Tag Archives: Thrift to Fashion

Thrift to Fashion – Steampunk

Written by Laura Ulak

Earlier this year we did a Steampunk Thrift to Fashion review of a Steampunk fashion show that the Wench Posse did.  As we draw closer to the Steampunk Christmas Carol Event we have happening on Dec. 3rd (read more about it HERE), I thought it might be worthwhile to do another posting on finding Steampunk items in your closet or the local thrift store.  Many items can be used as is, or with simple modifications.  Most outfits usually are a mix of found and made/modified items.

This outfit uses a mix of items.  The leather jacket and blouse were thrifted, as was the Brownie camera which Chelsey here is using as a purse.  The skirt was made using this tutorial from Katafalk.  The corset was made using the 2966 Simplicity pattern.  The hat was based off of a tutorial on Threadbangers.  All of the jewelry (to include the eyebrow piercing!) were made using items found at Ax-Man.

Both of these outfits also use a mix of techniques.  Ellen’s outfit on the left includes a thrifted blouse, a borrowed scarf, bag and boots, and her own motorcycle gloves and wrench.  The bloomers were made using a self-drafted pattern, and the hat was also made from scratch.  Renee’s outfit consists of a borrowed fez, a modified Boy Scout shirt that she found at the thrift store, bloomers she made, and her own boots.  She made gauntlets from leftover leather scraps, as well as a leather waist cincher.  All jewelry was either made or thrifted.

Carol is wearing an outfit of almost completely thrifted and modded items.  Her hat was given to her and she made the hat band and flower piece using leftover items she already had.  The shirt and vest were thrifted, as were the two skirts.  The first skirt was modified to have drawstring gathers to ruche it upwards.  The second skirt was split open and turned into a bustle by eyeballing gathers along the back and securing them first with safety pins, and then with stitches.  It pinned to her waist.  All other accessories were her own or thrifted except for the tights, which are from sockdreams.com

Theresa wins the prize for oldest item in use.  Her green frock coat and prairie style boots were purchased for her by her mother back when she was in high school.  The rest of the items she is wearing were thrifted or borrowed, except for the belt which was purchased at Target:

The blouse and overskirt in this outfit were thrifted, but the skirt was modified to have ruching in front.  The corset originally belonged to a friend and when washed the black dye had stained the white casing, which gave it a weathered effect and works great for Steampunk.  Lynn made the hat from a felt hat form from Michaels and various bits she had around her house.  The underskirt was an old skirt that she had had when she used to work the Renaissance Festival back in high school and was modified to go underneath the black skirt.  All other accessory pieces were thrifted or purchased;

This outfit is different in that it was almost exclusively sewn.  The blouse and bag were thrifted, as were the boots.  But the corset was made using fabric and leather and an out of print pattern similar to the 2953 Simplicity pattern.  The skirt was made of two layers of linen using Katafalk’s “How to sew a Victorian skirt” tutorial.

And finally we come to Nell, who is also wearing a mix of items.  The pants are a split skirt that was made using this pattern from Laughing Moon.  The blouse was thrifted, as were the shoes.  The necklace was purchased online.  The bolero jacket was thrifted as a Blazer, and modified to look like a Bolero.

Hopefully these examples will help you to look at the items in your closet (and at the thrift store) with an eye to using them for costuming.  There are many retro-Victorian pieces from the late 70’s through the early 90’s out there, as well as some from vendors today.  Keep your eye out for true vintage as well.  Also use online resources like Threadbangers, Katafalk’s blog and You Tube for tutorials on how to modify things you own or find.

So stop looking in your closet with frustration and start looking in there with inspiration!  We hope to see you attired in your finest Steampunk garments at the Steampunk Christmas Carol on Dec. 3rd!

Please post in the comments with any additional tips and tricks!


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Thrift to Fashion – Leather Edition

Written by Laura Ulak

Think you don’t have anything to wear in your closet to a costume event?  Are you SURE?  Because that old leather jacket from High School might be just what you need.

Reclaiming leather from old jackets in your closet or the thrift store is not just eco-friendly (and nice to cows!) it also gives you nice quality leather at a fraction of the cost of new.  And that wear on the jacket that gives it character?  That can do the same thing for your costume.

