How to Mend Clothes

How to Fix Thrift-Store Clothing

It's always fun to get a bargain, whether it's a designer suit from a rummage sale or something from the "final marked down" rack. Make it live up to its name with a little basic rehabilitation.

Tools: sharp scissors, sewing needle, seam ripper, steam iron and ironing board, straight pins, sewing machine.


Materials: thread, buttons, seam binding, bias tape, grosgrain ribbon; accessory belt, scarf or collar; trimmings as desired.

Time: 15 minutes to a few hours, depending on project.

The first step is to make the garment fit properly. Shorten or lengthen hems to fit; take in or let out the waist; make any repairs necessary. Use a basic sewing book for specific instructions.

If long sleeves are too short or the cuffs are damaged, convert them to short sleeves, either the roll-up type or plain short hemmed sleeves. Cut the sleeves off just above the cuff opening, hem them narrowly, and roll them up if desired. Wear shortened-sleeve garments layered over a shirt or over a light sweater if the fabric is more suited to cool weather.

Major surgery usually isn't worthwhile, especially on tailored pants or jackets. But it may be worth your time to remake the skirt of a very good suit. Skirts usually get harder wear than jackets: if the skirt fabric looks more worn or shabby than the jacket, take a good look at the wrong side -- many woolens are completely reversible. If the fabric is reversible pick out all the seams and darts with a seam ripper and steam-press the fabric, especially along the seams and hems. Remake the skirt inside out, with the less worn side of the fabric showing; fit it exactly to your size.

If the waistband of a good skirt is very worn or it's too small to let out to fit, take the band off completely, and adjust the darts or gathers that control the waist size. Make a new band of a double layer of 1-inch-wide grosgrain ribbon. Slip the skirt fabric between the layers of the ribbon to form a new waistband.

Even clothes that don't need altering can usually use some help. The usual problem with bargain clothes is the buttons or the belt -- they're missing, they've worn out or changed color, or they were a bad choice originally. Buttons can rarely be matched; if even one is missing, cut them all off and replace them. Take the garment with you when you buy new buttons so you can see the finished effect. If the belt is lost or worn out, you'll probably have to get a coordinating or contrasting one rather than a perfect match. Make it work with another accessory of the same color -- a scarf, a pin, whatever you like. Take the garment with you when you shop.

If a collar is wilted-looking or a neckline unbecoming, add a scarf, a white or neutral embroidered or lace collar, a ruffle; or cut the collar off. Bind the neckline with grosgrain ribbon, seam binding, bias tape, or any trim you like, or use the old collar as a pattern to cut a new one, with any fabric or trim you like.

The trimmings and decorations on bargain clothes may not suit your taste. Look at them carefully in a good light to see whether they can be removed completely without leaving a mark. If a braid or edge trimming doesn't seem up to the quality of the rest of the garment, examine it well to see if it can be removed; if so, remove it carefully and replace it with a better braid or edging, or one in a color more to your liking. Sew the new trimmings on by hand.

The width of men's ties has changed drastically throughout the years. Fortunately, you can easily update an old, wide tie by following the steps in the next section.