Upcycle Old Clothing: 10 Inspiring Ideas

What is Upcycled Clothing?

To upcycle old clothes is the creative transformation of a used piece of clothing into something new that has value again. Fast fashion brand manufactures and sells clothing quickly and cheaply. The industry negatively affects the environment and often violates workers' rights.

Refusing to contribute to the fashion industry can lower your carbon footprint substantially. Instead, learn how to upgrade clothing to prolong their lifecycle so they don't need replacing. Transform old clothing into new beautiful bespoke pieces you'll be proud to wear and the planet will thank you.


People are now becoming aware of just how bad fast fashion is for the environment and are turning away from store-bought and are turning to their sewing kits to find new and inventive ways to upcycle old clothes. To upcycle old clothes is the way.

Why Should You Be Upcycling Clothes?

The fashion industries produce 20 percent of global waste and 10 percent of carbon emissions. More than 75 percent of the plastic produced in 2019 ended in landfills and the global seas were contaminated at an unhealthy level of over one-third.

Every second plastic waste gets discarded and fast fashion contributes heavily to this environmental travesty. We are drowning in mountains of old clothes.

Garments have become so inexpensive that we view them as disposable. The average American throws away 70 pounds of old clothing every year.

Don't Be Average, Be Below Average

Buy High Quality

It's considerably more sustainable to find a high-quality durable piece of clothing at a consignment store or thrift shop and upcycle it instead of buying the equivalent piece new.

Quality is meant to last and will a little care will do so for years to come.

Beyond making alterations to old clothes there are endless ways to upcycle pieces with accessories like paint, dye, embroidery, or patches.

Using repurposed fabric helps reduce waste but it reduces toxins produced throughout textile manufacturing and production.

Two Tribes of Upcycling

There are typically two kinds of people when it comes to upcycling clothes. There are people like me who don't alter the garment much at all except for the proper fit and there are people who want to change a garment and create something new altogether.

Deconstruction Reconstruction

For those deconstructionists/reconstructionists, it's a little difficult for me to give you inspiration directly for upcycling clothes because I'm no fashionista and what I choose as an example you might find boring or ugly.

Nonetheless, this post has 10 upcycling ideas that will hopefully stimulate your creative noggin

Another aspect of reimaging garments I have seen that I really like is the use of lower-quality fast fashion materials as backings, linings, and filler.

Literally, mountains of clothing are being buried in landfills every day and therefore are an abundant cheap resource. Your imagination is the only limitation to what can be created.

If you are into this kind of fashion upcycling I absolutely encourage you to do your thing and alter away. My dream is that the marketplace will become filled with upcycled cool sustainable clothing designs.

Traditional Alterations

These kinds of people are the ones who find secondhand clothing that they themselves alter or they hire a professional to make the alterations for them.

Typical alterations include taking in a jacket, shortening up sleeves, or hemming a pair of trousers - simple alterations to make a garment fit better.

Hire a Professional

Not handy with a sewing machine? Me neither.

Sewing skills so-so? Me too.

I in no way consider myself a seamster or tailor of any sort and use a local seamstress to do most of my alterations. However, I do like nice clothing and I am on a mission to upcycle my entire wardrobe.

It's cool finding a quality vintage piece that even after it is altered is less expensive than if I had bought it new. The second-hand and waste streams are filled with treasures.

If you're down to get your upcycle on but don't want to pull the thread? Develop a friendly relationship with a local tailor, seamster, or seamstress, you will be glad you did.

Take an Online Course in Fashion Upcycling

No experience is needed...

In researching this post I came across IFA Paris' Fashion Upcycling Short Course and it's exactly what you think it is. This is excerpt is of the course's objective taken from the course introduction page:

When students can turn their old jeans into a fashion-forward jacket or an old sweater into a trendy crop top, they are opening doors to new ways of looking at old/used clothing.

One of the most surprising elements of this program is that no sewing experience is needed, and all experience levels can create recycled fashion.

Students leave with a feeling of accomplishment that if they want something new, they can create it without spending a penny or going to any store.

That changes the way they shop and ultimately how they see their own textile waste. Change starts small but has an ongoing impact.

