8 Ways To Use Old Clothes To Make New Outfits Without Spending A Dime

Nothing to wear? Not a problem.

Last updated on Mar 31, 2023

woman upcycling clothing Roman Didkivskyi, Eliza Alves / Getty Images and Stefano Oppo / corelens via Canva

Feeling like your wardrobe is getting you down, but don’t have the funds to go on a shopping spree? You are not alone.

Lucky for us, there's a thing called upcycling. We may not all be the best at sewing, but with some help and a lot of practice, anyone can turn an old t-shirt they never wear anymore into a stylish new top or skirt. The sky's the limit!

There are many ways you can turn your wardrobe upside down to give you more joy in life without having to spend a penny. All it takes is some practice and know-how to use old clothes to make new outfits.


RELATED: How To Break Your 'Addiction' To Fast Fashion — With 7 Simple Questions

What is upcycling?

Upcycling is taking clothing, or anything really, and changing it in a way that creates a new product of higher value than the original item. Upcycling clothing, specifically, means giving that item an extended life, rather than throwing it out.


Upcycling is a sustainable fashion practice, taking old clothes you don't wear anymore and transforming them into new pieces for your closet. It's like you're giving your clothes a second chance at life.

Additionally, upcycling reduces greenhouse gasses and air pollution, reduces thrown-out materials being sent to landfills, and allows you to let your creativity flow. And there are ways to revitalize your wardrobe without spending a single cent.

How to Use Old Clothes to Make New Outfits

1. Get rid of items, even if they still spark joy.

Is the problem that you don't have enough clothes or that you hold onto too many? Stick to the facts and keep the emotion out of it.

You don’t need fourteen oversized t-shirts and six black turtlenecks. You haven't worn one in three years. Just like that philosophy bro in your Intro to Poetry class, they're taking up way too much space.


De-cluttering your wardrobe isn’t counter-productive, it's liberating. You need to eliminate the "in case of an emergency" mindset. The smaller your wardrobe, the higher the chance you’ll wear things you love 100% of the time. If wearing a black turtleneck becomes a matter of life or death for you in the future, go to Target or phone a friend.

Pretend your closet is a party — no, an intimate gathering — and your wardrobe is the guest list. Would you think to invite your former "best friend" who took your kindness for granted and made-out with your crush in front of your face?

Apply the same answer to those atrocious leopard flip-flops your aunt gave you ten years ago in that game of white elephant. Anything that sucks the life out of you doesn't make the cut.

2. Try on every piece of clothing you own.

Time heals all wounds. But even more importantly, it assists in the formation of the perfect outfit.


Trying on every piece of clothing you own sounds like a big pain, sure. But you want to know something? Pain is beauty. Beauty is truth. Truth is absolute. And if you aspire to revamp your wardrobe, this step is essential.

Be sure to mix and match every bottom and top combo possible. The point is to use old items to create new looks. Layer long-sleeved shirts under tank tops. As a throwback to the early 2000s, slip your most preppy mini-skirt over denim jeans.

This process will take much longer than anticipated, but if you feel like giving up, don’t. Instead, look in the mirror and say, “The most essential practices in life are often the most exhausting,” three times fast.

3. Go outside your fashion comfort zone.

Challenging yourself will enable you to grow. The New You can be exactly what the Old You despised.


Assemble an outfit you wouldn’t be caught dead in —­­­­­­ just for funsies. Sprinkle Halloween accessories into your day-to-day looks. Dress down your sexiest black lingerie with your favorite pair of mom jeans and knee-high boots.

Record a list of the fashion guidelines you’ve been conditioned to follow and break them. Rules are no different than your ex's Instagram account; they’re meant for unfollowing.

RELATED: 10 Easy No-Sew T-Shirt Cutting Ideas To Make Regular Clothing Pop

4. Nip-tuck your tops.

Surprised you haven’t tried this one sooner? Sometimes we like the idea of a shirt, not the shirt itself. Just like the people who slide into your DMs.


Grab a pair of scissors and cut that oversized softball shirt you never wear. From baggy to beautiful in a matter of minutes, you can shake up your whole world, one t-shirt at a time. Be careful not to snip too much cloth off, though, and don’t forget to cut in a straight line.

5. Paint or embroider your denim.

One popular way to upcycle a piece of clothing, especially if it's made of denim, is to paint it. Make a cute design on it to give it new life and a unique style.

This can also help you express yourself through your clothes, making them way more personal. If painting isn't your thing and you adore thread, do some embroidery to create character for your denim.

6. Remember that add-ons are your best friend.

This can be anything you want to add to an item of clothing. Do you want to add a flower print to a raggedy shirt? Get an iron-on decals and get to work. Tired of those same shorts? Add a trim of lace to them. Don't like that top anymore? Cut some fringe.


Your imagination is the only thing stopping you from adding to your clothes to make them seem new.

7. Get handy with your scissors.

Many clothing items can be changed with one tool: scissors. You can create interesting cut-outs in tops, create shorts out of pants, and create tank tops out of t-shirts. Better yet, if you cut the crotch out of leggings, you can create a crop top.

8. Turn clothing into objects.

If you can't think of a clothing item you want to turn an item into, get creative and think outside the box. You can turn old jeans into coasters, a t-shirt into an apron, and even that old pocho into a rag rug.

Again, the sky's the limit when it comes to repurposing your old clothes. You can turn clothing into headbands, bags, totes, and even quilts. And if you really can't think of anything you can do with the item, donate it for someone else to enjoy.


RELATED: 10 Ways To Shrink Your Jeans & Make Them Smaller For A Cozy Fit

Izzy Casey’s work is published in or forthcoming from Corriere della Sera, The Iowa Review, Bennington Review, Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, BOATT, NY Tyrant, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.