5 Ways to Cut Your Clothing Budget in Half

5 Ways to Cut Your Clothing Budget in Half trying on shoes at store

This post contains affiliate links – and I receive a small commission on sales from readers clicking through these links. My full Disclosure Policy is here.

Cutting your clothing budget down is something that many of us are faced with when our discretionary spending takes a hit. (I definitely have had to in the past!) Whether it’s a job loss or life circumstance change, a re-shifting in our priorities, or even a forced statewide stay-at-home order, there are times when we need to take measures to tighten up our finances. The clothing budget is often one of the first places to find some wiggle room, but there is still a way to get the clothes you need for HALF (or less) of what you are currently spending. When times are tough, here are 5 painless ways to cut your clothing budget in half:

How to Cut Your Clothing Budget in Half

1. Do a clothing swap with friends, family, or neighbors

Right now many people are unable to sell their extra clothes, as garage sales and other outlets have dried up (though I’m still having some luck on Poshmark – get $10 when you sign up using my referral code CARLYJCAIS). A great way to increase your wardrobe options and help others get rid of their unwanted items is to organize a clothing swap amongst friends, neighbors, or family members (who are not ill or immuno-compromised). You can have everyone drop off a bag of unwanted items at a location at a designated time, lay out the items, and have people return to look through what’s available (in small groups or in staggered times to be safe). Observe social distancing and group gathering protocols, or even snap photos of the items and share them to the group. Decide what you will do with unwanted items and you have yourself a clothing swap!

Also: Here’s a great article about treating clothes that may have coronavirus on them, and how to be safe handling them. (There’s still a lot we don’t know though experts say the risk of contamination is low.) A good precaution is to wear gloves when handling someone else’s clothing, and

2. Shop at thrift stores and used clothing shops instead of buying new

Deemed essential businesses in many states, many thrift stores and used clothing stores are still open to the public (though many have suspended taking in new donations at this time). As stores reopen, do your part to shop (still being careful of course). So many of the raw materials for my shirt makeovers have come from the local Goodwill! (Goodwill is my absolute favorite thrift store hands-down, partially because of their global supply chain and that they ensure every donated piece of clothing is not wasted. It completely blew my mind when I researched how extensive their organization is and the amazing things they do. Check out my article on Goodwill’s ability to keep clothing out of the landfill and their sustainable practices for more information.)

3. Style your pieces differently to create a whole new look

Sometimes it just takes fresh eyes to breathe new life into your wardrobe – which is why it can be fun to share outfit ideas with a friend remotely. But if you’re looking for styling ideas by yourself, you can always search on Pinterest for the specific piece you have in your closest that you want to style differently (“striped shirt” or “outfit ideas” for example). I also keep a ton of old clippings from magazines – cool pieces, clothing I’d love to make, DIY ideas for this site…as well as whole outfits. One source of inspiration that I love is The Uniform Project – even though it’s more than a decade old now – because Sheena Matheiken’s sense of style and different ideas she came up with for that little black dress were amazing and so versatile! It always starts me thinking about similar pieces I have in my closet – and the cool stuff I could do with them that are a little outside my normal go-to.

4. Purchase just the tops

With the proliferation of Zoom and online meetings as a part of everyday life, many of us are having to appear on camera…but only from the waist up. A great way to keep costs down is to only purchase from the waist up! Instead of a whole dress, buy a top only (and wear sweatpants below…shh! no one will know!). A pretty pair of earrings or nice necklace and you’re done – for only a fraction of the cost of your normal shopping budget.

5. DIY and makeover clothing you already have!

Of course, this one is nearest and dearest to my heart! You can find hundreds of tutorials for clothing makeovers on my site, the DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System, or on Pinterest. Refashioning, upcycling, and giving clothing a new life is what allows your closet to survive fashion trends, and ensures you squeeze every last drop of usefulness out of your wardrobe. Hope to see your DIY projects – with your own personal stamp on them – soon!

xo

Carly

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DIY No Sew Face Mask – From a Men’s Shirt

DIY No Sew Face Mask from a Men's Shirt by Chic Creative Life

If you follow me on Instagram, you would have seen the DIY No-Sew Face Mask I posted a quick video tutorial for the other week. Even though some states are lifting stay-at-home restrictions and people are beginning to venture out again, I figure better late than never! And it’s another way to use up shirt scraps from any DIY men’s shirt makeover you do. This tutorial is super-easy and makes a double-layered mask, and although I find it difficult to breathe through for long periods of time, it’s great in a pinch. Plus – no sewing required! Just a pair of scissors…and a shirt sleeve. It should take you less than 5 minutes to make!

