Kaitlin Simonsen has always had a keen eye for style. When she moved from Saskatchewan to study fashion at Ryerson University in 2006, Ms. Simonsen saw chic girls on the streets of Toronto and coveted their luxe designer duds. But she lacked the funds to buy them.
She started combing through vintage stores. By ripping these pieces apart and using her own clothing and cheap mall finds, Ms. Simonsen refashioned new, stylish looks.
“I always wanted the high-fashion look but never had the money to get that, so that’s a lot of my inspiration – these expensive, beautiful clothes that I will never have the money for,” she said.
It’s the kind of DIY clothing refashioning that’s growing across Canada, in large part as a response to the high cost of dressing well. New clothing can take a big financial bite, particularly for women and particularly in the fall.
According to Sandy Silva, spokeswoman for market research firm NPD Group, Canadians spent $19.3-billion on clothing in 2010, and women shopping for themselves accounted for 57 per cent. Women are remaking their own clothing and thrift-store finds to save money and flex their creative muscles, says Denise Wild, the founder of online magazine Love Sewing.
“They’re looking for a way to stand out and wear something different that’s not going to cost them an arm and a leg,” said Ms. Wild, who also runs sewing classes in her Toronto and New York studios. “So taking existing pieces and reworking them is a perfect way to do that. …
“It’s really limitless, how much money you can save.”
Dilys Tong, co-founder of Toronto’s Sew Be It Studio, loves the challenge of vintage revamping.
“It’s like Botox, a little facelift to give a garment a second life,” Ms. Tong said. “Instead of going to Holt Renfrew and buying a beaded sweater for $695, you can go to a secondhand store, get a really plain sweater for $3, spend $20 on accessories or trim, put it on, and you’ll have a sweater that looks the same as the one you’ve seen at Holt’s.”
One of Ms. Tong’s favourite revamps was an “ugly” second-hand prom dress made of turquoise taffeta that she turned into a “tutu pouf skirt” by cutting off the top and added a simple ribbon waistband.
In Montreal, women go to Emeline & Annabelle sewing studio to create something new from something dated or drab.
“I have clients who will go out and find that dollar shirt and get so excited and bring it into the shop and transform it into an awesome, high-waisted, large waistbanded skirt,” proprietor Emeline Villedary said. But the thrill of “creating something beautiful from something that costs virtually nothing” often extends beyond the pocketbook, she said.
“Women are looking at it as a creative outlet,” Ms. Wild said. “They’re on their computers and BlackBerrys all day and they want to do something with their hands, going back to those traditional life skills.”
If you don’t have the creativity to come up with these revamps yourself, there are myriad online resources to help you along. LoveSewing.com has a “sewing reconstruction” section and a YouTube channel with tutorials. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of DIY fashionistas willing to sharing their secrets.
Ms. Simonsen posts step-by-step instructions on how she creates her clothing revamps on her website, MyVintageSecret.com. One recent project was sparked by a Burberry Prorsum trench coat with black leather sleeves Ms. Simonsen was smitten with, which retailed for about $3,000. She found a less pricey cargo-coat version by Veda, but it still wasn’t quite in her price range.
“The coat was $400 and I thought, I still can’t afford that,” she said. “But then I thought, you know, I can make this.”
Ms. Simonsen bought a cargo coat at Forever 21 for $33.80 and found a pair of black leather pants at a thrift store for $14. She cut off the sleeves of the coat, made the leather pant legs into sleeves and voilà – an on-trend, one-of-a-kind coat for $48.
Though she has a bit more income to spend on clothes these days, having scored a job as a footwear designer with a sportswear company, Ms. Simonsen still hopes her inexpensive DIY creations can motivate others to give it a try.
“People don’t think they can do it, and it’s something I’m excited to share with people,” she said. “Hopefully some girls who don’t have any money will be inspired by it and just be like, I can be stylish on a budget.”
Special to The Globe and Mail