Five Ways to Upcycle Your Closet

By Kaylin Tran


Since many stores are closed due to COVID-19, consumers have had no choice but to start shopping online. In fact, the rate of activity for e-commerce has surged within the past few months. For some, it is out of necessity, but for others, it is out of pure boredom. More and more videos have popped up on TikTok and YouTube where people show random products they bought on Amazon to keep themselves entertained during the quarantine. It is definitely tempting to buy a mini fridge just for skin care products or galaxy lights for room decor, but there is one area you can avoid shopping for: your wardrobe.


Upcycling is the creative process of transforming and reusing old or unwanted products to give them a new purpose. In addition to helping you save money in the long run, it is a much more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way to upgrade what you already own. So ditch the virtual checkout line and instead, browse around your own closet. Here are some tips to help you renovate old outfits while still keeping up with current trends!


1. Accessorize

Whether it is a change of footwear or experimenting with a new bag, accessories are a great way to elevate any look.


Shoes can make an outfit incredibly versatile. Sneakers can be paired with dresses or skirts for a nice balance between dressy and casual. The initial trend for chunky sneakers started several years ago, but they are still fashionable, which makes them a stylish yet comfortable addition. Likewise, a t-shirt and jean combo can be jazzed up with heels or boots. Low-heeled shoes are still extremely wearable but add a little more sophistication to an otherwise basic outfit.


Bags also set the overall tone of a look. Fanny packs scream athleisure or street style, both of which are still hot in fashion. They can be worn around the waist (which can also double as a belt⁠—we love a good two-for-one moment!) or across the chest for a bolder look. Additionally, ’90s fashion is coming back around. Pair a cardigan with a small shoulder bag for that “Mean Girls” aesthetic. If you don’t have one, you can always take a crossbody and shorten the straps yourself. This video shows you four easy ways to do it!


Jewelry ties everything together. Similar to how shoes can dress up an outfit, you can layer necklaces and rings to give the overall look some complexity. Play around with chains of multiple lengths, rings of different styles and even earrings of varying sizes. If you have metal hardware on your shoes or bag, match your jewelry to make the ensemble look more uniform.


2. Layer your clothing

With summer just around the corner, layering your clothing is probably the last thing you would want to do, but have no fear! You can still swap around some light pieces to double the size of your wardrobe. Throw on a tank top or spaghetti strap dress over a basic white shirt, or you can wear a thin button-up as a piece of outerwear for those breezy summer nights. Simply wear another light-weight shirt or crop top underneath.


A tip is to make every layer a different length. For example, if you are wearing high-waisted pants and a crop top with a button-up, make sure the outerwear is longer than the waist and shirt line. This creates contrast and makes the overall outfit look more appealing.


3. Pay attention to accent details

Another way to coordinate outfits is to pay attention to small details that really pull everything together. By centralizing a look based on a certain theme, it may be much easier and quicker for you to choose an outfit. The most common variation of this is color-coordinating. A general rule of thumb is to pick a belt, bag and pair of shoes that are similar shades, because it makes the look appear more cohesive. If you wear makeup, make sure it also matches your outfit so that nothing looks out of place. Cool-toned pink lipstick will not necessarily go with a warm-toned outfit.


It is also important to not go overboard. In order to allow statement pieces to stand out, make sure that everything else is muted or neutral. If you truly do love a certain color palette, an alternative is to wear items that are different shades of the same overall tone. For example, a brown monochrome outfit can be broken up with variations of dark brown, beige, tan and cream.


4. Think outside the box

Do not be confined to the literal purpose of each piece of clothing. Everything has more than one use! Wear a dress as a shirt by tucking it into a pair of jeans. Turn a maxi skirt into a midi dress by pulling it up and cinching it at the waist with a belt. YouTuber Bestdressed, also known as Ashley, has a fantastic video about all the different ways you can wear a dress.


One of the latest fashion trends revolves around scarves; they can be used as hair accessories or even around the body as a top. Silk scarves add a touch of elegance to an outfit and can be worn with a pair of vintage wash denim and some pearl accessories.


5. DIY it

If all else fails and a piece no longer sparks joy, do not hesitate to transform it into something completely different! Here is a list of ways that you can DIY pieces of clothing that seem to be perpetually stuck in the back of your closet. If transforming an oversized t-shirt into a crop top will make you wear it more often, go for it! The best part about DIY-ing old clothes is that you have no reason to fear if you somehow mess up. Since you never wear it anyway, might as well try to give it a new purpose.


You do not have to be limited to repurposing clothes into new outfits either. Here are some instructions on behalf of the CDC that show you how to make a non-sew reusable face mask.


Kaylin Tran is an editorial writer who focuses on social justice issues and communication strategies, especially within the entertainment industry. You can find her on Instagram.

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