Old clothing gets a second life

Story highlights

  • A skilled tailor can work miracles on overworn clothes much cheaper than new clothes
  • Transform a knee-length coat by cropping, adding new buttons or shortening sleeves
  • Give bootcut pants a new look by taking in the inner and outer seams
A skilled tailor can work downright miracles on overworn (and underworn) clothes for a fraction of what you would spend buying something new. Give the unused pieces in your closet new life with these 10 makeover ideas. Be sure to use a reputable tailor; find one in your area by logging on to paccprofessionals.org, the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals' directory. Then schedule a consultation and bring along inspiration (start with the photos in this story), says Jean Kormos, owner of Ghost Tailor, in New York City, and the person behind the alterations here.
Before: Knee-Length Coat
Coats tend to be big-ticket items, so it's a shame to retire them. Update old styles by cropping, adding new buttons, narrowing boxy shoulders, or shortening sleeves.
After: Cropped Jacket
If that pretty coat didn't get out much this spring, crop it above the waist so you can wear it year-round with jeans or a skirt. Be aware that the placement of the side pockets affects how much you can shorten a jacket, says Guillermo Molina of Guillermo Couture, in New York City. Your tailor will have to cut above or below the pockets.
Cost*: $45 to $80.
*Note: Alteration costs vary from city to city.
Before: Miniskirt
People generally associate altering a hemline with shortening a piece. But this miniskirt called for a different solution.
After: Not-So-Mini Skirt
To extend the length (and therefore the life) of a short skirt, sew a 3-inch-wide strip of fabric to the hem. Go for contrast (in color or texture) so that the extension looks intentional, says Kormos. After the transformation, have the skirt dry-cleaned; the two fabrics may have different care instructions.
Cost: $45 to $80.
Before: Bootcut Pants
The style is classic, but it's surprisingly simple to update pants, should you wish for a more modern cut.
After: Slim Trousers
This conversion works best on pants that fit snugly from the waist through the knees and then flare at the hems. (In other words, don't try this with wide-leg styles.) Take in the inner or outer seams (or both) from the knees down and you'll have a very fashionable, slim cigarette shape.
Cost: under $45.
Before: Full Skirt
Changing the line of a skirt can give it a dramatic new look at little cost.
After: Bubble Skirt
A tailor can turn a full, flowy style into an of-the-moment bubble skirt by sewing at the hem a tunnel wide enough to contain an elastic cord (one about ¾ inch thick will be the most comfortable). You'll probably need to be present during the process so he can adjust the tightness.
Cost: under $45.
Before: Collared Shirt
Yes, it's a basic. But could it also be just a little . . . boring?
After: Banded-Collar Blouse
Chopping off a stiff collar can make a button-down feel much less "board meeting." This is a good solution, too, for a collar that's gotten roughed up and stained with makeup: You can remove it and save the shirt.
Cost: under $45.
Before: Scoop-Neck Top
An unadulterated cut and color can skew a top toward plain-Jane.
After: Embellished Top
To add drama to the neckline of a dressy blouse, ask for a piece of your (inexpensive!) chunky jewelry to be stitched onto it. Choose a style with links or loops so the tailor can stitch between them. This can be a lot of handwork, so the price will vary, depending on the jewelry. Dry-clean only.
Cost: $45 (or less) to $80.
Before: Traditional Cardigan
For lack of pizzazz, a perfectly fine piece can be relegated to the back of the closet.
After: Short-Sleeve Sweater
Revive a long forgotten cardigan by shortening the sleeves. Ask for the original cuffs to be reattached so the sweater still looks finished and any cuff detailing (buttons, ribbing) isn't lost, says Joseph Ting, owner of Dynasty Custom Tailors, in New York City.
Cost: under $45.
Before: Summer Sundress
Maybe you were never quite comfortable with the neckline. But why let a dress languish when you can revamp it?
After: Summer Skirt
For the easiest conversion, select a dress that is already fitted at the waist (as opposed to a baby-doll shape). If the waist is elastic, a tailor can cut off the bodice for roughly $20. Most styles, however, will need a new elastic waistband or a zipper, which will cost about $15 to $30 more.
Cost: under $45 to $80.
Before: Cocktail Dress
You spent more than you care to remember on it, and then you wore it. . .twice.
After: Dressy Top
If you want to create a formal peplum top, like the one here, the original piece must have a fitted bodice and flare at the hips. The tailor can cut the skirt at midhip and discard any lining to make the top a little lighter, suggests Jacqui Bennett, a tailor based in New York City.
Cost: $45 to $80.
Before: Boxy Pantsuit
What do you do with the $400 suit you bought for a once-in-a-lifetime interview after the interview is well over?
After: Fitted Shorts Suit
This summery take on a traditional pantsuit is showing up in stores now. To make your own version, start with a suit in a lightweight cotton or tropical wool. Shorten the sleeves to three-quarter length, take in the waist, and turn the pants into Bermuda shorts, says Todd Thomas, a tailor in New York City.
Cost: $81 to $150.