Costume Couture: Spruce-up your style!

Did you ever pick a piece of clothing up during a sale or at a thrift store, thinking that it has some promise, but it just needed a little something extra? Or do you already have a garment that would look really great with a cosplay or costume of yours, but it requires a little enhancement or ornamentation to make it truly part of your look?

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With a little thought and a little money (or just some skillful scavenging) it can be pretty easy to transform articles of clothing from meh to marvelous! No matter what your style– steampunk, goth, lolita– maybe a few finishing touches is all you need to spruce-up your style. Interested in some inspiration? Keep reading to see how I took an average thriftstore find and kick its interest up a couple of notches!

STEP 1: Decide upon the item(s) of clothing you’d like to decorate! The garment I procured was a ‘military-style’ American Eagle Outfitters in a sort of khaki color:

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Keep in mind that if you’d like to change the look of a garment, that dyeing is sometimes an option, and, since this jacket was 100% cotton twill, it was totally dyeable. Dyeing used clothing is always a crapshoot, though, as one never knows if anything had been spilled on it before, or if the previous owner was, say, prone to perspiration. Stains sometimes lurk beneath the surface of even clean clothes, and nothing makes those stains more evident than over-dyeing them (and, unfortunately, there’s little to do about the stains after that).

STEP 2: Get your other supplies! Since I had a military-style jacket, I decided that a gothy/steampunk feeling for the trim was appropriate. Plus, it fits in with my usual aesthetic!

Much of this trim was on sale at the local craft and sewing store, plus I had some bits of trim and so forth at home (that I keep because it's obviously useful, NOT because I'm a packrat... yeah!)
Much of this trim and fabric was on sale at the local craft and sewing store, plus I had some bits of trim and so forth at home (that I keep because it’s obviously useful, NOT because I’m a packrat… yeah!)

I also picked some new sassy brass buttons in a mismatched assortment, because it both looks cool AND I didn’t have to buy all matching buttons in the correct sizes. If you do want the buttons to be usable and not just decorative, please make sure that they are the correct diameter! Also, if you want the garment to be washable, check the trim and other sewables to make sure how they need to be laundered.

Changing the buttons on a garment is like putting new handles on your kitchen cabinets-- it's a relatively quick and inexpensive way to freshen the look of your garment up if you are short on time.
Changing the buttons on a garment is like putting new handles on your kitchen cabinets– it’s a relatively quick and inexpensive way to freshen the look of your garment up if you are short on time.

STEP 3: Decide what the heck it is you want to do and do it! Now, I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t until I was playing around with some of the trim placement that I realized  certain trims would work better in different areas (on the back, going on the sleeve, etc).

The tracing paper was underneath the jacket.
The tracing paper was underneath the jacket.

I started with the back of the jacket, and, using brown paper and a ponce wheel, traced the fiddleback shape (between the two inwardly-curving seams).

Using push pins, I stretched the back of the jacket out to trace it.
Using push pins, I stretched the back of the jacket out to trace it.
I traced the existing seams. The ponce wheel should pierce through the fabric to the paper, as long as the garment's not too thick.
I traced the existing seams. The ponce wheel should pierce through the fabric to the paper, as long as the garment’s not too thick.

I took a little time to true my pattern up, as, while the jacket is largely symmetrical, my tracing wasn’t totally so.

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After I made my quickie pattern, I cut the fabric appliqué out for the back and sewed it after using about a zillion pins! I did have the luxury of using a dress form for the pinning step. Having a curved form, such as the back naturally curves, results in a better outcome.

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STEP 4: Keeping trimmin’! After the back piece was sewn onto the jacket, the rest of the trimming just fell into place. Between a little well-placed trim and the new buttons, my little makeover project quickly came together!

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Every once and a while, I find that it’s helpful to step back from your project to get a good look at it– look at it from all sides, just to make sure things seem balanced! And when you think you’ve done enough, VOILÀ!:

Throw your favorite corset, dress, pants or shirt on and see how you are able to pull an outfit together with a little bit of time and trim!
Throw your favorite corset, dress, pants or shirt on and see how you are able to pull an outfit together with a little bit of time and trim!
I decided to go a little further with some black crocheted trim on the back patch.
I decided to go a little further with some black crocheted trim on the back patch.

Just remember not to get yourself too frustrated when you’re working on a project like this. If something’s not working out, take a breather and come back to your sewing with a clear, calm mind (that’s advice I could give myself over and over again). Sometimes certain ribbons or trims don’t want to move the way you want them to. That doesn’t mean that there’s no solution, it just means you haven’t figured it out, yet!


What are your adventures in sewing, readers? Have a costume you’re proud of, or do you have any sewing questions? If so, leave a comment below!

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