Selena Francis-Bryden has distilled her years of designing, customizing, and selling clothing in London’s Portobello Market into 40 ways to revamp your old clothes. In the tradition of DIY craft culture and eco-friendly design, this slim paperback aims to show you how to refashion (in your own fashion) everything you own. Her approach is completely opposite from many “wardrobe” books – no mad dash to the mall for a structured blazer or wide-legged trouser here. Instead, she rouses our creative senses with promises of rejuvenating preexisting closets.
Francis-Bryden opens the book by evoking a tailor’s intuition, presenting fledgling seamstresses with notes to consider on colour and fabric durability. She points out that timeless fabrics like denim and linen are versatile and sturdy, whereas something like lamé will not stand the test of time (for both physical and trend-y reasons.) Of course it’s always awkward to chaperone creativity, but Francis-Bryden does well to remind readers of the importance of imagining the longevity of these projects within their own aesthetic.
Under the chapter titled “Top Secrets,” she presents ideas for reshaping, slashing, and performing appliqué designs on old T-shirts and tank tops. “We Love Hand-me-downs” recommends ways to take second-hand clothing and tailor it for your taste. Simple stitching and a pair of scissors can help you transform a jumper shirt into a dress or an old t-shirt into a drawstring skirt. A pair of jeans holds many possibilities, and in the chapter on “Denim” she demonstrates how old blue jeans can become a dress, skirt, tie, or even a cushion — just make sure you have a sturdy needle. “Elegance On a Shoestring” suggests certain primping techniques for your everyday objects: transforming a lace tablecloth into a pretty dress, sexing up men’s collared shirts, or making a halter top from a scarf. “Jewelry, Bags, and Accessories” compiles ideas for personalized evening clutches and beautified shopping bags — and the homemade jewelry projects make use of your old cassette tapes and Mason jar lids.
Each project has step-by-step instructions for every customization, and suggests other garments where these alterations could work. Detailed photographs accompany the more difficult projects and it’s nice that most do not require too many supplies: the article to be revamped, a pair of scissors, and a needle with thread will get you through most. They also don’t require too much in the way of mending skill, but you should be comfortable with some hand-stitching.
Any reader who understands that personal style should indeed be individualized could certainly appreciate this detailed guide to simple methods of wardrobe personalization. The suggested customizations are appropriate for someone with minimal experience in alterations, but who is looking for ways to reform their closet on the cheap. Francis-Bryden’s wardrobe may not be your idea of fashion, but you can always adapt her suggestions to suit your fancy. I recommend browsing the projects outlined in DIY Fashion: Customize and Personalize well before your next trip to the mall. A minor closet reformation might be closer to home than you think.
DIY Fashion: Customize and Personalize, by Selena Francis-Bryden. Laurence King, 2010
review by Jennifer Carroll
photography by Samantha Walton