Reader Patricia had this request:
Can you maybe talk a bit about DIY clothing alterations? I’m not sure if that’s something you do with your own clothes often, but I know I’ve seen you recommend snipping off belt loops and the like… what options do you tend to utilize in terms of making off-the-rack clothing work better for you (either on your own or with tailoring, although I know you’ve already written a few great posts about tailoring)? Is it worth it buying something not-quite-perfect and making it your own?
I am a self-professed DIY novice, and will bring to my tailor anything beyond the simplest alterations. The types of projects I undertake are virtually foolproof, so if you’re curious about changing up bought or thrifted clothes these suggestions could be a great baseline!
I’ve been overdyeing clothes for years, and have become quite comfortable with the process. The hoodie and jacket above have both been dyed by me. I generally use iDye products, and although they claim to work in the washing machine, I get much better and more consistent results boiling on-stove. Since dyeing generally alters color but not shape, it’s an easy project to tackle that’s unlikely to totally ruin your garments. (Unless you’re working with a fiber that shrinks – boiling will speed the shrinking process!) However some colors don’t turn out as expected, so this is a DIY that’s best used on garments you are willing to part with, should they turn out puce instead of emerald.
Cropping pants and shorts
I know, who hasn’t lopped off a pair of jeans in her lifetime? But this is one of those stupid-simple alterations I know I can handle. I’ve done shorts, but I’ve also cropped skinny jeans into clamdiggers. I like the look of a ragged edge, so I crop and then wash without hemming. My only piece of advice: Try on your pants before cutting, and crop at least an inch longer than you think you’ll need. Shorts ride higher than you expect, and if you cut too long you can cut again. Cut too short, and you’re sunk.
I once bought a teal blazer with those leather-covered buttons you see on grandpa cardigans. I swapped out the body and sleeve buttons for flat black and vastly preferred how the blazer looked post-swap. Craft and fabric stores are great sources for buttons if you don’t already have a stash, and so long as you’re working with a fiber that’s sturdier than silk, you should be able to replace buttons without much risk.
Substituting for self-belts or included belts
As Patricia noted, I’m an advocate of removing self-belts or included belts – which are frequently matchy or poorly made – and swapping in belts from your own wardrobe. The type of belt loops I’m happy to snip off are the super thin, woven thread ones that are tacked on at the seams to keep included belts in place. Cut close to the fabric, but be careful not to snip the fabric itself. Sewn-on fabric belt loops are another story – tailors can certainly remove them, but I’ve never attempted it myself.
And that’s my list! Short but sweet.
Is it worth buying an imperfect garment with the intention of altering it on your own? Hard to say. I’m more likely to undertake the alterations listed above on my own old clothes or thrifted items that are low-risk. Aside from fit-related alterations like hemming or taking in, I think it’s a bit risky to buy an off-the-rack item specifically for the purpose of altering it. If a dress is perfect aside from the neckline, you could have your tailor transform a crew into a V … but there’s no guarantee it’ll fit and look exactly the same. And buying a new garment intending to overdye it can definitely work, but it might be a better plan to find a similar one in a color you like to begin with. I’d never say “never,” but I’d also advise utilizing DIY alterations on low-risk items … at least to start!
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