growing a minimalist wardrobe: alterations.

August 16, 2021

For me and my humble wardrobe, it’s been a summer of alterations. This is really just a fancy way of saying that in the last few months I’ve made two pairs of cut-offs and I have no regrets except that I didn’t make them sooner and have spent the last few summers failing to wear shorts at all.

Here’s my advice regarding taking a pair of scissors to your jeans: Firstly, the very best pair of cut-offs is made from your former best pair of jeans. If you like the way your butt looks in a pair of jeans, you will like the way your butt looks in a pair of cut-offs made from them. Jeans that offer nothing in the way of posi butt vibes will not magically transform into shorts that do. (Sorry to say.) Secondly, I don’t personally believe in buying pre-made cut-offs. The magic of cut-offs is in giving a second life to pants by turning them into shorts that get softer and more frayed with age and no amount of factory floor distressing can mimic the real deal so you might as well start cutting and let time work its magic.

In terms of more complicated alternations, my skills on the sewing machine remain firmly at novice level but that hasn’t stopped me from throwing caution to the wind and putting them to work. Maybe I’ll take a class eventually, but for now I’m winging it and honing my nascent skills through practice hours, making small fixes and adjustments to clothes that I already have and paying attention to what it is that I actually want to wear. In addition to turning too-short jeans into just-right cut-offs, I’ve hemmed too-long dresses, taken in the waist and shortened a second-hand skirt for Faye, turned an old dress of hers into a new shirt, and most recently, transformed a stack of stained onesies into a stack of stained t-shirts for a toddler starting her toilet learning.

My fixes are far from perfect, but they’ve made certain items more wearable than they were before I messed with them, which is really all I could hope for. It’s been years since I’ve added to this series, and I know I’ve touched on this theme before, but in a summer that’s been so hot in a year that’s felt so heavy, I felt compelled to pass along a bit of encouragement for myself and maybe for you: If the dress fits, wear it, and if it doesn’t, cut off the bottom and see if you like it any better.

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  • Reply Lexie August 16, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    professional alterations and framing are my favorite indulgences. everything looks better custom fitted to you!

  • Reply Michaela August 16, 2021 at 2:34 pm

    I’m so into this!

  • Reply Judith Ross August 16, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    Thank you for the inspiration! I bought a used raw silk tie-front, t-shirt at my favorite consignment shop this summer. I’m not crazy about the ties, but love the fabric, color, and the way the neckline and sleeves flatter my build. I have been toying with cutting off the ties and turning it into an evenly-hemmed t-shirt (ala what you are doing for Calder). Thanks to your encouragement, I’m going to give it a go!

    • Reply Jane August 16, 2021 at 11:10 pm

      Wowza, toilet learning at 18 months!

  • Reply Maggie August 16, 2021 at 3:43 pm

    Should you decide to branch into clothes making, here to throw a recommendation for the #chamomilecrop tank top pattern. Made the wide strap version from an old sheet which had lost its elasticity. Also a firmly-novice sewist, but found it simple to follow and rewarding to make, a french seam dream (added 2″ to length but otherwise followed the pattern)

  • Reply SW August 16, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    Inspiring! May I ask what you did with the lower halves of the onesies, and the riveted snaps?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 16, 2021 at 7:47 pm

      I started to painstakingly remove the snaps, nearly drove myself crazy, and threw them away instead.

      • Reply Shannon August 16, 2021 at 8:53 pm

        Ohmygod I love you

  • Reply Debra August 16, 2021 at 6:03 pm

    In my experience cutting jeans into shorts is the only quick fix that works. Shorten a dress into a no, it has never worked for me I do not care for jean shorts that you buy cut off already. When I need a pair, Levi 501’s on Amazon and cut them off. Alternatively a used pair from Thredup, actually Gap1969 & Old Navy are the most reliable flattering fit for me. I live in SoCal so cut-offs are a year round item & especially in white I need new ones fairly often.

    • Reply Shannon August 16, 2021 at 8:58 pm

      Or turn the dresses into skirts! My beloved tailor, Graziella, sees me coming and says, gruffly, “make a skirt?” She once asked, “You have a job? Why you no buy a new dress?”

      • Reply Hanna August 17, 2021 at 1:50 am

        I have made at least 2 dresses into a skirt and those are my favorite skirts. Wear them all the time! I used to have a blog where I shared tons of clothing remakes and I can honestly say, with the right starting point, everything can be turned into anything.

