12 Ways To Upcycle Thrifted Clothes


Learning to be a great thrifter is one of the biggest steps in being a more eco-friendly shopper. Learning how to upcycle thrifted clothes can up your thrift game even more. Have you ever found an ugly sweater, but seen potential underneath its bad fit?

When you learn how to get crafty, any old piece of clothing has the potential to become a new fashion statement. Get the inspiration you need by reading our 12 ways on how to upcycle thrifted clothes.

1. Create A Crop Top

The DIY sweatshirt crop top is a hit right now. Head into any thrift store and you’re bound to find tons of old sweaters and sweatshirts. Make sure you look for a material that won’t unravel once you start cutting it. This means that you probably shouldn’t try this look with any knit sweaters or sweatshirts.

Once you choose the sweatshirt you want, grab a pair of fabric scissors. Finding the right scissors are important so that you have a smooth cut. First, measure the sweatshirt where you want to crop it. Then, mark around the sweatshirt from the hem to make sure that it ends up even. Grab your scissors and cut around the sweatshirt. Then, try pulling some loose threads to give it a worn-in look.

upcycle thrifted clothes

2. High Waisted Shorts

Working off the same idea of cutting old clothes you find, this time you need to find high waisted denim jeans or shorts. Lots of thrift stores have a fair share of 80s or 90s denim. How do you find what’s high waisted? Look for the denim that has a long zipper, as that indicates it will probably sit higher. Then, try and find the denim that fits the best.

Similar to the sweatshirt, first take time to measure the cut that you’re going to make. You want to make sure that the cut is even all around. Once you have the right length, cut around the legs to make your own custom-made shorts.

upcycle thrifted clothes

3. Embroider A Pair of Pants To Upcycle Thrifted Clothes

This project requires a bit more sewing. Find a pair of old jeans that need a pick me up. Then, start looking for inspiration online for what kind of embroidery you’d like on your pants. You can find tons of ideas on Pinterest, for example.

Then, take some embroidery thread and start in on your design. The best thing about this idea? It’s completely up to your artistic inspiration. Flowers, faces, vines, symbols, you name it. This takes customization to a whole new level. Without a doubt, you’ll be getting compliments.

upcycle thrifted clothes

4. Turn A Shirt Into A Dress

Have you ever found a bodycon dress that you loved so much you wish you could work it into more outfits? A lot of bodycon dresses, in shirt form, would make a great statement piece. Well, believe it or not, you can turn it into a shirt, making it a great way to upcycle thrifted clothes.

This look probably looks better if you have looser fitting jeans or pants. Mom jeans or even cargo pants would look great. All you have to do is tuck the dress into the jeans until you can’t see the fabric, belt your jeans or pants, and head out. No one will ever know your trick.

5. Switch buttons

Sometimes, all a piece of clothing needs is touch-up. For example, an old cardigan might lose its glory after years of use. However, you can add something simple to bring it back to life.

First, go out to your local fabric or crafts store to find the right buttons for your sweater. Then, you have to cut off the old buttons. Make sure you are only cutting off the thread connecting the buttons to the sweater. To complete the project, sew on the new buttons. You have a whole new sweater.upcycle thrifted clothes

6. Distress Your Own Jeans

At thrift stores, there tends to be a lot of old denim. If you’re just looking for a pair of jeans, it can be tough to find something that draws your eye. Making your own personal distressed pair of jeans can help customize the denim you find.

There’s a few ways to upcycle your thrifted clothes by distressing jeans. Some pros recommend taking a (clean) cheese grater and roughing up your fabric until it starts to tear. Others think it’s easier to use a razor blade to slowly snip away the fabric. Either way, grab something with a sharp edge. Find the right places to distress your denim, and at the end you’ll have the perfect pair of jeans.upcycle thrifted clothes

7. Sewing Or Ironing On Patches

Patches aren’t just for the Girl Scouts. They can also be a great way of showcasing causes you care about, or just making your clothes cute. Luckily, patches can be super easy to put on clothes.

Patches are probably better for thicker fabrics, such as denim. So, consider finding a good jacket, pants, or even a backpack that could use a bit of shine. Then, find the patches that catch your eye. Luckily for you, lots of patches these days are iron-on, which saves you the hassle of hand sewing.

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8. Turn A Sweater Into A Dress

Have you ever found one of your dad’s old sweaters, big, chunky, and hanging past your knees? Well, that sweater actually has huge style potential.

It may not look like it, but if you grab a belt and some leggings, that sweater can turn into a statement piece. Try this: cinch the sweater at the waist and add leggings underneath to stay warm in cooler weather. Just like that, you have a sweater dress that accentuates your waistline. Can you say perfect?

9. Paint Old Shoes

This project also requires a bit of skill and creativity, but it can be done. Lots of old canvas shoes end up looking worse for wear after a bit of use. The old colors fade and the colors get a bit grimy. Let’s face it, no outfit looks complete with dirty shoes.

Head to your local craft store to grab some acrylic paint. Then, begin your design on your shoes. Before you know it, you’ll have a pair of shoes that grab attention and praise. Feeling like this project is a bit much? Ask someone who’s craftier if they can give you a helping hand in getting the design done.

10. Add Pockets To Shirts

Your average t-shirt or long sleeve shirt may be a bit boring to wear. Even the shirts that are bright colors can lack an interesting pop of color. The best fix to this? Sewing on front pockets as a bit of contrast.

Again, the magic is in the wide range of choices you have in how to complete this idea to upcycle thrifted clothes. Find the right fabric to fit your style, then follow a pattern to figure out the right dimensions for your pocket. Sew it on, either by machine or by hand, and your boring shirt now has a whole new look.

11. Tie Dye Thrifted Clothes

Not happy with the color scheme of a piece of clothing you found? Tie dye it to make it something new.

All you need is a tutorial of how to go about tie dying your own clothes. This is one of the most tried-and-true methods of being creative with clothes. You can even make it a group effort by hosting a tie dye party.

12. Turn Old Clothes Into House Decor

Okay, this idea won’t help you figure out anything new to wear. However, it will help you figure out a way to be more sustainable by reusing every bit of thrifted clothes.

There are tons ideas out there. You can create a quilt from old t shirts and create pillow covers out of old sweaters. You can even tear up old t shirts to knot into rugs. There’s tons of ways to take those old clothes and put them to good use.

Which one of our ideas to upcycle thrifted clothes do you want to check out? Let us know below.

Images via @apairandaspare on Flickr; @poppyandquail, @danibee.arts on Instagram
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