Rachel Red Lips’ Tips for Reconstructing Thrift Store Finds

Good afternoon to the lovely readers of Barefoot & Vintage! My name is Rachel Red Lips, and I’m guest posting for Paige while she enjoys a trip to Illinois to visit family; here’s hoping that she doesn’t melt under the midwestern sun, thrifts her little heart out, and makes it home safely! As a gal who recently moved out of Indiana, I can safely say the midwest is a goldmine of undiscovered vintage goodies just waiting to be dug up and flaunted! Unfortunately, as the vintage scene grows throughout the country, more and more thrift stores are being picked over and laid out for dead….but with these resources becoming scarce, a bit of imagination and sewing savvy can open up an entire window of thrifting you may have never considered. Yes, I’m challenging you to pick up the frumpiest dress in the store, and reconstruct it into a who’d-a-thunk-it wonder!

1. Choosing a Garment: Brand, Color, Pattern, Fabric & Details

Purposely choosing a frumpy dress may unnerve your intuition, but sometimes you’ve gotta quiet her down for a moment and focus on exploring the range of possibilities at hand. When thrifting a reconstructed garment, there are five initial factors I take into consideration: brand, color, print, fabric, and detail.

Perhaps it’s just the vintage seller in me, but checking the label is always the first thing I do! A reconstructed dress doesn’t necessarily need to be vintage, but I typically pass over dresses from big, trendy chain stores unless I’m just really smitten. So, if the label says “Merona” I know it’s from Target, and I keep looking, but it if says “Laura Ashley” I know it’s a little less mainstream and won’t be obvious to the non-vintage eye.

Color and print come into play next…does the frumpy dress have a great color combination? Is the print worth salvaging? Have you seen this print over and over again in your search, or does it stand out? Obviously, these factors are entirely subjective so choose the colors and prints that strike your fancy!

The feel and weight of the fabric often rules. If it’s an itchy, wool dress that would be uncomfortable and tough to sew, I may skip it in favor of the lightweight cotton, silk or rayon that I favor during summertime. The little details in a garment, such as cool tortoise shell buttons or an interesting collar, are great deciding factors as well. If it’s just a plain jane, I may skip over it in search of something with extra flare.
Above: Two “before” photos of reconstructed dresses. These both stood out to me right away; I was smitten by the pastel, shabby chic vibe of the blue cotton dress, and I loved the vibrant pinks in the striped rayon dress, it also had a cool fabric bow to tie in the front…sold!

2. Envisioning the Reconstruction

Okay, so now you have a good candidate for reconstruction, but I bet you’re wondering how on earth you’ll make an XXXL moo moo into something you’re proud of! I would be too, so I encourage you to quickly imagine what changes you think would spruce up the garment. I often use my hands to pinch the waist, cover up the sleeves, or fold the collar inside to see if that makes a difference. Play with different ideas until you settle on a prospect that seems fitting, decide if you have the skills to achieve it, and buy it! Some folks have a hard time foreseeing the finished product at this stage, but once you get used to cutting it up and putting it all back together in your head, this trick will open up tons of creative possibilities!

3. Simple Fixes

I highly suggest you execute the necessary changes while the inspiration is still fresh in your mind, otherwise you may end up with a pile of projects that take forever to get around to (I admit, I’m guilty of this). Remember, you chose this dress because it was an achievable reconstruction: it already has a unique color scheme, print, etc so all it needs are a few choice tweaks. Reworking the length, sleeves, and collar make an outstanding change in any garment, yet they’re a relatively easy project that can be sewn up in a few hours. These are my go-to fixes and often don’t require that you take the garment in width-wise (thank goodness for belts!). If you struggle with the technical side of the reconstruction, aka you don’t sew, I recommend that you sign up for a basic sewing course. After you get the basics down, home sewing is a breeze – you become well equipped with solutions in case you come to a grinding halt. Trust me, before I started lessons (just 5 months ago) I was so frustrated by sewing!

Reconstructed minireconstructed bow dress

Voila! With a little patience and open mindedness, picked over thrift stores can once again be treasure troves of inspiration!

Good luck in your reconstructing and let me know how it goes! Stop by my blog to say hi and click here to view more sewing projects and one of a kind reconstructions!  <3


Rachel Red Lips


10 thoughts on “Rachel Red Lips’ Tips for Reconstructing Thrift Store Finds

  1. What a great article! I really need to learn how to use my sewing machine, I keep finding awesome things that need to be shortened by 10 feet… oh to be a short “midget”. Paige accoridng to your tweeting thing on the right you are lounging by the pool. I’m giving you evil looks through the computer screen.
    Rachel, great article. I will be browsing through your blog asap.

  2. I love this post!! I’m so inspired by Rachel’s wizardry and have been doing some reconstructions of my own. Still trying to find a sewing class, but that’s next. Great job to you both :)

  3. Pingback: Diy Funny Life

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