8 Ideas for Transforming Nearly Unwearable Thrift Store Finds Into Stylish Pieces

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Thrift stores carry a lot of, eh, “interesting” pieces on their racks. Bedazzled evening dresses from the ’80s rub shoulders with floral sundresses from the grunge era; sweater vests mingle with mom jeans, and Peter Pan collars throw you back into a time where Twiggy ruled the magazine stands. While most of these items sound like things you would skip right over, I’m here to change your mind and help you see that they might actually have some stellar styling potential, if only you kept an open mind. Ahead are 10 tips on how to easily transform kitsch (or just sort of awful) thrift store finds into stylish, wearable pieces. Sometimes a small tweak can make a world of difference.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Snip off those sleeves

Just because a shirt or dress is rockin’ a dated sleeve doesn’t mean it has to stick around. Look past those Dynasty-era shoulder pads and you can easily make a frumpy piece a lot more modern. Take this denim dress for example— it originally came with wrist-skimming sleeves that gave me a Oregon Trail feel. Off they went and I had a denim dress that could just as easily be found in Madewell as it could in Goodwill.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

The long and short of it

Do you hate the bottom of a dress, but find that the top can work perfectly with your style? Or do you feel like a certain print or color is too busy when it’s a frock, but could work if it were just a blouse? Don’t be afraid to transform things by flipping a full dress into a shirt. It’s as easy as layering a skirt over the piece or taking a needle and thread to it for a drastic hem job.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Skirt the issue

No matter how much you love vintage, sometimes certain details are just deal breakers. Say you pick out a dress and it has sequins across its collar you can do without. Or it has a dated neckline or Courtney Cox circa-’90s spaghetti straps. If you see something off with a dress but love the bottom, all is not lost. You can easily turn it into a skirt by either popping a sweater, crop top, or shirt over it, or getting handy with a sewing machine and easily adding a waistline.

(P.S. To get a “tucked in” look, I cinched a belt over my dress and then tucked a corner of my sweater into it.)

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Buy tops for their collars alone

Not every thrifted piece you buy has to be the star of your outfit. Meaning, some pieces can be bought strictly for layering purposes. Take this mustard turtleneck for example. Not everyone is comfortable with such an attention-grabbing hue, but the collar will look amazing when layered underneath shirts or added as an accent underneath dresses. It’s totally okay to buy some pieces just for their layering potential!

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Jazz up minimal from the head down

Have you always loved vintage hats but had no idea where to begin with pulling them off? To make them feel less like a costume and more like a wardrobe staple, try toning them down with minimalist outfits. Looks that center around neutral color palettes, denim, and no-fuss pieces will help the headwear blend in.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Mix quirky purses with on-trend pieces

If you’ve found yourself an out-of-the-box purse but don’t quite know what to do with it, try making it feel more modern by matching it with your most on-trend pieces. This wicker purse can have total a southern-belle-and-sweet-tea vibe, but when tossed in with a bold tropical jumpsuit, it feels more like something that could have been bought in this decade.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

Give dated pieces a modern boost

Believe it or not, even baggy mom jeans can look cute if paired with the right element, saw a slinky tank top; a baggy dress gets some flair when matched with killer booties or heels. The key to successfully wearing vintage (or anything out-of-the-box or kitschy) is to pair it with something on-trend. That way, you move the piece out of its retired decade and into your current year. Take this Peter Pan collar dress, for example. The skirt originally came with shin-skimming pleats, but when matched with a sheer skirt, it took on a completely new personality.

(Image credit: Marlen Komar)

The one fix-all clothing item

Chambray literally fixes everything. Do you have an evening dress you want to turn into a weekday skirt? Slap some chambray over it. Do you have a vintage skirt with an impossibly busy print? Neutralize it with a chambray top. Do you have loud shirt that needs some silencing? Shrug a chambray button down over it and leave it unbuttoned.

While kitschy and vintage items can be tricky to work into any wardrobe, these clever layering and tailoring tips will help you realize their possibilities. Happy hunting!