How to Make Your Own DIY No-Sew Face Mask from a Men’s Shirt

You Need:

scissors  /  top of a shirt sleeve

How To:

IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

1. Start by cutting the shirt sleeve from the body of the shirt around the armscye.

IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

You’ll want to cut around the armscye seam so it is a loop.

IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

2. Cut another loop of fabric around the circumference of the top of the sleeve.

IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

Now you have 2 fabric loops.IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

Trim any raw or ragged edges around the edges of the loops.

IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

3. Place the sleeve on a flat surface, and your palm on top of it with fingers outstretched along the sleeve seam. Measure the distance from your outstretched thumb tip (at the top of the sleeve seam) to your outstretched pinky tip, and cut the sleeve at that point.

IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

4. (Optional) Tuck the raw edges of this piece of fabric inside to hide them.

IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

5. Cut the loops you made in Step 2. open.

IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

Tie one pair of their ends together in a square knot.

IY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

6. Thread this long tie in a U-shape into the large piece of fabric cut from the sleeve in Step 3, so the bottom of the U extends below the large fabric piece.

When you go to wear the mask, place the bottom of the U at the back of your neck and the fabric piece at the front of your face. Pull on the end of each tie to tighten the mask placement on the bottom of your face. Then tie the ties in a bow over your ears and at the back (top) of your head. Scrunch the mask fabric so it sits properly on the bottom of your face and covers your nose and mouth.

DIY No Sew Shirt Sleeve Face Mask

And you’re done! Simple, right??

Check out my video below on Instagram and follow me there!

Also…this article here has a lot of great information about how to keep your mask clean, so definitely check it out too!

xo

Carly

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The 12 Must-Have Tools for DIY Shirt Makeovers

12 Must-Have Tools for DIY Shirt Makeovers

This post contains affiliate links – and I receive a small commission on sales from readers clicking through these links. My full Disclosure Policy is here.

Quick Links from Photo: 1  /  2  /  3  /  4  /  5  /  6  /  7  /  8  /  9  /   10  /  11  /  12

So far on this site I’ve shared my Must-Have DIY Tools for Sewing, Embellishing, and Jewelry-Making. Here is my roundup of the must-have tools for DIY Shirt Makeovers:

Tools for DIY Shirt Makeovers

1. Seam Ripper

You.Must.Have.A.Seam.Ripper. You need it to remove buttons and take apart shirts to be cannibalized, to fix stitches…this is vital to prepping your shirt for a successful makeover.

2. Awl

Though not completely necessary (I often use my nail scissors or metal rod from my Turn-It-All), an awl is a very helpful tool for creating perfect holes, and using as an extra finger to keep fabric down as you feed it under a moving machine needle. I’ve saved many a finger with this!

3. Chalk Pencil

This marking pencil is my absolute favorite since it makes super-precise lines and works just like a mechanical pencil. LOVE.

4. Tape Measure

Or is it “measuring tape…?” I never can settle on how to refer to it! In any case, having a flexible measuring tool is essential for measuring yourself and ensuring a perfect fit as you makeover your shirt. I don’t recommend the cheap paper kind – get yourself a nice one made out of soft vinyl that will not get twisted with use.

5. Sharp, Sharp Sewing Scissors

El-cheapo scissors won’t cut it (literally)! Prepare to spend around $30+ for an excellent pair of Gingher or Singer scissors, and they will last you a lifetime. (Just never, ever, EVER cut anything else besides fabric with them [especially paper]…which will dull them like nobody’s business.

6. Sharp, Sharp Pins + Emery-filled Pincushion (or strawberry)

I’ve found that certain “decorative”-style pins aren’t all that sharp, and the round-headed ones tend to cause bumps when pinning a pattern to fabric in order to cut. I prefer the extra-sharp flower-headed pins so the pattern isn’t puckering and lifting, and they don’t get in the way of the machine foot so much. Plus an emery-filled pincushion/emery strawberry to keep them all corralled and sharpen them is a must!

