If you’ve been to a thrift store, you know what to avoid—the underwear aisle, the stringy tank tops, the grungy sneakers. Chances are, you have probably kept a distance from another area of the store; this area houses what I like to call “grandma dresses.”
Grandma dresses generally hang near the back along the walls, out of sight so that they don’t interfere with young, hip thrifters. These dresses are long (usually floor length) and are almost always a few sizes too big. At first glance, they seem altogether unsalvageable. Don’t despair! With some quick fixes, you can save a long and/or grandma-y dress. Yes, I said that.
1. Accessory to Murder: Looks to Kill
Okay, cheesy, but really—accessories can change a drab dress to fab-u-lous. Get a skinny belt, and it’s shapeless no more. Long necklaces and a wrist full of bracelets can make a plain dress boho-chic. A pair of Doc Martens can turn a floral or velvet gown into a seriously cool grunge look. Heels, floppy hats, and sunglasses are accessory must-haves for long dresses in the summer. A dress may look lifeless on the hanger, but with the right accessories you can breathe new life into it!
2. See Right Through Me
If you’ve been thrifting, you may have seen dresses with two layers: a slip-type layer made of cloth, and a sheer one on top. For a bold look, ditch the slip. Sheer is in, with runway models strutting their very visible stuff under the slightest glimmer of fabric. You too can rock this look easily, transforming an old item into a trendy new piece for your wardrobe. Bust out your favorite bra or mini skirt, pull on a jacket if it’s chilly, and show everyone what you’ve got.
Long dresses can look frumpy, but with a quick snip you can change cringe-worthy to current and cute. Fishtail dresses, or “high-low” skirts, have come back in style! (Party in the front, business in the back.) Take a long dress and cut the front in a V-shape to upgrade your look and show off those legs. (For a more in-depth guide, check here.)
If you come across a floral print that is just beautiful, or a collar that is perfection, or the most lovely colored velvet—but aren’t fond of the dress itself—never fear! Just because it’s sold as a dress doesn’t mean it needs to stay a dress. What I’m saying is—take it apart! Most thrift store dresses sell for between 3 and 8 dollars (maybe 10). Sometimes it’s worth it to buy the dress for its parts! A long floral dress may look atrocious as is, but makes a killer crop top. You may dig the collar, but hate everything else; cut the collar off and sew it to another item you like better, or keep it as a detachable collar! Get creative; you don’t always have to say good-bye if there’s something about it you love.
5. Leave it!
Some floor-length dresses actually look good as-is! Though you may be worn down by flipping through muumuu after muumuu, there are occasional gems in between the plethora of lengthy cotton dresses. Form-fitting long dresses make for a sexy look without revealing a lot of skin (and look-alikes are sold at American Apparel!). Some wedding gowns are even wearable as everyday or semi-formal wear, particularly those that are made of cotton (think hippie/boho) or have chiffon skirts that can be layered over with a loose sweater or a knotted button-up.
Whether you plan to take a pair of scissors to your find or peacefully pair it with some accessories, long dresses can—and should—be a part of your thrifted purchases. May your wariness of long frocks be lessened! And may everyone exclaim in envy, “Wait, you thrifted that?” Grandmas, move over; see you at the back of the thrift stores, ladies.
Photos by Leila