Leather jackets or pants or skirts (look in all 3 areas at the thrift store) can run as low as $4.00 if you find one on sale.  They come in various colors and shades, and in all different sizes.  I prefer to look for ones that are either in fairly large pieces with few seams, or just in large pieces period.  Leather trenches, plus size jackets and prairie skirts (yes, I found a ruched leather prairie skirt once!) can be a treasure trove of material to work with.

You have to be more creative in your cutting with pre-sewn leather.  Often you can use the back of a jacket as the back of a bodice – if you are willing to have a seam there.  You can open up sleeves and find big chunks of unseamed leather.  Collars can be removed and put on a new outfit.  I save all my old scraps that are at least as large as my hand for use in appliqué.

Here are some examples of leather outfits that started out as thrift store (or closet!) finds:

This bodice was made using the leather from an old black jacket, and the sleeve of a red leather jacket.  It was lined in cotton, and the rampant lion was appliquéd on top of the black leather before construction.

That prairie skirt I was talking about?  That became a leather Victorian style corset with D-ring lacing in the back.  It has been used as a pirate bodice:

And as a corset for an Asian style Steampunk outfit:

A small leather pair of pants was turned into a belly dancing bodice:

Two different leather jackets were used to make similar style bodices that have been used as pirate wear and wench wear and the leather scraps were used to make gauntlets:

Another leather coat was used to make this pirate bodice:

But you don’t have to cut up your leather to repurpose it.  There always seems to be a leather vest or two sitting around the thrift store.  Add embroidery or gears to it and you have a Steampunk vest:

Another vest was modified into a wench bodice:

Or you could just remove the sleeves on a faux leather jacket, add some elastic to the back to bring in the waist and you have another Steampunk vest:

But leather isn’t just for bodices.  Got an old white leather jacket sitting around from your Whitesnake groupie days?  Cut off the sleeves, remove the zippers from the cuffs (oh yeah!), and sew on buttons all along the edge and when attached to a pair of garters, they make an excellent pair of Steampunk spats.  (and ok, the leather bodice was made from a leather skirt and a left over piece of white leather):

When working with leather it is best to use either a roller foot or non-stick foot for your machine.  If you don’t have either, use tissue paper or printer paper sandwiched between the foot and the leather to help move the leather along.  Don’t ever pin leather – use weights for cutting, and double stick tape or large paperclips or clothespins to hold it together.  There is a rubber cement for leather that works well for holding seams open.  And remember to lengthen your stitch when sewing on leather – wider is better.

How To Sew Leather, Suede, Fur is a great book for learning how to sew on leather, suede or fur.  It was published in the 70’s, but the info is just as good now as it was then.

So stop looking in your closet with frustration and start looking in there with inspiration!  Please post in the comments with any additional tips and tricks!


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Thrift to Fashion – Formal Wear Edition

Written by Laura Ulak

Almost everyone has one in their attic, their closet, or in storage somewhere.  The thrift stores always have at least 2 or 3.  And not everyone has children who A) can fit into them to wear them again, or B) WANT to wear them.  This means you have an outfit you spent a lot of money on that is just sitting around your house gathering dust.  What am I referring to?  The Wedding Dress, of course.

You can of course modify a family gown to fit you.  That is what I did with my Mom’s gown back in 1993 when I got married.

My bust was bigger, I was shorter by 4 inches, and there was no way the lovely lace long sleeved top was going to fit me.  So I took the train off and made a new top for the gown.  The gown, the old lace top and all the scraps are in a box in my closet, waiting on the possibility of one of my daughters wanting to wear the dress.  If they don’t?  I can do what my Mother-in-Law did with her wedding dress:  turn it into a Christening Gown.

But what if none of that applies to you?  What if the gown is just sitting there taking up space?

At that point you need to start thinking of the gown as something other than a wedding dress.  You need to start thinking of it as MATERIAL.  If you are lucky enough to have a gown made of silk, you have yards of fabric just waiting to be dyed and turned into something fabulous.  Even gowns made from poly materials can be dyed, although the results will vary as compared to gowns made from natural fibers.

And if you are REALLY lucky, your dress (or a dress you find at the thrift store that fits) might be one of those retro styles that have come back into fashion, or that are suitable for costuming.

