Second Chances: Renovate your Wardrobe Instead of Buying New

Whether you’re on a limited budget, want to reduce landfill waste, or both, renovating your existing wardrobe instead of buying a new one is easier than you think. A good wardrobe is a must-have for many, and we tend to invest in new clothes without taking stock of what’s already hanging in our closets. You can resist the temptation by giving your wardrobe an economical but fun fashion facelift.

If you’re interested in recycling and upcycling, we have some great advice and techniques to find both budget-easy and eco-friendly ways to update your wardrobe.

Image source: Unsplash.


A second life

We all have those gotta-have purchases that we hang in the closet, waiting for the next perfect occasion. Eventually, we forget it’s hanging there, tags still attached.

Don’t just toss clothes: consider giving them a second life. Most of our clothes eventually end up in a landfill. In 2015, more than 10 million tons of fabrics went to landfills, according to the EPA. Yet within that same year, only about 14% of clothing and shoes were recycled.

Producing new clothes and other textiles requires energy, water, and other resources. By renewing your wardrobe (and other household textiles like bed sheets, drapes, and blankets), you can do your part to reduce landfill waste. 


Clothes renewal selection

Let’s dig in and decide which clothes stay, which clothes leave, and which are good candidates for a transformation. Take clothes out and start working on an organisation system. Some people organise types of clothes together; others group them according to use or colours.

Whatever organising system you use, stick to it, revisit the selection process every few months, or once a year. Rotating them into your regular wardrobe choices brings new variety.


How often do you use it? Does it still suit you?

As you go through your wardrobe, question how often you use it. How about that outdated pair of slacks or that forgotten dress? Those make a good candidate for renovating, and you could transform that dress into a cute blouse. If you haven’t worn something for a year, give serious thought to renovating it or removing it from your wardrobe.

You adored that skirt 10 years ago when you couldn’t resist buying it. Still, think you can’t live without it? This kind of item also might be a good candidate for a subtle or grand transformation.

Image source: Unsplash.


What to do with clothes you don’t need?

It would be best if you now had a ‘keep’ pile, a ‘keep but renovate’ pile, and a ‘leave the house’ pile. What do you do with these clothes? Evaluate them: if they’re good quality, you may consider selling them at a consignment shop or online through social media; or donate them to a thrift shop or a program that helps the disadvantaged. This way, the clothes have a use for others while staying out of the landfill.


Once you’ve chosen the clothes you want to renovate, here are some techniques and tips to renew them:


Upcycle, downcycle, and renovation techniques

Your wardrobe is a great source of creative upcycle and downcycle projects.

Upcycling involves turning an existing item into something of higher value. Those tired old jeans could become a functional shopping tote, a tank top, or a woven sink floor mat. Upcycling saves energy and materials used by new item manufacturing processes.

You can also downcycle your wardrobe, turning the fabric into something useful but less valuable than the original item. Turn soft but no longer wearable cotton T-shirts into dust cloths, a sweater for your dog, or a snuggly small pet hammock. Crafty people have recycled clothes into sewn protective face masks by using t-shirt strips as tie straps.

There are some great fabrics for craft or upcycle projects that are probably hanging in your wardrobe right now:

  • Denim, like jeans and jean jackets

  • Cotton shirts

  • T-shirts

  • Cotton blouses or dresses

  • Flannel or plaid shirts

  • Bedsheets

  • Wool sweaters and blankets

Image source: Unsplash.


Using various techniques, you can cut, sew, glue, and transform unwanted fabrics into new, exciting clothes or craft creations. Here are some ideas for transforming unwanted clothes:



Fabrics and scissors are a perfect match when you’re giving new life to clothes. Renovations can be as simple as cutting slacks into shorts and hemming the frayed ends (or leave the frayed ends for a casual statement). Cut strips and weave together for a rug, tying off the ends or cut clothes up for future quilting pieces.


Repurpose old T-shirts into something new

Do you have drawers full of old T-shirts? Give them a new life - weave them into totes, make them into crop tops, or find other ways to reuse the fabric.

T-shirt material is a dream to renovate, upcycle, or downcycle. When cut, T-shirts don’t fray, so you can cut and handle without the need to hem. You can also use it as knitting yarn to make rag rugs, macrame, pillow cushions, or even bags.

Image source: Unsplash.


Transform dresses into trendy tops or skirts

Remember that cute dress you rarely wore? Turn it into a top or even a skirt. This may be as simple as hemming the dress a little higher and adding a cute belt.


Knitting, sewing, and crocheting

Don’t overlook traditional methods to change up clothes you’ve grown tired of. Knitting, sewing, and crocheting are time-honoured skills you can enjoy learning as you add beautiful accents to your clothes.

Hem a long skirt into a shorter version or transform slacks into shorts. Add a contrasting colour block to an existing skirt. Sew a lace hem onto shorts or a crocheted accent onto a blouse for a charming touch.



Tie-dye never goes out of style. Vibrant and fun, tie-dyeing can transform white shirts or other clothes, even ones that may be stained.

If you’re not into tie-dye, you can use different painting materials on clothing to change their look. Try natural pigments or fabric paints watered down to make clothes look just like a dreamy watercolour painting.

Image source: Unsplash.


Bleach techniques

If you have dark clothes, you can transform them into eye-catching statement pieces using a creative reverse tie-dye technique to bleach out the colour and add bright dye colours to the bleached sections.


Repair old clothes

Instead of throwing away clothes, consider repairing them. Iron on or sew on a cool, on-trend patch on your jeans, and change out the buttons on your sweater. 


Denim jeans and jackets

Denim jeans are incredibly versatile for repurposing projects. Sew some patches or lace onto existing jeans, use fabric paint to embellish with flowers, symbols, or cool sayings.

Denim’s fabric strength can be transformed into totes, light-blocking curtains, woven denim rugs, or reupholstering fabric for chairs. Make denim into pillows, baskets, or quilts.

Image source: iStock.



Clothes don’t last forever, especially if worn by kids. Sometimes quick patching can give clothes years of more life. Find coordinating or contrasting colours to bring interest to your renovation. You can place the patch on the inside of the worn-out spot and sew it in for added textural appeal.


More DIY wardrobe renovation ideas

There are other creative and inexpensive ways to inject new life into your wardrobe.

Add a few “basics” to your wardrobe. Add a solid-coloured jacket or sweater, a classic blouse, or a basic skirt that you can create multiple ensembles with. These basic additions can match with pieces already in your wardrobe, providing a fresh look.

Mix and match colours and patterns. This increases your daily ensemble variety and choices. Don’t be afraid to buck the trend of a pattern paired only with a solid.

Have a clothes swap party. Invite friends over and ask them to bring gently-used clothes, shoes, and accessories. 

Look for classic, casual, or business jackets that you can change out with different blouses and skirts or a good pair of jeans. Elevate an ensemble or rock a casual look, adding versatility to your present wardrobe. 

The sky’s the limit

Renovating your wardrobe can be as extensive and as creative as you want – let your DIY fashion imagination soar. Try out new painting, sewing, or tie-dye techniques, and if you mess it up, that’s OK: it’s all part of the learning and experimenting process.

Image source: Unsplash.


Find joy in your wardrobe again

You can feel good about giving your clothes a new life and a new look. You’ll expand your wardrobe choices while saving money and being a good steward of the Earth.

The clothing manufacturing industry is harsh on our environment. Some brands show creativity in using throwaway items like water bottles upcycled into new clothes, handbags, and even bed sheets. However, until technology improves with more sustainable and recycled materials, you can do your part by not buying new items. Instead, have fun using these techniques to bring new purpose to your existing wardrobe.


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Written by: Ines Tome

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