07/27/2011 11:19 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2011

Back To School Styles: Yes, You Can Make Old Clothes Look New -- And Cool

by Gina Provenzano

It's almost back to school season again, and to most parents that can only be synonymous with one thing - back-to-school shopping. But wait! Before you head out to the mall to brave the hordes of frugal foot soldiers rushing through the trenches of retail warfare, check your closets first!

That's right -- While nobody prefers hand-me-downs, few can deny the budgetary bonuses, as well as the ecological benefits, of passing along gently worn clothing from one child to the next. Good news: With a few simple steps, you can give previously-worn duds an entirely new look. A few small alterations can refresh yesterday's fashions into something new and hip that they'll love while reflecting the trends of today's hot threads.

Jazz Up Jeans: Upgrade a pair of jeans with a denim floral bouquet. Use trimmed hems to create flowers. Simply thread a needle with embroidery floss and use a running stitch to gather the ring along one edge. Gather tighter and tighter to form a circle. Secure the end. Add a button or bead in the center and then sew a few faux flowers in different sizes to the front thigh area on one leg. You can just as easily use this technique on a jacket, whether it's denim or another solid colored fabric.

Another quick fix for a jacket that can completely transform the look is to swap out the buttons. A black jacket with black buttons becomes more formal and sophisticated when the buttons are replaced with gold ones. For more individual flair, try brightly-hued buttons and let kids create their own style.

Tee Party: Have two solid t-shirts on hand? Maybe one is more worn than the other. Well, rather than keep two plain shirts a child will seldom wear, why not make one super-smart style that he or she will keep on the top of the t-shirt pile?

From the more worn shirt (shirt #1), cut three 3-to 4-inch bands from the body of the t-shirt. Cut one band at both side seams to form two short strips. Cut one side seam of each of the remaining bands. Pin and sew one short band to one remaining band with right sides facing to make a longer band piece. Repeat the process for the second strip.

Next, starting at the back of the good t-shirt (shirt #2), gather and pin the top edge of one ruffle to the tee, about 1-inch from the bottom edge of the shirt and with the right side face out. Don't worry about the raw edges, they will curl and roll. Sew in place. Then, gather, pin and sew the top edge of the second ruffle to the shirt so the bottom of the second ruffle overlaps the top of the first one.

If you'd rather keep the two t-shirts separate, use ribbon to add decorative bands that'll turn a boring shirt into a style statement. Use coordinating colored grosgrain ribbons, in lighter and darker shades, and perhaps one contrasting color. Measure the circumference of the shirt and multiply by one and a half. Cut ribbons to that length and then sew a running stitch through the center. Pin ruffles to the t-shirt in bands at the bottom of the shirt. Overlap the ends and sew in place through center of each ribbon.

The same technique can add some panache to a denim or solid colored skirt. Check out how adorable this skirt turned out with the finesse of the blogger from Sew Much Ado. And she made the skirt, too.

Sweater Skills: Perhaps you have a perfectly good sweater with an unfortunately placed stain mark. Your boys might not care, but you do. Try a dip-dyeing tie-dye technique in a dark color to coordinate or contrast with the sweater. This process works best on natural fiber sweaters and clothing. Plus, the fab style works great for jeans, shirts, dresses and skirts.

First, prepare a work area making certain to protect the floor. If you have the space, it's best to do this project outside. Prepare the fabric dye in a bucket or basin according to the manufacturer's directions. Hold the garment evenly from shoulder the shoulder, or at the either side of the waist and dip it either a quarter-of-the-way or half-way into the dye to cover the stain and obtain the desired effect. Leave it in longer for a deeper color. Remove the garment and hang it up for several hours to let the dye set. Rinse the dyed area only and allow it to dry.

In Stitches: How about dressing up a plain button-down shirt with creative stitching? Simply pencil in a swirly design on the pocket, collar, back or one side panel of the front of the shirt. Don't overdo it though -- one area goes a long way. Use embroidery floss to make small, 1/4-inch stitches in desired colors along the lines. Scope out the Internet and books for design inspiration. Western clothing tends to add detailed stitching, so find a website such as Shleper's to check out all the swirls and flairs if you need a little inspiration to recreate your own.

Gettin' Crafty: Here are some more ways to add instant style to old clothes.

  • * Checking out the craft stores can get the creative juices flowin'. A faux fur strip spurred the idea for a high-style spruce up on a coat. Use a whip stitch to add the fur around the hood or even along the collar. Go one step further and jazz up the cuffs as well. After sewing, pull the matted fur to hide the stitching.

  • * Got a skirt that's simply too plain Jane for your little one? Stitching a tulle ruffle to the inside bottom of the piece is an inexpensive and easy-peasy way to give it some chutzpah. Choose soft tulle so as not to be scratchy on your child's leg. This idea works great for sprucing up a winter coat, as well. A little hint of a colored ruffle on the sleeves and at the bottom goes a long way in terms of glamour.

  • * Fabric store sequined trims can jazz up a plain shirt with a little glitz. Line the collar, or add criss-crossing lines.

  • * Stencil a child's jersey number or favorite team player's number on the back of a jacket. While it may seem like a small change, numbers and sports appliques can make all the difference to a small child.
  • Adding Extras: How about those accessories? Handing down a hat that doesn't quite match your younger child's jacket? Here are a few simple changes that can make the look come together.

    Use leather cording or yarn to whip stitch around the bottom band and bring in the needed accent color. Add a pom-pom. Try to find yarn in colors that coordinate with the hat color and the jacket, then make a pom-pom and thread it through at the top of the hat. Check out Bella Dia's blog for simple pom-pom instructions.

    Give shoes an instant lift when you replace tired, worn laces with brightly patterned or neon styles. Adding beads and charms to the laces also can help make an old pair feel new again. Even buckle shoes and slip-ons can get a flash of fashionista flair with clip on charms -- you might want to glue them on to secure -- or try wrapping the strap of a buckle with a soft string such as silk cording or yarn. The pop of color might just be the change that'll spur your child's excitement.

    TV Trends: The younger the child, the easier it is to get him or her to wear an article of clothing, and the easier it is to refashion it. Since little ones love TV characters, pick a few, print images from the Internet and then make your own applique with craft store felt and scrap fabric. Fusible iron-on web tape or fabric glue will keep them all in place. And the best part about the appliques is that they can be strategically placed to cover holes and stains.

    Whatever you do to transform hand-me-downs, keep in mind that it's really easy to use paint, scissors, patches and the like. A little goes a long way, so don't overdo it. The tricky part is to make items that your child will want to wear, and that you feel comfortable dressing them in. So, work with your child to create items that makes you both happy!