How To Upcycle Clothes From The Thrift Store, According To TikTok

Anything for the drip.

Screenshot of a TikTok describing no sew upcycling techniques for thrifted clothing.

As shoppers have been feeling the recessionary squeeze on their wallets — and the climate crisis has many reconsidering their role in fast fashion — upcycling has become as essential as ever for anyone looking to expand their wardrobes. Maybe your go-to capsule wardrobe is starting to wear and tear over time, or the racks at your local thrift store are filled with items that are just slightly off from the stylish fall sweater you need. Whether you’re looking to breathe new life into items you already own, or find a creative way to give a used piece of clothing a new home in your wardrobe, TikTok has got you covered. As trends like “thrift flipping” — where consumers find unique ways to repurpose secondhand goods — rack up 2.6 billion views on the app, TikTok has become a treasure trove for upcycling hacks for thrifted clothes.

TikToker Tia Hrubala, who has gained a 200,000-plus-strong following on the app for her many unique upcycling techniques, says that her main motivation while thrift-flipping is sustainability. “It brings me so much joy to utilize an item that is seconds away from ending up in the landfill,” says Hrubala. She prioritizes searching through the sale rack in her local secondhand store for this reason. “There is a 50 cent rack that is filled with items that have sat, unwanted, in the store for at least five weeks,” she says, “There's so much potential in these items, and if they aren’t purchased, they typically go to the landfill.”

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly and eco-friendly hobby, or just need some tips on what to do with that $3 sweater you couldn’t pass up despite its oil stain there are plenty of techniques that can quickly turn your item from trash to treasure. From painted-over stains, to no-sew transformations, here are some of the best upcycling tips that TikTok has to offer.

1. Find Pieces With Unique Details

Thrift-flipping TikToker @caitconquers often encourages followers to focus on finding items with unique details while searching thrift stores. You can use an eye-catching pattern or design as a focal point for your reimagined piece of clothing. “If a garment has an interesting neckline, texture, etc., I’ll maintain those aspects and work around them,” says Hrubala.

2. Learn To Make Simple Alterations

Ever come upon the perfect thrifting find, only to realize its sizing isn’t right for your figure? No matter what you’re working with, there’s often a way you can alter your piece of clothing to better suit your needs. Of course, alterations are most doable if you’re able to sew, as shown in @ysabelhilado’s TikTok of an upcycled jacket.

3. Learn Basic Sewing Skills

Though knowing how to sew isn’t essential to thrift-flipping, it can significantly expand the possibilities of your upcycling adventures. Plus, Hrubala points out that thrift-flipping is a great way for people to learn how to sew using fabric that isn’t too costly. If you’re a total novice to the needle, hashtags like #sewingtutorial and #sewingskills can point you in the right direction.

4. Work Around Cosmetic Damage

It’s not uncommon for a perfectly good piece of clothing or accessory to find its way to GoodWill due to a minor cosmetic flaw. A small stain or some pilling can often be the deciding factor for clothing owners to donate a piece. But as TikToker @soi_gne reminds viewers, there’s almost always a way to troubleshoot cosmetic damages. For pilling, you can use a fabric shaver to renew the item’s appearance. If there’s a stain, Soigné recommends painting a small design over the blemish — like some cartoon cherries on a purse.

5. Use No-Sew Techniques To Upcycle Clothes

If you’ve been looking to upcycle but don’t know how to sew, don’t be afraid. Though sewing can certainly expand the possibilities of your upcycling pursuits, there’s a lot you can do with just a pair of scissors — or even a clever tie. Search “#nosew” on TikTok if you’re in need of some technique inspiration.

6. Get Creative With An Item’s Purpose

As Hrubala has shown with her “30 Days of Scarves” series, it helps to get creative with the typical purpose of an item when upcycling vintage clothes. She’s demonstrated how one scarf can double as a shirt, a head bandana, a shawl, and more. Don’t limit your imagination to the intended purpose of an article of clothing. A pair of shorts can be upcycled into a tank top. A shirt can become a corset. You get the gist.