buying Gently Used Clothing

thrift store shopping

One of the easiest ways to create recycled fashions is to shop for great clothes at thrift stores, garage sales, and consignment shops. Often, these items are still fashionable and have very little wear. By shopping at the thrift store, you'll eliminate much of the unnecessary waste and environmental pollution that come with manufacturing and transporting goods from overseas. If you find something you like but don't love, you can upcycle it into something even better. Try one of the following:

  • Goodwill: The mother of all thrift stores, Goodwill offers all kinds of clothing at steep discounts.
  • Salvation Army: Similar to Goodwill, Salvation Army thrift stores offer a great selection of gently used items at discounted prices.
  • Consignment shops: These stores allow people to sell their old clothing and share the profits with the store.
  • Garage sales: If you've got a free weekend morning, head out to the garage sales to look for used clothing. For the best selection, shop early in the morning on the first day of the sale.

Thrift stores, consignment shops, and other used clothing retailers have constantly changing selections, which means you may need to shop often to find what you need. Sometimes, an item of clothing might not look like much on the hanger, but you can modify it to be a showstopper. Change the way you view each item, examining it to see if a little embellishment, a few alterations, or a total overhaul might make it awesome. Also consider the fabric of the piece; sometimes you can take it apart to create something totally new.

Using Non-Clothing Items to Make a Fashion Statement

You don't have to start with an item of clothing to make something fashionable. In fact, one type of upcycling involves turning trash into treasures. Try some of these popular ideas:

  • Consider knitting with plastic grocery bags. You can cut the bags into strips and turn the strips into yarn for your next knitting project. Use the bags to make everything from a shopping carry-all to a pair of sandals.
  • If you love candy, especially treats like Starburst with brightly colored wrappers, you can make a candy wrapper purse. Fold the wrappers together to form chains, and then sew the chains together to create a clutch.
  • You already know that duct tape is a great way to fix things, but did you know you can also use it to make a fashionable dress? The ebook How to Make a Duct Tape Dress by Sarah Richards details the steps for creating your own duct tape gown.

Creating a Recycled Jean Skirt

recycled jean skirt

Don't throw away your favorite jeans just because you've worn out the knees. Instead, make them into a jean skirt you'll love.

Things You'll Need

  • Old pair of jeans
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Pins
  • Tape measure

What to Do

  1. Decide on the length you'd like for your cut-off jean skirt. Then spread the jeans out on a table, and cut them off at this length, measuring on the outside seam. Set the leg pieces aside.
  2. Carefully cut the inseam of the jeans, right next to the folded edge of the seam. Do this on both sides.
  3. From the crotch of the jeans, continue cutting up the rise about two inches in both the front and the back.
  4. Overlap the crotch portion to allow the skirt to lie flat on the front and back. Secure with pins and top stitch with a matching thread. Set the skirt aside.
  5. Cut two triangular pieces out of the legs of the jeans. These triangle will go behind the current open areas in the jean skirt, where the inseam used to be. The size and shape of the triangles will vary depending on the length of your jean skirt. Simply use your skirt as a guide and cut the triangles about half an inch larger on all sides.
  6. Use pins to place the triangles behind the open areas in the front and back of the skirt. Secure with pins and topstitch.
  7. Neaten up the hem of the skirt to make everything even. Leave the edges raw.
  8. Wash your skirt in the washing machine to help it unravel a little on the hem. Trim any extra long threads.
  9. Enjoy your new fashion statement!

Shopping for Recycled Fashions

Don't have time to create your own recycled clothing? There are several Internet retailers that specialize in "green" fashion. Try Etsy, an artist marketplace has a wide variety of upcycled fashion items, or ArtFire, another great artist site. You can also find some great items at local craft fairs.

Rewarding and Fun

Buying new clothing can have a negative impact on the earth, so recycling and upcycling clothing is an environmentally responsible choice. From turning trash into treasures to bringing new style to old clothes, you'll find that creating recycled clothing is rewarding and fun.

Creating Recycled Fashions