Thursday, May 26, 2022




A surge in sustainability and environmental awareness has prompted a new wave of fashion: upcycling garments. Popular forms of transformation range from turning oversized tee shirts into strapless mini dresses or creating adorable co-ord sets from button-down shirts. These rejuvenations of once lifeless clothing, while cute and creative, are often oriented towards a specific body type: petite.

For years, fashion has been oriented towards petite women, despite the average size in America being 16-18. Popular magazine trends always depict the infamously unrealistic charts of “what to wear for your body type,” thus prompting the question: what can I wear?

Illustration on women with different body types.
Credit: The Tiny Buddha

Companies such as Stitch Fix and thredUP have recently gained popularity due to their focus on catering to personalities rather than sizes. However, the cost of these websites’ memberships can inhibit many women from partaking in the experience they offer, leading to the notorious Google search, “How to dress for my body type.”

There are seven broad categories of body types; the inverted triangle, characterized by broad shoulders and a slim lower body; the triangle, in which the hips are wider than the bust; the rectangle, which describes a figure of equal proportions from shoulder to hip; the pear; a curvy figure with hips wider than the bust and a slim waist; the apple, characterized by a bust that is larger than the hips, often with slender limbs; the diamond body shape, which features a wider waist and bust and hip of equal proportions; and, finally, the hourglass—the rarest body type yet the most acclaimed—is characterized by a slim waist with a larger bust and hips, both of which are of approximately equal proportion.

For all of the above body types, any Google search will tell you to hide the more prominent features (such as a bigger bust or wide hips) and accentuate your other curves. Many articles will use phrases such as “direct attention away …” or “steer clear of …” These phrases, rather than building women up, tear them down and hinder self-confidence.

If you do look up how to dress for your body type, don’t be disheartened at what you find; don’t throw out your wardrobe, or go on a shopping spree to fill your closet with clothing that “flatters” your body type. Instead, upcycle what you already have! 

A front view portrait of woman indoors holding bag with old clothes.
Credit: Getty Images

There are simple changes you can make to any garment that will give life to a piece of clothing that was tucked away for years. The beauty of upcycling is that you can tailor your garments to fit your personality.

Ignore the charts that dictate what you can or can’t wear, because fashion is different for everyone. If you find a garment that you love, but don’t feel confident in it or find it unflattering for you in your opinion then read on!

For no-sew options, wear clothing in different ways than the pieces were intended to be worn. You’ve probably seen pictures of slender women turning a large tee shirt into a cute, strapless mini dress, but look for an alternative—something that works for you. Consider ideas such as:

  • Changing the position of the sleeves—make the top off-the-shoulder or strapless. For long-sleeve tops, you can play with the idea of turning the sleeves into a belt, a bow, or even a halter top!
  • Playing with the neckline. A simple transformation, such as cutting the neckline, can make a dramatic difference. Turn a regular crew-neck tee shirt into a boat neck shirt, or create a V-neck to accentuate your bust. While you can leave the cut edges raw, hemming the edges is also an option if you have the ability or desire.
  • Changing the length or hem. Crop the top, fringe it, cut a slit in it and tie it up—the possibilities are endless!
  • Ignoring the intended fit entirely! This is where you can get really creative. Try wearing your shirt as a skirt, or your skirt as a shirt! Depending on the style of clothing, you can easily adapt the piece and wear it in a completely new way. Knit fabrics are easy to stretch and manipulate, but woven clothing items can be fun given the different closures they often have. Maybe a zipper on a skirt could become a strapless blouse with a zipper up the front (or back)!
  • Turning pants or leggings into a shirt or jacket. One way to do this is by cutting a hole large enough to fit your head through the crotch and using the legs as sleeves, which would give you a cropped shirt or blazer!

Woman sewing fabrics
Hero Images / Getty Images

If you’re looking for more advanced options that may involve some sewing, then the possibilities truly are endless. Whether you want to completely cut up that horrendous blouse your grandmother gave you and make it into something fresh. or you want to make some quick and easy changes, scissors, a needle and thread can go a long way. 

  • Consider turning your pants into a skirt. Cut up the inseams, and then sew the front pieces together down and repeat on the back. Want to add a slit? Just cut up one of the outer seams and hem!
  • Rejuvenate an old dress by cutting it in half to make separates. For a finished look on the top, hem it or add a cute trim. For the bottom half, you’ll likely need to add elastic, or, for more advanced sewers, add darts, a waistband and some sort of closure.
  • Turn a larger blouse into a blazer or light jacket. This entails simply cutting the shirt up the middle and hemming both sides. If you want, consider adding buttons or a zipper. To get more creative, don’t cut the blouse directly up the middle; instead, try something asymmetrical or don’t cut it all the way!
  • Adding accents to any garment can drastically change the appearance. Anything from a trim on the sleeves to buttons across the shoulders, or a lace-up back or neckline, can give life to a drab and boring garment.

It’s impossible to list all the possibilities, but these are some suggestions to get you started and make you think about the different adaptations you can make to a single garment. If the “do and don’t” list for your body is working against you and your closet, don’t think of that dress as an A-line fit, think of it as two large pieces of fabric you can cut up to achieve endless fashion statements.