Extend The Life Of Your Favorite Pieces With These Pro Tips

Foolproof ways to repair and restore.

Photos Courtesy of RepairShop, by Sam Bennett, Rachel Smith

Rips, stains, scuffs, snags, holes — these are but a few of the untimely damages awaiting our favorite pieces on a daily basis. (Hey, even just sitting in our closets, our wardrobes run the risk of harm by way of moths or naughty puppies!) But if you can fix ripped jeans, mend torn sweaters, recondition chewed-up heels, and restore worn-out handbags — i.e. learn how to make your clothes and accessories last longer through methods of repair — your most beloved styles will stay in rotation (and out of landfills) for many years to come.

The only problem? These days, many of us grow up barely learning how to sew on a button. So it’s hardly surprising that a busted zipper or split seam is often a cue to tuck the problem away on a shelf for our future selves to deal with. If you’re reading this, though, maybe you are that future self — or maybe you just want to be prepared the next time the strap breaks on your sandal or you tear a cute vintage dress you *just* bought on Thrilling.

Either way, it’s never a bad time to learn how to mend and start taking better care of your wardrobe. Every time I replace a set of buttons or tape a sagging hem or slather my boots with leather conditioner, I come away feeling like I’ve been reunited with an old friend (one that I’ve probably guiltily ignored for a month... or ten).

Better still, repairing, restoring, and repurposing what we already own is a chance to take back power from a fashion system forever urging us to buy new and buy more.

“It's about taking pleasure in preserving what you've got,” says Nanna Sandom, founder of Splendid Stitches, a London-based vintage clothing alteration and repair studio. “You end up with a completely different relationship with your clothes where you can say, 'I love these things and I'm emotionally invested, so they're going to stay in my wardrobe.’”

Keep reading for tips, techniques, and pros to call for common wardrobe mishaps.

Hole-Ridden Sweaters And Socks


Knitted pieces are prime candidates for darning — a simple technique that can reinforce everything from thinning fabric to gaping holes. To get started, you need only a needle, yarn, and a rounded object to maintain tension in the fabric (traditionally, a wooden darning mushroom, though an apple or orange works in a pinch). Depending on the technique and yarn you use, the finished darn may be visible or may blend into the garment entirely.

Rachel Smith and Sam Bennett host monthly online darning workshops (tickets $27.50) through their research and learning studio Repair Shop. They recommend purchasing a variety pack of needles — embroidery, darning, tapestry (sewing needles are too small to work here) — and a yarn that matches your garment of choice. Practice on socks if you like, since any mistakes will be hidden in shoes, and take comfort knowing you can always take the yarn out if you don’t like the finished result.

While they also do repairs by commission, they advocate taking the DIY route when possible.

“Darning is one of those things where if you practice and practice, you'll get it,” says Smith. “If you have time to practice on things that are less precious, I believe that you can do it yourself.”

The technique isn’t only for mending holes — it can cover up stains, too, and add unique, eye-catching details to a piece.

As a practice, says Bennett, “It's beautiful, it's fun, it's relaxing, but it's also a small form of activism. Doing a visible repair allows us to have that conversation about keeping your things for longer, and also understanding how something is made and who makes it.”

Damaged Or Ill-Fitting Vintage


Yes, it’s intimidating to fix up a piece that can’t easily be replaced — but if doing so keeps it from languishing on a hanger forever, what do you have to lose?

At Splendid Stitches, Sandom says she often has clients come in with a special-occasion item — a grandmother’s wedding dress, say, or an heirloom coat — and, once they see what’s possible, return with armloads of vintage finds for repairs and alterations.

Find a tailor you can trust (word-of-mouth recommendations are great for this) and talk through your issues with the garment in question: maybe the sleeves are too long or too short, the armholes are overly tight, or the lining is torn. These are all eminently fixable problems. Pants can be tapered, elastic waistbands replaced (an easy and necessary repair, as elastic degrades over time), and straps moved for comfort and fit.

Depending on the piece, alterations can also cover or cut out stains and may have the added bonus of protecting the garment from future damage (by keeping a hemline from dragging on the floor, for example).

It helps that vintage silhouettes also often have more seam allowance (that extra fabric around the stitch inside a garment) than their modern counterparts, which gives you or your tailor additional wiggle room for alterations. “Back in the olden days, it was assumed your body shape would change through the years,” says Sandom.

For quick at-home fixes, Sandom advises keeping a basic sewing kit on hand, along with a sharp pair of fabric scissors and some snaps to repair gaping necklines.

Scuffed, Stained, Or Chewed-Up Shoes


Our shoes take harder beatings than maybe anything else in our wardrobes, so our upkeep has to come in just as strong.

The team of specialists at The Restory, an on-demand aftercare service for luxury shoes and accessories, understands this well. The London-based startup takes Christian Louboutin stilettos and Chanel flats with peeling leather, broken heels, and scuffed toes and makes them look as good as new with an array of services including cleaning, resoling, and leather restoration. For satin shoes that have fallen victim to spilled drinks or sudden downpours, the company also offers dyeing services starting at £240 (about $300 USD).

While your local cobbler may not be able to work quite the same magic, they can definitely help by adding a rubber protective sole to your shoes to mitigate wear-and-tear before it happens. (As added motivation, this kind of preventative care tends to be much cheaper than repairs after the fact.)

At The Restory, one of the most transformative services is ​​recovering heels, according to co-founder Emily Rea.

“If you walk over gravel, get heels stuck in the pavement, or have uncleanable stains, your heel stem easily becomes damaged and compromises the look of your whole shoe,” she says. Her fix? “We simply remove the damaged material that covers the heel, source a replacement material that is as close a match to the original as possible, and recover the heel in this new material.”

For easier jobs and season-to-season maintenance, get yourself a kit of basics with products like leather conditioner, shoe polish, shoe cleaner, spray protectant, a microfiber cloth, and a suede brush. These should keep your collection refreshed between visits to the pros.

Worn-Out Handbags


For high-end handbags, seek out a specialist in your area like New York’s Leather Spa, Santana Leather Care (with five US locations), or The Restory, or get in touch with the brand or retailer to see if they offer repairs. Some companies, like Cobbler Concierge, offer a mail-in service for customers nationwide; contact them for a quote and they’ll provide shipping materials and a timeline for the repairs.

“When it comes to repairs, it’s best to leave this to the professionals,” says Rea. “Sometimes, leather looks dirty when it is actually damaged. In these circumstances, it requires leather restoration.”

Leather care specialists can cover exposed piping, replace crumbling lining, remake handles, and even replace hardware — though you should consult with your provider to see what their services are.