In the late 70’s to early 90’s there was a resurgence in popularity of Victorian clothing.  High collars, lots of lace, leg o’mutton sleeves – they were EVERYWHERE.  You couldn’t walk into a shoe store without tripping over a pair of prairie boots.  And if you are into Victorian or Steampunk costuming, this is to your benefit.  Garments that are 30-40 years old are in much better condition that those over 100 years old.  They are still sturdy, probably decently constructed, and readily available in thrift and consignment stores everywhere.

For example, I give you Lynn’s dress.  This is what Lynn’s dress looked like at her wedding:

But a year ago she decided she needed to do something else with the dress.  She had 2 boys and didn’t think it likely that her future daughters-in-law would want to wear her early 90’s pseudo-Victorian style gown.  However, the dress was made of silk dupioni, had beautiful sleeves and was ripe for transforming into something new.

The dress was first stripped of the lace that had been tacked to the bodice, with the exception of the sleeves.  The neckline was modified to a more traditional Victorian style, and then the garment was dyed by her sister Carol.

The plan was for the dress to come out a lovely red color, but in the end it came out bright pink.  Which suited Lynn just fine.  Lynn was close enough to her original dress size (lucky girl!) that there didn’t need to be a lot of adjustments made to the dress.  However, grommets were put in the back instead of the zipper for ease of adjustment.  Lynn wore the gown over her corset to make it fit better and look more period appropriate.  Extra fabric was taken from underneath and used for a modesty panel in back and to make some fabric roses to cover the back of the dress.  Black trim was added for an additional pop of color.

While the gown is not historically accurate, it passes at most events and works well for Steampunk.

Another version that required significantly less work was the wedding dress that Erin found at Value Village for $1.00.  She wore it for her Bridesmaid Bowling Birthday party and then decided to donate it again.

Then Ashley found it in the bag to be donated and fell in love with the Victorian styling and asked me if it was possible that it could be dyed.  The dress was made of various layers of polyester/acetate material, so I wasn’t sure.  But for $1.00 we figured we could try and if it didn’t work we would only be out the cost of the dye.  So two bottles of navy Rit dye and a cup of salt went into the washing machine, and the dress came out looking like this:

The blue had dyed the lace, the under fabric and the pearls.  The machine tore a few holes in the garment, but they were not very visible, particularly in the back.  Luckily the fit was very good on Ashley and the only alterations that were needed were to bustle the back, and at some time in the future to shorten the front a bit.  Ashley may shorten the dress a lot in the front and turn it into a Steampunk style showgirl costume as a secondary option.

But wedding dresses alone aren’t the only items in the formal wear section that can be reused.  Bridesmaid dresses and prom dresses are suitable for altering as well.

Erin found a red strapless 1980’s style prom dress for $5.00 at Savers.  It happened to be the same size as my daughter and her best friend.  They both liked the dress, and with a few changes it went from being a boring 80’s style dress to a retro 50’s cocktail style dress.

The dress was cropped at the knee and black trim was added at the hem.  The netting underneath was cut slightly longer to give a peek-a-boo affect.  The extra fabric from the hem was used to make straps over the shoulders.  A black velvet belt was added with a sparkly rhinestone pin.  A retro hairstyle, gloves and kitten heels completed the look.

Another dress that was repurposed was a pink Bridesmaid dress that Nell found at a thrift store in Madison, WI.  She was making an 18th century style gown for a Rococco evening and found the pink dress and knew it would work well for what she needed.  She purchased some lace and additional fabric and transformed the gown into her version of Marie Antoinette (her underneath support is not panniers or pocket hoops, but instead throw pillows attached to her waist via ribbons!).

But don’t think it is just ladies wear that can be repurposed.  Menswear has many uses as well.  I converted a man’s black trench into a tuxedo jacket with tails for my sister.  And when my friend Santa Carlucci mentioned that he was looking for a zoot suit, I remembered that my friend Margo’s sister Sara had found one at a thrift store in California.  One PayPal payment later and the suit was in my sewing room.  It was brand new and very tall, but definitely vintage in style.  I shortened the hems on the pants and sleeves, modified the waist a bit and then sewed on sparkly rhinestone appliqués to the coat front and back.  The result was a very snappy Santa Claus:

So before you throw out those cocktail gowns or old bridesmaid dresses or Grandpa’s suit, look at the fabric and the style and think of the possibilities.  Your next costume might be waiting to be transformed, right there in your closet.

