19 Tips How To Make Upcycled Clothes That Look Great

By Mariana Kirova

Was your last upcycled project beautiful? Did others make you a compliment like “You look amazing!” admiring your outfit? If your answer is “no”, then this article is a must read for you. These 19 tips reveal the most important questions you should answer about how to make upcycled clothes that really look great.

Lets admit it, it’s wonderful feeling when people notice the unique clothing you wear. And the best part is when you shoot with a smile: “I made it myself!” (and keep smiling after their jaw drops;)! That’s worth the efforts, right?

We all know, that along the technical execution (the sewing), there is always another side of the coin. And this is the design. Not only for your upcycled projects, but for everything you make for your wardrobe.

Upcycled Clothes Successful - Mariana

Some of my upcycled clothes

Designing is crucial for any fashion brands, too. Teams of designers work hard to create the best garments for the company’s "ideal customer". This fictional figure often is developed to high extend that feels like it is a real person. Like you and me, or one of our friends.

The details around this person are very specific and often beyond anything you can imagine. It has name, age, occupation, social status, friends, personal life details, interests, desires, and so on. That customer avatar helps all the teams, especially designers, to create better clothing, accessories, stories for marketing purposes and so on. The more the brand knows about their ideal customer, the better guidelines they have

No matter if you are sewing with a ready-made pattern or transforming unused clothing, there are things that if you consider, you’ll be really successful in your upcycling. The following tips can be equally applied for yourself or for someone else. They can help you to clarify details about how to make upcycled clothes. The tips have different level of importance, depending on your level of knowing yourself from the “ideal customer” point of view.

And don’t forget, it’s all worth it at the end, right?

Tip #1: Does it fit in any style stereotype?

Like it or not, we all tend to follow one or few styling stereotypes. These are particular type of apparel that can be grouped by similar external indications. Some well known styles are Hippie, Boho/Bohemian, Western, Classic, Street, Chic, Romantic, Goth and so on.

The style groups vary a lot and usually are used by the fashion brands, magazines and retailers which want to refer to a specific type of outfits and create exclusivity about it.

Choosing a style you want to recreate will keep you focused and can help you to create with ease. You just have to find a great looking design within a particular style and recreate it in your project.

Tip #2: Is it a ‘trend’?

Think of a ’trend’ as something significant, perceived as fashionable, that many brands and designers implement. It could be a print, material, particular trim or anything else used recently by many. For example, recent years many fashion brands create designs with lace or lace trim, no matter the age group of their client. Keep in mind, though, trends often create fads and you don’t want to spend a lot of time recreating something that tomorrow will be gone (and you’ll need to rework it again).

Choose only the “trend” that you have noticed many brands and designers use at least for two years. Then if you like it, nothing can stop you to use it and enjoy for longer.

Tip #3: Think about the colours you will combine

This factor is one of the most important ones. It’s worth to spare some time and think of the colours you want to use. Do you want to make one colour garment, or a classical one with one colour accent (in the trim, for example)? If you want to use lots of colours, think of which you’d like to combine? Are you sure you can choose them well or you need some help? Sometimes keeping different items, magazine cut outs or any advertising which colour combination you like, may help you lots when creating.

Tip #4: What is the body shape?

That is also important factor when figuring out how to make upcycled clothes. It is well known already that body shape matters. And if you consider things that are better for your figure, you’ll be well on your way to look your best. Unfortunately, that’s not easy. I struggle with it, too. I’ve always wondered what body shape I actually have (and don’t like that changes with years, too!).

There are so many classification out there, so here I’ll list only the basics to avoid unnecessary confusion.

Without all the fuss, we can accept that generally there are five types of female body shape:

  • Hourglass (the “ideal” figure) - full hip and bust, well defined waist;
  • Triangle (“Pear shape”) - narrower bust, full hip and well defined waist;
  • Inverted Triangle - larger bust or shoulders, narrow hips, small buttocks and well defined waist;
  • Rectangle - bust/shoulder and hips are same width and there’s little waist definition;
  • Round (“Apple shape”) - rounded figure, especially around the waist, which is undefined.

