Reader Request: DIY Alterations

diy clothing alterations

Reader Patricia had this request:

Can you maybe talk a bit about DIY clothing alterations? I’m not sure if that’s something you do with your own clothes often, but I know I’ve seen you recommend snipping off belt loops and the like… what options do you tend to utilize in terms of making off-the-rack clothing work better for you (either on your own or with tailoring, although I know you’ve already written a few great posts about tailoring)? Is it worth it buying something not-quite-perfect and making it your own?

I am a self-professed DIY novice, and will bring to my tailor anything beyond the simplest alterations. The types of projects I undertake are virtually foolproof, so if you’re curious about changing up bought or thrifted clothes these suggestions could be a great baseline!


I’ve been overdyeing clothes for years, and have become quite comfortable with the process. The hoodie and jacket above have both been dyed by me. I generally use iDye products, and although they claim to work in the washing machine, I get much better and more consistent results boiling on-stove. Since dyeing generally alters color but not shape, it’s an easy project to tackle that’s unlikely to totally ruin your garments. (Unless you’re working with a fiber that shrinks – boiling will speed the shrinking process!) However some colors don’t turn out as expected, so this is a DIY that’s best used on garments you are willing to part with, should they turn out puce instead of emerald.

Cropping pants and shorts

I know, who hasn’t lopped off a pair of jeans in her lifetime? But this is one of those stupid-simple alterations I know I can handle. I’ve done shorts, but I’ve also cropped skinny jeans into clamdiggers. I like the look of a ragged edge, so I crop and then wash without hemming. My only piece of advice: Try on your pants before cutting, and crop at least an inch longer than you think you’ll need. Shorts ride higher than you expect, and if you cut too long you can cut again. Cut too short, and you’re sunk.

Changing buttons

I once bought a teal blazer with those leather-covered buttons you see on grandpa cardigans. I swapped out the body and sleeve buttons for flat black and vastly preferred how the blazer looked post-swap. Craft and fabric stores are great sources for buttons if you don’t already have a stash, and so long as you’re working with a fiber that’s sturdier than silk, you should be able to replace buttons without much risk.

Substituting for self-belts or included belts

As Patricia noted, I’m an advocate of removing self-belts or included belts – which are frequently matchy or poorly made – and swapping in belts from your own wardrobe. The type of belt loops I’m happy to snip off are the super thin, woven thread ones that are tacked on at the seams to keep included belts in place. Cut close to the fabric, but be careful not to snip the fabric itself. Sewn-on fabric belt loops are another story – tailors can certainly remove them, but I’ve never attempted it myself.

And that’s my list! Short but sweet.

Is it worth buying an imperfect garment with the intention of altering it on your own? Hard to say. I’m more likely to undertake the alterations listed above on my own old clothes or thrifted items that are low-risk. Aside from fit-related alterations like hemming or taking in, I think it’s a bit risky to buy an off-the-rack item specifically for the purpose of altering it. If a dress is perfect aside from the neckline, you could have your tailor transform a crew into a V … but there’s no guarantee it’ll fit and look exactly the same. And buying a new garment intending to overdye it can definitely work, but it might be a better plan to find a similar one in a color you like to begin with. I’d never say “never,” but I’d also advise utilizing DIY alterations on low-risk items … at least to start!

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5 Responses to “Reader Request: DIY Alterations”

  1. what not

    I have a pair of fleece tights that were pulling at my toes, so I snipped them off at the ankle–only to realize that, being tights, they wouldn’t stay there on their own! So they’re calf-length, and I only wear them under knee-high boots. Yep, start too long and go from there.

  2. janejetson

    I dyed a pair of pants accidentally this summer. I washed my white jeans with a green scarf bout at a charity shop. They came out a lovely mint color which I have always wanted. The white jeans were easier to replace than finding a pair of mint jeans. I also showed my daughter why she shouldn’t mix colors in the laundry. She thought I came to lecture her but she was willing to learn from my mistake.