7. Sewing Machine

I use a Kenmore 16231, and it’s a real workhorse! I had a Kenmore my mom and I used while I was growing up, and I just stuck with the brand. Even with the amount of sewing I do, it really wasn’t necessary to get anything super-expensive! – and it’s held up great since 2009.

8. Iron

This is another MUST in creating successful projects – the iron will turn hems, set seams, and give everything a crisp and professional look. You don’t need anything fancy, just a basic off-brand one will do.

9. Ironing Mat

Though I have an ironing board that I photograph on, I find myself using my ironing mat on a hard surface far more. It’s portable, light, heat reflective, and it’s much less clunky and space-consuming than a standard ironing board.

10. Curved Nail Scissors

I love love love these scissors! (They also appear on my Must-Have Tools for Jewelry DIY’ing list…that’s how much I love them!) They work great as thread snips if you don’t feel like investing in those, and help you poke holes and cut perfect buttonholes (just be careful of the curved edges).

11. Poly-Cotton Mercerized Thread

This is the stuff sold everywhere, that you want to use to sew your shirt makeovers with. Make sure you get poly-cotton mercerized (even though your shirts will likely be cotton), as poly-cotton is stronger and less prone to breakage and fraying. “Mercerized” means it’s been treated to be stronger and have a slightly shiny appearance.

12. Sewing Machine Needle Pack

A standard 90/14 needle will do just fine for the majority of shirt makeover projects, but for different fabrics I like to have a needle variety pack on hand just in case.

And check out my DIY Resources page for more lists of resources to up your DIY game!

xo

Carly

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ANNOUNCEMENT: The DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System is Live!

The DIY Men's Shirt Makeovers System product stack

Hello friends!

As I‘d teased a little while ago

The beta launch for the DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System is open!

YAY!! *Throws confetti*

This is the ONLY system for at-home clothing makeovers out there, and I’m thrilled to make this available to all of you at this super low price.

With this system, you will:

  • Find inspiration in your closet – or your guy’s closet – as the starting point for raw materials.
  • Hit up Goodwill or another thrift store and get some great shirts for cheap (and do some good for charity at the same time!).
  • Never overpay for piles of fabric from the fabric store (hello $12.99/yd pricetags!) again.
  • Make finished shirts, dresses, and skirts without even having to step foot in the craft store.
  • Make clothing that fits correctly, each time, without patterns.
  • Give old clothing a new life, rather than selling it or giving it away.
  • Create a gift for someone special in your life, from a shirt that has meaning or importance – made over into something she can use and enjoy.
  • Whip up projects quickly, because you’re starting with materials that are already made – and you are reconstructing them and making them over from that point.
  • Make cute clothing for yourself, friends, family, kids, or even stuffed animals – from shirts you already have.
  • Put your own personal stamp on your pieces – and get creative!

And more!

Included in the system are:

DIY Sewing Secrets ebook product

  • DIY Sewing Secrets: Fast & Easy Shortcuts to Finished PDF ebook (25 secret tricks, hacks, and shortcuts to creating perfect projects every time)7 DIY Men's Shirt Makeovers ebook
  • 7 DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers PDF ebook (the core of the System, with 8 tutorials for intermediate shirt makeovers)

Sewing Basics Decoded ebook product

  • Sewing Basics Decoded: What Every DIYer Should Know PDF ebook (covers beginning sewing techniques and setting up your space and equipment)

Select the Right Shirt! checklist product

  • Select the Right Shirt! 8 Rules for DIY Success checklist (how to find the best shirts for your DIY makeovers)

DIY Project Planner calendar product

  • DIY Project Planner calendar (assists in planning out the projects from my core book)

AND along with the system I have a couple awesome upgrades as well…

DIY Cute Summer Shirtdress Video Tutorial product

  • DIY Cute Summer Shirtdress video tutorial (for all of you who’ve been asking for the video tutorial, here it finally is!)

