Vintage Clothes Customisation: Sew much better

Before (left) and after (right).

eBay addict seeks dressmaking ace for mutually beneficial relationship. Kirstin Innes finds out more

Over the last decade or so, as we’re sure you’re aware, it’s become not only socially acceptable, but positively necessary, darling, to wear second hand clothes. The vintage business is big – entire empires are built upon a few 50s prom frocks and some really good Mod suits – and seemingly recession-proof, with more stores, online outlets and eBay mini-sites opening up every day.

The trouble with one-off pieces, as every thrift-shopper knows, is they don’t come in other sizes. Fallen in love with a 70s kaftan that’s six sizes too big? Have to have it anyway? You’re not alone.

Sharon Stephen, manager of upcoming band We Were Promised Jetpacks, happily admits that she has a vintage problem. ‘I’ve always bought second hand; as a teenager on Orkney, I used to raid the charity shops. When I moved to Glasgow, I discovered Mr Ben’s. That really opened my eyes to the range of clothes out there. It fuelled my addiction.’ A few years ago, she discovered eBay, where vintage clothes tend to be less expensive than in specialist stores.

‘My eBay problem. Yes. I became obsessed with buying vintage pieces because I loved the pattern or the style, and it was all really cheap. It would arrive, and it wouldn’t fit, but I wouldn’t ever get round to sending it back or reselling it. I had this growing stockpile in my room: a proper Farrah Fawcett-style jumpsuit, or a Chloe dress, straight off the runway. I was starting to get exasperated about the amount of clothes I had that I loved and couldn’t wear, so I just Googled dressmakers in Glasgow one day.’

Fortunately, she found Emma MacPherson, a former model and qualified fashion designer who set up her own company, Amelie Bespoke, when she was 22. Eight years on, she finds most of her business comes from wedding dresses, but also offers a customising and alterations service; having worked with high-end vintage clothes at Glasgow’s Saratoga Trunk for years, MacPherson knows her way around an old seam. ‘I just react instinctively to clothes; I’ve always been able to work out how the cut works, and what you can and can’t do with the fabric,’ she says. ‘I can just alter it so it fits, or I can turn it into a different item of clothing altogether! Customising an existing piece usually takes me a couple of hours, no more, and costs about £20, so depending on what you paid for the original, you could have a completely new one-off for as little as £25.’

MacPherson is part of a new wave of shop owners and dressmakers – often graduates of Edinburgh or Glasgow’s Art Schools, or Galashiels’ School of Textiles – offering customising services. There’s several more of these specialists across the cities, see, Raw Vintage, Glasgow ( and Godiva, Edinburgh ( who also offer customisation services, but on their own stock.

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