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5 Ways to Make Hand-Me-Downs Better

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Get creative with new-to-you clothes and make them fit your style. Here’s how!


Inheriting — and wearing — hand-me-downs is not only good for your budget, but for the environment as well, since the clothing is getting a second life on a new owner rather than being thrown away. What's more, by repurposing clothing rather than buying an all-new wardrobe, you're diminishing the amount of energy, resources and materials needed to manufacture clothing, not to mention the fuel it takes to transport them from the factories to the stores.

But of course, when you're inheriting clothing for yourself or your children, they might not be perfect — the fit might a little off, there might be a small stain or a tear, or they might be a little out-of-date.

Never fear: With a little creativity, a needle and thread, and a trip to the fabric store, you can turn your new-to-you garments into eco-chic couture! These ideas will help you get started.

1. Get it tailored. A professional tailor can do wonders with an outfit, hemming and taking it in (or out) so that it fits you like a custom-made garment. And you'd be surprised at how affordable tailoring can be. If the professionals in your area still seem a little pricey, consider hiring a student from the local fashion school to do the work — or invest in a sewing machine and teach yourself!

2. Personalize it. For kids' clothes especially, a little personalizing will go a long way. Stitch a patch of her favorite animal onto the front, let your kids use fabric markers to adorn a pair of jeans with designs, use iron-on letters to put a cute saying on the front or back of a T-shirt. For adults, try monogramming a collar or stitching an Izod-style icon onto the breast pocket.

3. Take scissors to it. Never turn down a hand-me-down T-shirt — these simple cotton garments have a world of uses (here are 50!, from repurposing into another piece of clothing or upcycling for another project, like shag rugs or art smocks. Similarly, pants can be snipped to make capris, shorts or even a skirt.

4. Replace buttons. A button-down shirt, cardigan or coat can look completely different just by replacing the buttons. Try dressing up a cardigan with pearl buttons or contrasting-colored ones, or putting new brass buttons on a jacket or a blazer to give it a military look. Look at thrift stores or yard sales for button collections for sale; a shirt looks cute with a row of mismatched buttons, or you can even sew them on in a pattern to make a design. If you're looking for buttons for a specific garment, take the garment with you to the fabric store so you can find buttons that fit into the buttonholes.

5. Embellish and bedazzle! Stock up on lace, ric-rac, ribbon, sequins and other trim, and you'll be able to add interest to a solid swath of color, cover a stain with a little design, or add some sparkle to an otherwise boring T-shirt.

Treat your newly designed garments with care … chances are you'll have some eager friends ready to inherit your hand-me-downs when you're ready to part with them!

How do you make hand-me-downs work for you? Share your DIY improvements and clothing care tips in the comments below!

Jessica Harlan

Follow me here!
Every Monday, I'll be here to share one, two, three… sometimes even ten! eco-friendly ideas at a time, so we can all do a little bit to save the Earth.

When I'm not making lists, I'm taking care of my two daughters, volunteering in my community, and writing articles about food and cooking — I'm the author of three cookbooks: Ramen to the Rescue, Tortillas to the Rescue, and Quinoa Cuisine (co-written with Kelley Sparwasser), and my fourth, Homemade Condiments, will be available in Fall 2013.


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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Tammy B. 2 months ago
    Braided T-shirts make great dog toys .for yours or those at a shelter. A tweed blazer from Goodwill can be cut into dozens of cat toy mice and stuffed with catnip. Two jean's pockets sewn together make a great teen gift card holder. I've just learned to knit and am collecting t-shirts to make my own yarn and bathroom rug.
  • Josephine A. 2 years ago
    Granddaughter & friends love Goodwill. She'll buy v-necked mens sweaters & I'll cut them down the front, but binding on the edges and make cardigans. They usually sell for about $2, that is so much cheaper than new store bought sweaters, and she said they have so many colors too. I also alter a lot of the clothes she get at Goodwill too.
  • Anita N. 3 years ago
    Very wise..waste not want not !
  • Patricia D. 3 years ago
    Can fix some of my own clothes too or embellish some of my jeans so it doesn't look like I'm wearing the same ones all the time.
  • Kathy T. 3 years ago
    There are so many blogs out there now that discuss what you can do to clothes to make them new again. The options are endless. I never throw away any garments. Ever. If they are stained,ripped, and are completly unwearable make rags or rag rugs :)
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