There’s a lot to say here. If you want more information, here is a website of an image stylist that has great free information on her site. Here I’ll just mention that, if the bust and top part of body is narrower, you should aim to “enlarge” it and draw the attention upwards towards your shoulders and face. That could be done in many ways, for example, by wearing accessories, design elements (ruffles, layered necklines, etc.) or embellishments, shoulder pads if shoulders are too narrow, as well as colours or prints that draw the attention up.

If the case is the opposite, the top part of the body is wider (“Inverted triangle”, for example) then you have less difficult task. Finally, after the Hourglass figure this is the next best one you can have (lucky you then!). In this case you need to draw the attention away from your upper body and to “balance” the lower body. This can be achieved by avoiding things that emphasise your shoulders and bust. It will be better if you wear flowing fabrics, in opposite to bulky, low necklines and tops flowing through the waist, A-line skirts or flared pants.

Tip #5: Know your best colours

This tip emphasises on your “hair-eyes-skin” type. The best way this can be explained is the following. You probably already encountered that some colours make you look much brighter, younger, beautiful, even slimmer. Others, on the other hand, make you look tired, “heavier” or somewhat older.

Of course, hair and make up (preferably more "natural" looking one) have impact on how we look. These are two of my Pinterest boards with some good suggestions.

Very easy way is to get your colours from pictures. So, if happens that you have some recent pictures on which you love the colour/s you where, then keep that finding in mind. However, if you meanwhile have changed your hair colour, too, this has to be included in your considerations. You may now be able to enjoy new vibrant colours that match your new You;)

Don’t skip to play in front of the mirror, too. You can do it while thrifting in your local op-shop where you will have lots of colours to try on. Choose two one colour garments and hold them one after another near your face. Rotate them as often as you need, one after another. Choose the one that makes you the “star” (and the garment is sort of “invisible”), not the one that shows off and stands out before you, if that make sense. Ask yourself: “Do I like myself in this”, not “Do I like this garment”.

You can build Pinterest board with your colours to refer to when you need some inspiration (my Pink & Grey board is mainly to keep me satisfied with my favourite combination;)

And another small note here. Despite colours that make us look our best, there are some that we just love to wear, in spite of those often not being “our” colour. However, there is a good news here. You don’t have to give up your favourite colours! Just try and find the better option of it.

For example, I love baby pink. The cold shades of pink, though, are not my best matching colours, they make me look pale and somewhat even ill.

Therefore, I’m aiming to warmth in my pink, which I can find in peach pink, for example. That variation fit much better my red toned dark hair and warm (kind of yellowish) undertone of my skin, opposite to cool (porcelain) undertone.

So, don’t be too harsh on yourself with finding the “right colours”. This is a slow, sometimes frustrating process. I definitely will write more about it in near future, so will keep you posted.

Tip #6: What the friend’s circle is like?

Some of you may deny this, but we all want to fit to certain extent in our community, work environment or circle of friends. Being social is part of being human and sense of belonging appears to be critical in our lives.

It will be easier if you accept it and consider it in your upcycling. It would be awkward if your friends are rockers and you suddenly appear in a celebrity chic outfit.

My tip here is bear the circle in mind, but also strive for the best looking outfit you can think of in it. That will give you a satisfying result later.

Denim is soft and comfortable, and very inspiring!

Tip #7: What is the individual personality?

Having a strong personality with specific choices that nobody can change could be strong factor to consider. For example many creative people have very individual fashion style. Therefore, it is good to know who do you make your upcycled clothes for. What they typically wear, prefer and would enjoy having in their wardrobe for a long time. If you are not amongst those, just stick to other aspects you find relevant and go ahead with your project.