Seems like a pretty cool 5-week course, it focuses on deconstruction and the reconstruction of clothes. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for the quality of the course because I have not yet taken it.

If you're interested in this course, it's taught live and doesn't start until June 2022 so you have plenty of time to decide.

Upcycling Inspiration


This site offers a plethora of tips on how to repurpose thrift shop finds into useful new items.


You can also get inspiration from sites like Pinterest for thousands of fun ideas for altering secondhand clothing.


Etsy has the motherload when it comes to upcycled clothing merchants and is where I myself and my wife have purchased garments.

It's Everywhere

You can get used clothing or free or very inexpensively so don't be afraid to experiment with your ideas. If you totally fail at a project it just means you have a resource for a different project. If you're uncertain and just want to experiment start small with an old t-shirt, or some fabric scraps of fabric and

10 Upcycled Clothing Ideas

Duffel Bag

Beautiful  Canvas & Leather
Duffel Bag

You no doubt will need skills to be able to upcycle old canvas sea bags and pieces of an old leather jacket into a cool bag like this one but I wanted to show you what is possible. This bag has 5 internal pockets, two with zippers and three open, perfect for a communicating bag.

Tote Bag

Shirt & Pants Tote

I have given away a lot of high-quality shirts that either I outgrew or no longer liked that would have been prefect for this kind of project. Making a tote bag out of them is an excellent idea.

This type of bag has an exterior made from a men's shirt (button-down). The interior should be lined with twill, khaki, or denim--any kind of pants fabric.


Embroidered Denim Jackets

Embroidery can be added to old clothes turning them into wearable art with no deconstruction required. I like the results of embroidery so much I had to share two garments with it that I really appreciate the craftsmanship on. The little bit of embroidery on the front pocket of this vintage denim jacket or the design on the back of the blue jacket makes them pop with color. Embroidery can transform old clothes into clothes that are fresh, interesting, and fun to wear.


Patchwork or Harem Pants

 These are also referred to as harem or hippie pants and have been around a very long time. The use of fabric scraps is an excellent way to use up small pieces that don't have much value otherwise but make an awesome pair of pants.


Denim Skirt from Jeans

My wife called this skirt "super cute and practical" so I'm going with the term cute, I mean it's really cute AND practical, right? This is an excellent and easy way to upcycle jeans into something feminine and practical you will actually wear. The garment already has built-in pockets, belt loops and is made from good old reliable, and sturdy denim.

Painted Jacket

Acrylic Painted Jacket

I find the art on this jacket extremely eye-catching and original. Although this example is of a jacket you use acrylic paint on almost any fabric from jeans to a dress. Customize your wardrobe to create original one-of-a-kind pieces that you will love. A little bit of paint goes a long way.


Denim Pillow

Check out this unique and fun upcycled denim pillow that you can create from a collection of various scraps of jeans and jean buttons. I have a pillow similar to this in my man cave which works perfectly for the use and abuse it receives and I often get asked if I bought it and if it's upcycled old jeans. Yes & Yes.


Deadstock Materials

Deadstock material is an old fabric that hasn't or isn't selling so it has been discontinued, might have small damages or there is an overstock of it. Deadstock isn't technically upcycling a pre-existing garment but it definitely removes waste from the waste stream.

This beautiful skirt is made from deadstock material that creates a unique piece with fabric that will be difficult if not impossible to replicate. You can find deadstock at closeout liquidators who purchase deadstock in volume and resell it at their stores. Also check out consignment stores and warehouses that purchase goods, including materials, and resell them at much-reduced prices.


T-Shirt Dress

This simple upcycled dress is made from combining a print T-shirt with a high-waisted skirt bottom. This is a really simple and practical way to breathe new life into old shirts and skirts.


Customizable Shoe Charm

This is something that a little girl might find fun but is also something that adults can do to individualize an old pair of shoes. Easy, fun, and great way to set your kicks apart from the crowd.

Just the Beginning

Upcycle old clothes and be happy. Fashion upcycling is a trend that is gaining mainstream steam and becoming a full-fledged industry. It’s not hard to see why because upcycled clothing can look just as good as new clothes without the environmental impact of manufacturing more waste thusly improving your life.

Get armed with some scissors, a seam ripper, and some thread, and go upcycle the world!

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