  • Reply Tammy August 16, 2021 at 8:06 pm

    I’ve been living in cutoffs for the past couple of summers. I can’t believe how long it too me to rediscover them.

    On the mending/alterations front, I find that it’s easy to justify spending more on well-made denim and linen pieces (my two favourite clothing fabrics) when I know that (1) I’m going to keep mending them to extend their life as long as possible, and (2) when they reach the end of their life as wearable pieces, I can break them down and use them to mend other garments or repurpose them as quilts or pillow covers. It’s really changed how I perceive value.

    • Reply Terry August 16, 2021 at 9:29 pm

      Here here Tammy

  • Reply Terry August 16, 2021 at 9:31 pm

    Keep sewing ERIN. It’s like anything else practice practice practice

  • Reply Amber August 17, 2021 at 1:06 am

    I don’t like jeans most of the time, so consequently don’t like cut of shorts, or even shorts in general, but…

    I’ve shrunk a dress or two my washing them in too hot of water, and they have turned into excellent tops since I am pear shaped (compliments of the dry cleaner, since I don’t have a sewing machine).

    I like to think do clothes like food. Leftovers can be transformed into really excellent meals.

    • Reply Amber August 17, 2021 at 1:08 am

      Geez. Autocorrect hates me. Cut OFF shorts. I’ve shrunk dresses BY washing. And I think OF clothes.

  • Reply Hanna August 17, 2021 at 1:54 am

    If you hem knit fabrics, I recommend using a zigzag stitch or a special knit stitch if your machine has one. Otherwise the seam can rip as it doesn’t stretch with the fabric. My “to mend” pile keeps on growing and I live finding fun ways to patch holes in my girls’ leggings. Recent favorite has been to cut a heart-shaped patch from an old stained t-shirt and embroider it onto the leggings. They love it!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 17, 2021 at 6:17 am

      Yes, I did!

    • Reply Erika August 20, 2021 at 2:19 pm

      I have a love/hate relationship with my daughter’s leggings. They’re so easy for my kids to wear, but so. easy. to. rip. I’m literally staring at my “to mend” pile right now (with fun patterns and colored embroidery floss, of course)- the things we do for love (and the environment).

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 20, 2021 at 2:21 pm

        i know it! i think i might have *finally* convinced one child to try jeans. working on the other!

  • Reply Erin August 17, 2021 at 10:09 am

    My most frequent wardrobe hack is to cut the sleeves off long sleeve tees and cut the neckband from t-shirts and sweatshirts to give them a wider, more relaxed look and feel. Sometimes I’ll use a needle and thread to anchor a seam that I’ve cut through in the process, but usually not.

  • Reply Barbara August 17, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    Have you seen the. book – make, thrift, mend – by Katrina Rodabaugh? Worth a look!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 18, 2021 at 10:26 am

      Yes! Own it!

  • Reply Becky August 18, 2021 at 7:00 am

    I lived in cut off jeans as a kid. They were all my brothers hand me downs, worn comfortable and loose. Jeans were so different in the 90s and I’m so happy they are making a come back I’ve tried repeatedly to cut down jeans, men’s and women’s, but the cuts are so much tighter. I don’t want anything tight in the summer. I feel inspired to try again. Thank you Erin.

  • Reply M August 19, 2021 at 2:37 pm

    You may enjoy the book “Mend! A refashioning manual and manifesto” by Kate Sekules. There are some other great mending books as well, that are beginner-friendly and really inspiring without being overwhelming. I am a person who has to spend at least an hour on YouTube every time I turn on my sewing machine, so take my word for it.

  • Reply Monica August 23, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    Hi! I love how you redo, reuse …what starter sewing machine did you get?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE August 24, 2021 at 9:47 am

      Hi there! I have a Singer Prélude. I got it through my local Buy Nothing Group, so it was just the one that happened to come my way, not one I sought out in particular. Still, after a tune-up at the repair shop, it’s been working great! No complaints.

  • Reply Rebecca | Seven2Seven8 September 5, 2021 at 11:14 pm

    Oh yes! I recently adjusted my wardrobe palette slightly, and I’ve had gotten such joy from making “meh” things in to things I really enjoy with scissors, RIT dye, and natural dye (avocado pits make the most lovely blush color!). Itching to try turmeric, too, and wearing my delightful cut-offs as I write this.

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