Tip #8: Consider the occupation

Sometimes certain professional fields asks for specific dress requirements, even when you are not at work. Fortunately, most of us have great freedom to choose our clothing. If you practice a highly reputable occupation, though, or you make something for that kind of person, then you should keep within the accepted dress requirements frame for that occupation.

Tip #9: The culture

We all are soaked in to the culture we live in so much that we actually rarely realise that the culture has significant impact on what we wear. The easiest way to see that is to compare ourselves with other, completely different cultures we can find worldwide. Also don’t forget what each colour means for the different cultures, too.

There could be variety of perceptions and interpretations. For example, in China and many other Asian cultures white is worn for funerals. You can read more about what colours symbolise in different cultures here. So, just quick consideration of this, before deciding on how exactly to make your upcycled clothes, might be a good idea.

Tip #10: Religion

Similar to culture. Some religion beliefs don’t allow many of the modern fashion trends, designs, elements and so on. Be sure your upcycling idea will apply correctly.

Tip #11: Are there any preferable design elements or lines?

You probably like certain necklines, sleeves or particular lines you know that will flatter your figure. Or the opposite, dislike. With years I left behind liking cap sleeves, for example, and now prefer longer sleeves or three quarters below the elbow. Knowing what you like or not will save you some headaches. It will make the upcycled clothes you create more relevant to what you’d really enjoy to wear.

Tip #12: Any preferable silhouette or type of clothing?

This tip refers to any type of clothing you usually choose. For example, I prefer the comfort and the versatility of pants, instead of skirts. Of course, you should consider where you are going to wear it. Just consider it as what you’d feel more comfortable in and take it into account, if that is possible. Having preferences for a particular silhouette that compliments your figure will also help and lead you to the right path.

The "Inspiration" boards I keep in my Pinterest account can offer exciting suggestions for elements or ideas.

Tip #13: Count the season

During what season you’ll wear your upcycled clothes is surely very important. And don’t forget, not always fine see-through fabrics mean cool and nice feeling during hot summer. For example, polyesters tend to “seal” the body and don't allow the body to “breathe”. If you want to know more about different groups of fabrics used for manufacturing your clothes, jump on these 3-part series about the three fabric fibres groups used to produce your clothing.

Besides cloth, colours also count here. Bright colours are more typical for warm weather and earthy tones, muted darker colours tint our winter wardrobe. Of course, winter for many of my US friends means lots of snow, coats and jumpers. However, here in Western Australia, the coldest thing is the wind, but we still have lots of sunny days. So in my case, layers of thinner clothes which I can take off when I’m outside on the sun is much wiser choice for me. And this will affect the upcycled pieces I make for myself.

Tip #14: What occasion it is made for?

This is evidently important. The occasion which the upcycled clothes will be made for, i.e. a wedding, a smart-casual night out, a holiday or else, definitely has to be considered. Usually this is one of the main focal points which determines the look of the upcycle. Because of that, give it a good thought and know that the more specific information you articulate, the easier your task will be later.

Tip # 15: Consider your stage of life

Everybody who’s over their 30s doesn’t want to even think about it! Anyway. We all know, we should. Imagine you’re doing it for someone else, like Dian Keaton, for instance, just find your age-match. To keep our stylish look through out our life we need to realise that age matters. It’s not the same when we were young girls and used to wear all these fitted clothes and short skirts (instead I had skinny jeans I barely could take off afterwards). Therefore, if you want to acquire or keep up with having “classy style”, you have to accept the fact that you need to update your wardrobe pieces. So, here change has good meaning;)

Tip #16: Begin from a great looking garment

Lets imagine you find a beautiful garment in your next op-shop visit. The cloth is so fascinating that you can't help yourself and buy it (it happens with all of us all the time;). That could be exciting point to add something and transform it. Great!

Sometimes later, though, you may decide that the size is too small or to notice there's a stain you've missed. If you like the material, any imperfections shouldn't stop your creativity. You just need to work it out and use as much of the cloth as possible to make something that preserves and lifts up its beauty. Find matching textures or colours, use some elements like pockets or sleeves, just make sure you let your imagination to play. You’ll be amazed what you can figure out few days later (and remember, our brain keeps working and thinking even when we sleep). So, not finding what to do today, may lead to a great design tomorrow!