  3. Shelbee on the Edge

    You just brilliantly solved a very upsetting clothing issue I encountered yesterday! In the spring, I purchased an adorable open front chunky white cocoon cardigan on clearance from Old Navy. I wore it once, never washed it, and hung it in my closet between two other white sweaters. I took it out yesterday and discovered that the entire back of the sweater and the sleeves have a mysterious yellowish brown stain all over. I washed it and bleached it but to no avail! I was so excited to wrap myself in this cozy piece this fall and was at a roadblock how to fix it. But now I think I will dye it!!! I do love the white, but it is of no use all stained, so maybe it can be salvaged as a different color! What color do you recommend for staying vibrant? Thanks so much for the solution!

  4. Sonja

    Oooh, that’s a topic for me, I’d say about 75% of my wardrobe has been adapted to my
    needs in some form, and I do most of the alterations myself. Let’s see:
    – Like Sally, I do a lot of overdyeing. This will usually not work very well if
    you want to change a colour dramatically. ut I love very saturated and darker
    colours, so I often buy, say, a blouse in pastel purple and dye them in a
    beautiful dark purple. I also have difficulties with finding dark wash jeans,
    so I overdye lighter ones with a special blue jeans colours, but you have to
    have in mind that the fabric looses a bit of its jeans characteristics, the
    white threads do not shine throught as before. With the European dye brands I
    use, you can only dye natural fibres, and zippers, buttons and seams will
    usually not take any of the colour, be aware of that! If you want to change the
    buttons, cut them off before dyeing and take off the threads, if you don’t do
    that, this area will not take the dye well.
    – I’ve also overdyed shoes successfully, but as with clothes I get the best results when
    the before/after colours are similar.
    – By the way, shoes: You can alter the look of a shoe radically by changing the
    shoelaces. I’ve also changed the lace of some of my shoes (for example, Chucks)
    to elastic band. Thus I can get in and out of the shoe without too much trouble, but I don’t have any long ends of shoelace that look untidy with shorts or skirts.

    – I take in most of my tops at the side to make them more fitted.

    – I’m tiny, so I shorten all of my jeans and trousers.
    – Most of the shorts, dresses and skirts I find are too short for my taste (interesting, because, as I already mentioned, I’m tiny …). When I’m in the store, I look inside to see if they have a seam allowance at the hem, then I let the hem down at home. I’ve also occasionally added contrasting fabric or bias tape to a hem to make it longer.
    – I like my clothes to be simple and streamlined. This helps to make my hourglass figure shine. So I radically cut off everything that has been sewn on from the outside: belt loops, patch pockets, peplums, decorative buttons, flowers etc., peter pan collars, epaulettes, embroidery … Yes, you have to be very careful, and yes, more than once I’ve ended up with a tiny hole in the fabric. I’m willing to take that risk, I sew it shut with a couple of stitches from the inside, and it’s usually barely noticeable.
    – When I buy trousers or a skirt that has side pockets, they usually gape open, which
    adds visual volume to my hip, so I always sew them shut.
    – I also shut the space between the buttons on a button down shirt or cardigan if it
    gapes in the bust area. You just have to make sure that you get it over your head afterwards. You can also use snaps.
    – Another interesting use for snaps: If you have a top or dress with straps and your bra
    straps have a tendency to show, put in a loop for the bra strap: take a piece of bias tape or similar, sew it on the inside on the on side of the dress strap, put in a snap on the other side. You can pass your bra strap through that loop and it will not be seen any longer. Works best, when the straps of the top/dress are wide and made from a thicker fabric
    – I totally dislike contrasting buttons and zippers. To change the zipper, I usually take
    the item to my trusted tailor, but I change buttons myself.
    – The one place where I like contrast is on my jeans. I’ve occasionally bought denim
    pieces that had blue seams, not the contrasting brass coloured ones, so I’ve
    added this feature myself.
    Phew, lots of stuff, hope it’s helpful.