So stop looking in your closet with frustration and start looking in there with inspiration!  Please post any additional ideas, tricks or tips in the comment section!


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Thrift to Fashion – Day of Wrong Edition!

Written by Laura Ulak

So your Mom calls you and threatens to throw out your old Prom dresses and while she is at it, get rid of all the old Christmas decorations.  You’re not sure your storage space is big enough to hold all of that stuff, and you wonder if you can you really USE any of it?

You bet you can!  And if you plan on attending the Minnesota Renaissance Festival on October 1st, you are one step closer to a fabulously crazy outfit!

October 1st is the Unofficial Day of Wrong at MNRF, now in it’s 2nd year.  Started in response to the very successful Days of Wrong at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in WI and several faires in California, this is the day to be as wrong as possible.

Want to get your Dark Lord, Jedi or Sith on?  Feel like going where “no man has gone before?”  That lovely looking 18th century dress in your closet feeling lonely because you have had nowhere to wear it?  Want to repurpose that military parachute and your old camouflage uniform into an Elizabethan?  Well, this is the day for you!

While actual employees of the fest do not dress up for this (unofficial) Day, plenty of Patrons do, and that is what makes it fun!  And it is a great excuse to use found items in your home, or to shop the thrift stores.  And with this time of year getting so close to Halloween, the thrift stores are FULL of fun things to wear.

Now back to those Christmas ornaments.  Got tinsel?  A tree skirt?  An epic Angel tree topper?  Put them together into a Christmas themed outfit like Maggie here did:

Not sure what to do with that old prom dress? Or that sparkly sequined fabric cape you had when you were 5 and that very cheap wig you wore to that crazy fraternity party sophomore year?  Dress up with a friend and go as a “Beauty Queen” and her “Bitter First Runner Up.”  Complete the ensemble with some Burger King crowns and handmade sashes and tell everyone that you “just want World Peace!”

Not really inspired by the inside of the house?  Check the garage and yard!  Grab a shovel, some acorns, and the bird’s nest your kid brought home from school and become the ARRR-bor Day pirate:

Halloween is right around the corner!  Grab your little sister’s curly witch wig and pumpkin sack, throw on a leather pirate bodice and some skulls and see what you can get for Trick or Treat!

Got old baseball jerseys sitting around?  Drowning in homer hankies and pins and stuffed versions of Joe Mauer?  Dress up as a Minnesota Twins Pirate.  Get yourself a black straw hat and with a few pins you’ve got yourself a tricorn hat!  (Also – the Gnome is out there all the time – check for her.  In this case, the Twins returned to the “gnome…”)

Lots of Christmas ribbon lying around?  Friends have extra ribbon they need to get rid of?  Dress up as a May Pole, or as May Day!

Your Angry Birds slippers looking a little worn?  Still hanging onto that ice pack and the hospital gown you got when you broke your shoulder?  Grab a TV guide and dress up as Sick Day.  Go around telling people that you aren’t contagious…

Did you catch the bouquet of silk flowers at the wedding?  Got some vintage tablecloths sitting around?  Dress up as a Pirate Bride and ask various patrons if they would be willing to marry you – for a few doubloons:

Feeling nostalgic about your glory days?  Not sure what to do with your cheerleading or danceline or band patches and buttons and jackets?  Dress up as Ye Olde Cheerleader or Band Member, etc.  If you have a friend who still has her pom poms from back then?  Borrow them!  Just make sure not to put your name on the back of your outfit or all day people will be calling your name – “HEY!  ERIN!”:

Did you find your old mesh gloves and rubber bracelets and Members Only jacket when you cleaned out your closet?  Grab a cheap blond wig, a Boy Toy belt and dress up like Madonna (bonus points if you recognize which video this is from):

Remember that the idea of using found items can work for Halloween as well.  All of the above ideas can easily be adapted for the annual party at the neighbors.  And it won’t cost you nearly what the guy down the block spent on his Frankenstein costume.

Accessories are what make the outfit, and what often make the cost of your costume go up.  If you can use items found at your home, the thrift store or your Mom’s house, it will go a long way towards meeting that budget.

So stop looking in your closet with frustration and start looking in there with inspiration!  Hope to see you out at MNRF on October 1st!

Please post in the comments with any additional tips and tricks!

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