I love the fact that we can draw inspiration from the fashion history, some amazing examples there.

Tip #17: Lets not forget your technical equipment

If you already have clearer idea of what to make, then assure you have all the necessary machines, tools and materials. Sometimes we forget simply to check that and face workarounds in the middle of the process (which could be frustrating).

Tip #18: Consider your sewing level and necessary techniques

It’s great to find picture of upcycled clothes that we like and want to recreate, Pinterest is full of those. However, make sure you go over this: what sewing seams, finishes and general skills you’ll need to execute the chosen design. The last thing you want is to run into challenges that exceed your sewing confidence, thus leaving you with an unfinished project (and yes, we all know what that is;). If you stick to previously applied and checked sewing techniques, you’ll feel much more satisfied from your final result (and keep new techniques to check on scraps later or to do on “around the house” wear first).

Two of my Pinterest sewing boards with tips & techniques can be very helpful sometimes.

Tip #19: Strive for the best!

Despite knowing perfection is quite a struggle, my last tip is to actually embrace it! Aim to achieve the best as you can on the level you are now. Not only in sewing and all craft techniques you know, but in figuring the design, lines and elements, the shape and materials and things from this article. Then you will be more prepared how to make truly unique upcycled clothes that look great.

Here is my example...

Tips-to-make-upcycled-clothes-successful---example-1

This is the recent occasion I put my dress on again, Perth's CBD

If possible, I usually like to visualise with examples. However, I haven't thought of this one until I finished the article. So, I'm adding it now.

Last year I needed a formal special occasion dress, but I didn't have any. The few dresses I had in my wardrobe were too casual. So, I looked in my stash...

I was keeping fabric leftovers from the different bridal places I've been working for. Back then they didn't mind giving me the remnants instead of chucking them in the bin.

I was very happy and there are really lovely pieces in my stash, soft, big and small scraps of special silk fabrics, such as chiffon, tulle, shantung, dupion and so on. My stash still has lots of them and sometimes I am glad I have the option to consider those luxurious treasures for my projects.

This is the strapless dress I made back then. I've made some pictures of some of the details, too. On the edges I used vintage lace I had in my stash, sourced second hand from a lady. The skirt is from piece of satin material a friend gave me, knowing that one day I'll use it somehow. Where I didn't have enough material I pieced with another that I had more from, like it is shown on the pictures on the lining inside (at the waist area).

The detachable asymmetrical "shawl-straps" give interesting look of the whole dress. I made them from triangular remnants from cutting A-line bridal skirts, usually disposed by the bridal studios. You may find that kind of designer studio in the place where you live and ask them if you may pick up those remnants from time to time (and I'm sure they won't mind, at most they will be even happy if you come and reduce their rubbish). This is really amazing free source of gorgeous materials if you are willing to create with them!

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The detachable option of the straps gives versatility, which I find very useful when I want to put a jacket on if it's chill outside.

Actually now I wear that dress more often than I expected - on Christmas parties, my wedding anniversary recently and some other instances. So, it turns out that it may be true what one can read in magazines: "Acquire a particular garment and you'll find more occasions to wear it"... ;)

All the best with your projects! Hit the comments if you feel like or if you have questions. Thank you for your visit!

To your passion for sewing and fashion,

Mariana;)

I enjoy seeing you sharing the love! Thanks.

Mariana Kirova

Mariana is passionate about garment upcycling and helping others to make their own upcycled clothing. Graduated with Award in garment construction from WAIFT, Perth WA, Mariana is not a main stream eco fashion designer. She makes unique eco-friendly garments from unwanted clothes and materials and believes that small fashion professionals and DIY sewers can embrace sustainability in garment creation, thus changing the fashion world for good.

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