We Made 4 Thrifted Pieces Trendy Through Tailoring
“How much do you think it’s going to cost?” I yelled towards the kitchen. My boyfriend poked his head around the corner, “I don’t even know, I’ve never had anything tailored before.” I hesitated for a moment and then pressed send.
When sustainability advocates — like myself — talk about extending the life expectancy of a garment, they often mention alterations and mending. It’s solid advice; but I will confess that before this year, I had never been to a tailor before. And I’d like to bet that many other millennials would say the same. Perhaps because the process seems expensive and, in a world full of fast fashion, obsolete. Eco-conscious seamstress, Vanessa Villalva of Ronkita, would disagree. “I think we all can see the abundance of garments (of everything, really) in our society. If you take the time and look in your own closet, chances are you will find something that you have held on to, but haven't worn in years,” says Villalva. “In addition to helping make a dent in mass garment construction, you are supporting a local person or small business within your own community whose job is to make things fit you specifically,” she continues.
Let me rewind a little. Sometime early last year, I visited a thrift store that was holding a $5 dollar bag deal. That’s right — anything you can fit into a trash bag for a fiver. Okay, so the trash bag part isn’t great, but some kind of miracle hormone does get released when you get to shop with reckless abandon. In the throes of this bliss, I grabbed a few questionable items for our studio closet. “This fabric,” I reasoned. “This color is wonderful though,” I whispered to myself. In the aftermath, I was left with four pieces that had incredible bones — sturdy fabrics, some that had lasted over a decade — but some very unfortunate silhouettes. A shot in the dark, I emailed Vanessa, who at this point was only an Instagram acquaintance. As a seamstress versed in everything from design to production to machine repair, she and her husband, Michael, aim to be a resource for the broader sewing and design community. This also made her the perfect person for the challenge:
The Crop Top
This pink ribbed knit top with slot neckline was made by Fiorlini International, which from all my Googling is likely an obscure 80s or 90s brand that now dominates secondhand shops. The ribbed knit in bubblegum pink felt on trend and destined to be a crop top. It seems like the easiest alteration but can you count on cropping anything? Vanessa weighs in, “Sure! I think it would just depend on the fabric. You have to know how to properly hem and/or finish it to make certain it lasts and can hold up for future use, but that information is everywhere so I say go for it.“ Optimistically, she adds, “Things can always get smaller! It is a lot easier to cut something off instead of adding on.”
💸 The Cost 💸
New neckline and hem: $20
Now, it’s true that you don’t necessarily need a sewing machine to make a crop top. But that can be a gamble. Vanessa elaborates, “You will mostly see knit (stretchy) garments with unfinished hems or edges, but you are certainly able to leave some woven fabrics raw. The fiber content most definitely needs to be your first consideration because some synthetic fabrics tend to unravel more. If you do choose to leave a woven fabric raw, you may want to consider the following: how the fabric will look unraveled and also whether or not the hem is curved, as this can affect the consistency of frayin." Finally, we decided to turn the slot neckline into a scoop neck to make it feel a little younger.
Fashion Editor Meggie Copeland's style notes:
“Scrubs are my go-to if I’m not diving into my denim collection. Yes, I’m talking about the same pants your nurse wears. I like to think of it as my little tribute to easily the best show of the early 2000’s — wait for it — SCRUBS. I styled this pink ribbed bad boy with some army green parachute scrubs I snagged from my favorite thrift store. I complemented the wild amount of fabric of these pants with, of course, more fabric. This tulle slip adds a bit of ‘yes, I’m a princess‘ to the rough and tough look of the bottoms while this dainty white sandal slims up the whole fit and polishes the look off.”
The Lettuce Hem
Another ribbed knit, this one caught my eye because of the tag (Liz Claiborne!) and neon color. In fact, nothing was terribly wrong with it — it’s just one of those tops that feels off when you’re scanning your closet, probably because it’s a little bit boxy. I’ve seen lettuce hems, called so for their curled edges, all over ASOS and Bershka so this seemed like another easy fix. Word to the wise, though, this hem isn’t for all fabrics. To insure that the illusion is successful, Vanessa recommends that you use a light to medium weight knit or lightweight woven fabrics adding, “Heavy-weight wovens or even double knits won't yield you the look you are trying to achieve.“
I also asked Vanessa to trim down the length of the body and arms and we settled on a dark green thread for the hemming, to bolster the illlusion.
