DIY: How to Modernize a Vintage Dress

diy project

Now before you say, “Hey, I liked the first version!” keep in mind that I had already removed the shoulder pads and a giant, hideous belt before taking the picture. I wanted to make sure you could keep your lunch down.

I saw a lot of potential in this 1980s vintage dress, but knew it would need some updates to modernize the look. The main issue was its awkward length. The skirt stopped in “no man’s land” above the ankles; it wasn’t a maxi or a midi-length. Here are the steps I took, which you can easily replicate with your projects:

Step 1: Get a vision for what you want to change. Do you want to shorten the length? Do you want to add belt loops?

Step 2: Gather your tools of the trade. I have a simple Singer sewing machine, plenty of thread, measuring tape, my handy dandy tomato that holds needles and pins and chalk. Chalk is perfect for marking on clothing without ruining the material. Easy-breezy cleanup is the name of the game!

Step 3: Put the garment on and measure where you will make the changes. Then, take it off and use the chalk to mark your measurements. Re-measure from the baseline across the garment to make sure the line is even.


Step 4: Cut your desired length off. I wanted to hem this particular dress to be above the knee.

Step 5: I folded the fabric and started pinning 3″ above where I wanted my final hem –– this keeps the fabric in place when you are sewing, which makes a huge difference.


Step 6: Sew away! If you’ve never operated a sewing machine before, I would recommend practicing on old clothes first. It will help you get a feeling for how fast to go and which settings you want to use.

After sewing the bottom hem all the way across, I use a backstitch on the ends and at stress points, like the side hem. My machine has a reverse button, but your sewing machine might be different.

Step 7: Enjoy! This beauty will soon be yours to claim in the Vintage Theory Dresses.

Let me know how it goes! Feel free to share pictures of your adventure, and give us your own tips on how to modernize a vintage dress.