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Customising Your Old Clothes

By: Jennie Kermode - Updated: 14 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
Clothes Logo Merchandise Fashion

One of the hottest things in modern fashion is reconstruction. Ironically, the best way to get a totally new look is to wear something old - but remade. Fashion is a fickle beast but one thing that will always sell is the opportunity to look unique, and there customised clothing has the edge. Whether they're adapted to suit underground subcultures or retro-fitted with hip logo merchandise, clothes like these have guaranteed appeal. Custom clothing from ra-ra skirts to t-shirts is a big seller on online auction sites and at music festivals, and it's also guaranteed to get you noticed.

Choosing What to Work With

As you'd expect, not every piece of old clothing is worth salvaging. Generally there's nothing to be done when fabric is worn out, although pieces of it may still be able to be salvaged for patches and trim. Although you might be tempted to go for your most exciting looking items first, it's often easier to create interesting customised clothing using something fairly plain as a base. If you intend to wear the finished garment yourself, make sure it's still going to be a good fit. If alterations will be necessary to account for size changes, think about how you can disguise them or incorporate them as features in the final design. For instance, if you've put on weight, buttons or zips can be replaced by eyelets and lacing, giving you room to expand and look interesting at the same time.

Many people create custom clothes as a means of augmenting retro fashion, bringing back old styles which are hip again but updating them so as to say something new. If this is your aim, look for items with strong design features, such as flared trousers (with their distinctive shape), a wide collar, or a bold polka-dot pattern. Think about ways in which you can either enhance that feature or present a contrast to it. For instance, you might add stripes to the bottom of the flares, place studs on the collar, or contrast the polka dot pattern with sharp-cut areas of plain black.

Reconstruction Materials

There are all sorts of interesting materials available for customisation, and you shouldn't limit yourself to what you find in the shops. Ribbons, lace, beads, bells, sequins and spangles can all be useful, but so can cut-up pieces of other old garments, logo merchandise, or items you might find in other places, such as metal washers, pieces of chain, or small plastic toys. See what you've got lying around in your house and don't be afraid to experiment. After all, this is a low cost exercise using stuff much of which you'd be throwing out otherwise, so what do you have to lose?

Don't limit yourself to attaching new pieces to the garment you're working on. You shouldn't be afraid to re-engineer it completely if necessary. Long skirts can be cut short, sleeves can be removed, faded fabrics can be re-dyed, old jeans can be turned into spectacular-looking shorts. Effective customised clothing is all about contrast so don't just try to revitalise your clothes in accordance with their original design. Get ready to add lace to denim, to mix pieces of silk and PVC, to re-model a smart suit using strips of ribbon or to cut holes in t-shirts to give them a whole new look.

Express Yourself

Fashion may be about staying in the limelight, but customised clothing is about taking over the lighting rig. Many top fashion designers look to reconstruction to tell them what the next big thing is going to be - it's a great place to spot breaking trends. The reason for this is that's it's one of the few aspects of fashion in which people really express themselves rather than trying to fit in. It can capture the Zeitgeist. Its experimental nature means that it won't always work, but when it does, it can be spectacular.

Customising your old clothes is a great way to explore different sewing techniques and get a feel for all aspects of fashion. It's also a good way to get to know yourself and really think about what you want to communicate to other people. So don't just sit there thinking about it - get out those old clothes you thought you'd never wear again and turn them into something everybody will be envious of.

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