💸 The Cost 💸
New hemline: $15
Meggie's style notes:
“Looking at my closet now, you would never know that a few months ago you could find me toying with my love-hate relationship with athleisure wear via Instagram. This two-piece tracksuit is by far one of my most prized guilty pleasures. The cinched waist on this jacket is the answer to all my thrifted polyester dreams, and the tangerine and red stripes cry out for even more color. This lime crop is the cherry on top of this winter citrus #ootd. I kept it feminine, yet Sporty Spice, with a pair of deliciously embroidered heels and a lavender crew cut sock just for fun. I topped off this look with my dog’s first collar: ‘Bad to the bone’ is right, my friends.”
From the get-go, the odds were stacked against this shiny, Polyblend top. The dolman-cut felt outdated and the arm holes were a little strange. It was made by self-purported mature ladies brand, TanJay, which might just be the only current clothing house in this adventure. But again, focus on the bones. Inspired by its fantastic iridescent fabric, we decided to change the silhouette into something more current and playful. Here, we enter a new frontier: reconstruction. Turning something into a strappy camisole is a significant transformation and surprisingly, not too difficult a feat for your seamstress. Vanessa would have been able to make adjustable straps, which gives your garment a more finished look, but I wasn’t sure who our model would be so we settled on tie-up straps.
💸 The Cost 💸
Meggie's style notes:
“Layers, layers, layers. Keeping my whole closet in use throughout any season is essential to me. Turtlenecks are, in my eyes, a gift from the gods above. I thrifted this pink dream right before the shoot and cut the sleeves to accommodate this lil’ number to the odd Texas weather. The small print detail to the neckline really sets this fit on fire. Pairing this strappy, textured piece with even more texture on bottom really added some vavoom. I just had to take the chance to throw some plum into the mix with these $2 scrubs I scored on the same run, (and just like that, all of life’s problems faded into a less colorful past.) I have a true disdain for the all black everything trend from a few years ago, but a little here and there never hurt anyone, right? The black booty brought this look to a close, and really set off all this color from the feet up.“
If I could sum up this entire exercise into a bad metaphor, this white button-up would be senior year or a final exam, or something. The white, outdoorsy button-up was a solid staple piece but had a schlubby fit on the body. I had wanted to turn a polo into a peplum, based on a few ASOS items I was coveting, but this button-up seemed like a close second. Its soft fabric worried me, but in the end, and with the help of an elastic waistband that Vanessa added, our franken-top was a success. In retrospect, this top might have fared better with a zipper or some darts, but not knowing who would eventually take it home, keeping it a button-up with some stretch was the smartest choice.
💸 The Cost 💸
Meggie's style notes:
“Although this look lacks the wild color combos of the others, it’s still a force to be reckoned with. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want an excuse to wear velvet sweatpants on the first date? The peplum hem is a great way to bring in all your oversized, boxy tops. And the best thing about getting garments tailored is that they can measure it to your true waist for the perfect fit. Cinching this piece right at the waist gives it a feeling of sophistication. I feel like I really connect with these slick black sandals which are very prom 2001, and I am definitely here for that. I added a bit of color with this chunky red and silver neck piece and my favorite night slip. It’s probably the most comfortable outfit you’ve ever worn out on the town, yet still the most stylish on the block."
At this point, you could be saying to yourself, but I could still just buy an outfit from [insert fast fashion Goliath]! But try to remember the true cost of that garment, from labor practices to environmental harm, and how that piece will cost you more money in the long-run when it begins pilling or falling apart. Outside of this particular foray, I would definitely dye, embroider, and otherwise adorn these pieces to kick them up a notch on their own. But I didn’t want to obscure from the power of simple tailoring and how some cutting and sewing can truly breath new life into a garment you might have thought was hopeless and destined for a landfill. Whether you take in or alter a top that you’ve cherished for years or get weird with an 80’s prom dress from the thrift store, I hope you see the value of fitting clothes to your exact body and needs.
To put it simply, take this final advice from a professional like Vanessa: "Fashion is always cyclical, so you don't have to wait for something to be made. Chances are the perfect piece is already at your fave thrift store."
Featuring Ceci Sariol. Photography by Mika Locklear. Styling by Meggie Copeland. Clothing tailored by Vanessa Villalva of Ronkita, Custom Sewing and Design. Request her services 👉🏽here 👈🏽.