Rachel Soll, assistant costume shop manager at Maine Stat Music Theatre in Brunswick, sews buttons on a costume in this 2014 file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

One of the best ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your wardrobe is to buy secondhand clothes. An even better way, though, is to simply use what you already have in your closet — but sometimes that means giving those clothes a refresh.

Here’s how you can make your clothes look fresh and new.

Gather essential tools

If you plan to make any alterations to your clothes, it is important to have at least a few simple tools: needle, thread, fabric scissors (regular scissors are generally not sharp enough to cut the fabric straight and evenly), iron, pins with a cushion and a seam ripper.

“If you get [stitches] in there wrong, you need a seam ripper to get it out carefully,” said Susan Chretien, owner of Blue Line Alterations in Benton. “If you try to use scissors you might cut [the fabric].”

You also might need something washable to mark your fabric with. You can use a pencil or chalk, but Jeanne Anderson, Snip and Tuck Alterations and Repairs in Augusta, recommended a small piece of bar soap.

“It comes right off,” Anderson said. “If I have to make a line or adjustment, I use soap as my marking tool.”

Remove pills

Over time, sweaters will start to develop little nubs and pulls. Simply removing those can make your sweater look good as new.

“They make sweater shavers you can get that you can hold to get the pulls off the sweaters to bring them back,” Chretien said.

You don’t even need fancy tools. You can use a disposable razor, or even a knife if you are careful.

“You can actually take a sharp knife, put cardboard underneath and run it along the line and it will pick up a lot of those pills,” Anderson said. “You don’t need to get a specialty item.”


If the color of your clothes are fading, pick up a bottle of fabric dye that is close to the original color and freshen up those stylish hues.

If you have a white or light colored fabric, you can even pick a new shade to make the garment look completely different. For example, Anderson said that wedding dresses are great to dye and rewear after the big day.

“When you redye you need to make sure that item is slopping wet,” Anderson said. “This way, it’ll dye really nice.”

For another fun, trendy look, consider tie dyeing or spot bleaching for dark clothes.

Try fabric paint or iron-ons

For no-sew options, head to your local fabric store and look for things like fabric paints and iron-on patches to give tired clothes a new look.

“They have a lot of iron on products and they have liquid iron on products that are really, really good to use for your clothing that they can easily add on trim,” Anderson said.

Iron-on patches aren’t only for punk rock denim jackets, either. Chretien said that she once used a beaded iron-on applique to make a simple wedding dress look a little more luxe.

Replace buttons

Even if you have limited sewing skills, you can easily replace a button that has fallen off an old jacket or shirt to make the garment look as good as new.

If you haven’t had a button fall off, though, you can update the look of a shirt, jacket or even a skirt by replacing the buttons with ones that are more interesting and decorative.

Add lace

Lace may look delicate and decadent, but it is actually fairly easy to add lace trim to a garment with simple sewing skills.

“Lace is very easy to hand sew with only a needle and thread,” said Belinda Tobey, owner of the Etsy shop berefashioned in Lakeville.

If you are feeling especially adventurous, Tobey said you could even seek out some vintage lace at your local thrift shop or antique store to add to your clothes.

Take up a hem

Do you have an old pair of pants that you want to turn into capris? Pants are an easy item of clothing to hem between seasons or to keep up with changing styles.

“Pants are simple enough that somebody [with limited sewing skills] could do it and no one would see it,” Chretien said. “For shirts, the material is more difficult to do for a beginner.”

Chretien did warn, however, that pants with thick fabric like jeans will be difficult to sew by hand. Also, make sure you leave enough extra fabric for the seam no matter what you are hemming, she said.

“Leave about an inch extra, fold it in half and half again,” Chretien said. “That gives you firmness.”

You can also shorten dress hems.

Try simple tailoring

If you are feeling ambitious and have some sewing experience, simple tailoring techniques will take your clothes from drab to fab.

For instance, you could try taking in the sides of baggy shirts, suggested Raisa Pelletier, owner of Raisa’s Sewing and Alterations in Portland.

“Alterations of clothing makes your clothes fitted and new,” Pelletier said. “If you wear something comfortable [and] well-tailored, you feel more confidence.”

Transform garments

With a little creativity and some sewing skills, you can completely transform one garment into another.

“If you wanted to, a man’s shirt, depending on how big it is, you can easily cut it down to make it a woman’s top,” Anderson said. “You can easily make kids’ sundresses out of men’s clothing, too.”

Tobey said that there are a few easy switches for beginners.

“Sleeves can be cut off a top and a skirt can be added to the bottom of the top to make a great summer dress,” Tobey said. “The skirt portion of a dress can be removed and turned into just a skirt with a bit of elastic for the waist. Let your imagination be your guide.”

Anderson said to be cognizant of the fabric that the garment is made out of when making these changes, though. Woven fabrics are generally easier to cut down and refashion for beginners.

She also said you can look online for inspiration and more ideas.

“YouTube has great how-tos [for] restyling clothes,” Anderson said. “I’m impressed with what I come across.”

Properly wash and dry

Of course, when it comes to both the longevity and look of your clothes, the best way to do so is treat them well from the start. Use a gentle wash cycle when possible (cold water is preferable), and make sure you are using a detergent that is sensitive to preserving colors. Consider purchasing mesh laundry bags to prevent damage to delicate clothes.

“If you are washing your clothes, wash them inside out,” Anderson said. “It’s less likely to go pilling and [then] other stains don’t get caught onto it.”

Air drying, whether on a line or a drying rack, will also help preserve the color and quality of your clothes. The way you hang your clothes after they are dry also matters. Anderson said to avoid wire hangers at all costs, and for knits, drape them over the hanger to help keep the garment’s shape.

No matter what your sewing skill level, if you let your creativity and imagination be your guide, there are endless ways to revamp your old clothes and stay stylish without breaking the bank or contributing to the high environmental cost of fashion.

“If you can think outside the box, that’s the hardest part,” Anderson said. “Anything can be redone over.”