Are you feeling bored of the items currently in your closest? Wishing that you could add some fresh pieces to your wardrobe? Or itching to reinvent your style? If your answer to these questions is “yes,” you’re certainly not alone. You’re also not alone in feeling like expanding your wardrobe is just a little pricier than you would like it to be. Buying new clothes can be spendy! Plus, if you choose to go the fast fashion route in the name of saving money, you might find that your purchases don’t hold up for long. What’s a shopper to do? Upcycling is a great option for adding to your clothing collection without breaking the bank. All it takes is just a little time shopping in thrift stores or consignment shops and a dash of creativity and crafting know-how. Voilà! You’ve got yourself some brand new looks on a budget. 

Keep scrolling to learn more about the process of upcycling and for a few upcycling ideas to get you started. 

What Is Upcycling? 

Upcycling is the process of taking used or unwanted products and making them shiny and new again. Avid upcyclers have been known to breathe new life into all kinds of things, including old newspapers, broken flower pots, dated furniture, records, fabric, and more. 

Upcycling is different than recycling because recycling requires an actual recycling facility to convert recyclable products into material that can then be used in manufacturing. With upcycling, you can take the power into your own hands and find uses for old, unwanted items that will make them really functional in your life. It’s creative and budget-friendly, and it shares a lot of the environmental benefits of recycling. 

Upcycling clothes, specifically, usually involves thrifting used pieces and fabrics so that you can bring them home and transform them into something new and fabulous. First stop: a thrift store or consignment shop! 

What Is a Consignment Shop?

A consignment shop (a.k.a. consignment store) is a retailer that sells secondhand goods. Consignment stores typically stock their shelves with items sold to them by people in the community. In turn, they sell their inventory to shoppers at a lower price than one might expect to see on a new product. 

Most secondhand stores have a quality control process in place to ensure the goods they’re bringing into their shop meet certain standards for resale. This means that, while anything you purchase from a consignment store will be used, it will also be reasonably safe and clean. 

Where to Find Clothes for Upcycling 

As you begin your upcycling journey, you’ll find there’s a wide range of consignment shops out there for you to discover.  

Salvation Army/Second Hand Stores

Salvation Army thrift stores sell a variety of secondhand products for the benefit of Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Centers, which offer services for those navigating substance abuse and addiction. When you shop for used items to upcycle at a local Salvation Army, you’ll be giving donated goods a second chance while also supporting a worthy cause. 

Keep this in mind next time you have clothes or other household items hanging around that you no longer need. Donating them to the Salvation Army gives you the chance to really give back. 

Goodwill/Resale Stores

Like the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries International has created a system that facilitates both thrifting and philanthropy. Goodwill is a nonprofit organization that offers job training, employment placement, and other community-based programs for people working toward finding a job. If you’ve seen or donated to a Goodwill thrift store in your area, you’re seeing the organization at work! Sales from Goodwill thrift stores benefit the good work they’re doing in the community. 

Plus, they tend to have some awesome clothes—perfect for upcycling projects! 

Community Thrift Stores 

So what is a thrift store separate from Salvation Army or Goodwill? Community thrift stores sell used items at a reduced price. While they might be set up to benefit certain local organizations or charities, they don’t have to be. They may simply offer a place for locals to offload and purchase used stuff. Dedicated thrifters often spend hours and hours exploring thrift stores and used clothing stores for fantastic upcycling finds. 

Practice Your Sewing Skills for Upcycling

Beginners Sewing Basics 

How to Upcycle Your Thrift Store Finds

Now that you know where to look for used gems, let’s talk about what to do with them. There’s so much potential for thrift store upcycling! Once you’ve located consignment clothing that’s in good shape and makes you feel inspired, the sky is the limit. 

But let’s get a little more specific. Here are a few examples of thrift shop upcycles that will help give your wardrobe a one-of-a-kind facelift. 

1. Upcycle T-Shirts Into Yarn

cut up a tshirt
Give an old t-shirt new life as yarn, which can be used in a multitude of ways. 

Resale stores are often full of used t-shirts. Not seeing any shirts on the rack that you’d be excited to wear? No problem! You can still put them to work. Using nothing but a good fabric scissor, you can upcycle old t-shirts into yarn that can then be used to knit and crochet new pieces for your closet. 

2. Turn a Top and a Skirt Into a Dress 

a dress
Streamline two pieces of used clothing into something brand new. 

Next time you’re in a thrift store, keep your eyes peeled for combinations of shirts and skirts you love. In addition to wearing them together as cute outfits, you can actually upcycle them into a new dress! Only basic sewing skills are required.  

3. Make DIY Fabric Flowers 

lady with a dress
A handmade fabric flower is a fun touch for an old outfit. 

In some cases, upcycling will help you create new accessories and small touches that will add extra flair to your existing outfits. Enter DIY fabric flowers! When you’re thrifting, pick up any fabric that you find yourself drawn to, even if it’s not a piece of clothing you would wear in its current state. With a few basic steps, you can turn that fabric into flowers to use around the house or to accessorize your outfits. 

4. Upcycle a Men’s Jacket to a Dress

Who knew an old men’s jacket could become such a cute dress?

Walk into any thrift store, and you’re bound to find plenty of secondhand men’s jackets waiting for a little TLC. Once you’ve ripped apart the pieces of the jacket, you can reassemble them into an extremely fashionable jumper. You might as well grab a few jackets while you’re at it, because once people get a look at the finished product, your handiwork is going to be in demand! 

5. Make an Upcycled Pouch

A colorful upcycled pouch will add a fun pop to any outfit.

Gather colorful, whimsical fabrics on your upcoming trips to consignment stores. You don’t have to be a sewing pro to turn them into a DIY upcycled pouch that you can then use for both style and storage.

6. Upcycle With Appliqué

There’s an appliqué for everything.

If there’s one thing you need to make upcycling fashion fun and easy, it’s an appliqué. An appliqué is a piece of fabric that you can sew or iron onto another piece of fabric. If you find garments at a thrift shop that you like but don’t love, you can customize them by adding a storebought or handmade appliqué.

Start Upcycling! 

Now that you’re feeling inspired and creative, it’s time to hit your local thrift shops and consignment stores and see what treasures you can uncover. Once you’ve collected a few basics, you can customize them with upcycling. Say hello to a new wardrobe… just for you! 

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Written by:

Alli Hoff Kosik