DIY Men's Shirt Makeovers Secret Upgrade Bonus offer

  • DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers Private Facebook Group (we hang out and chat about shirt makeovers, sewing, creativity, and all sorts of fun things!)
  • DIY Project SOS Live Help (2 weekly 1-hour Facebook Live sessions where we work through projects together and you get your questions answered)
  • 8 No-Sew DIY Shirt Scrap Makeovers PDF ebook (finally, projects using up all the shirt scraps from your DIY shirt makeovers!)

All this is available now, for a limited time at this current price – since it’s a beta launch and I am collecting feedback to make sure it’s the best system out there for you!

Check out the DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System now

xo
Carly

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ANNOUNCEMENT: The DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System!

The DIY Men's Shirt Makeovers System product stack

Hello friends!

Today I’m sharing this huge secret I’ve been working on for awhile…

In TWO WEEKS (Tuesday 5/26) I am going to open up the beta launch of the DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System!

I am so excited to share this with you all…and am just now putting the finishing touches on it.

I’ve been working on this for a total of…well…2 YEARS now, and I’m thrilled to finally be able to share it with you.

So why did I create this?

  • SO many people have asked me over the years for photographs for some of my most sought-after tutorials, that I’d posted early on the blog but that never had a clear step-by-step.
  • SO many people had questions about project steps that were confusing from my old tutorials.
  • SO many people wanted to level up their sewing skills to tackle tutorials I’d posted, but it was hard to help them.
  • And SO many people wanted MORE shirt makeover tutorials in general!

So I put together this comprehensive system to answer all that…and more!

So what will this system do for YOU?!

It will:

  • provide you with new shirt makeover tutorials – some of which I’ve never shared anywhere else (including on this site!)
  • create a comprehensive step-by-step photographed walkthrough of some of my most-requested shirt makeovers
  • share sewing tips, tricks, and hacks that I’ve amassed over the last 12+ years
  • help you choose the best shirts to make over for your DIY projects
  • and more…

…for less than the cost of a store-bought pattern and store-bought fabric (because seriously, who needs to buy stuff like that these days??)

The beta launch will open in two weeks (Tuesday, May 26) – and I can’t wait to see you there!

xo
Carly

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The 7-Step Method to Improving Your Sewing Skills

This post contains affiliate links – and I receive a small commission on sales from readers clicking through these links. My full Disclosure Policy is here.

7 Step Method to Improving Your Sewing Skills by Chic Creative Life
After 12 years of running my own sewing, crafting, and DIY blog, a lot of people ask me how they can improve their sewing skills. Many people want to know where to start, what to do next, what skills are essential, what skill do they need to add to their repertoire, etc. (Even after all this time there are some things I STILL don’t do well when it comes to sewing, and I’d prefer to focus on the essential skills that can make me a nice-looking outfit day in, day out.)

The cool thing is that ANYONE can get good at sewing through progressive practice – and it doesn’t take a lot of practice to sew a sturdy, good-looking garment! It’s a good idea to start simple and build your skills by tackling projects that, in succession, will teach you a new skill with each project, so you can build on your knowledge and abilities.

Here is my recommended sequence for anyone to improve your sewing skills:

7 Projects to Improving Your Sewing Skills

  1. A Pillow (New Skills: Measuring fabric, sewing in a straight line, trimming seam allowances, making perfect square corners, hand-stitching a seam closed)
  2. Simple Pull-On Top (New Skills: Taking your measurements, cutting pattern pieces, finishing seams for wearables)
  3. Simple Pull-On Elastic Skirt (New Skills: Cutting an elastic waistband, creating a fabric casing, sewing an elastic waistband)
  4. Keyhole Top with Gathered Sleevesicon (New skills: Creating bust darts, setting a ruffled sleeve, creating a keyhole closure, adding a button)
  5. Lined Skirt with Zippericon (New skills: Creating darts, setting an invisible zipper, creating a lining)
  6. Pocket Sheath Dress with Zippericon (New skills: Finishing a blind hem, creating side pockets, adding a hook and eye closure)
  7. Pants with Waistbandicon (New skills: Creating a curved crotch, notching curves, creating a front zipper with placket, interfacing a waistband)

Though we don’t get into jackets (and jacket linings!) just yet, the above is a solid way to flex your sewing abilities, polish those skills, and brush up on your construction techniques. Let me know if this helps you improve your sewing skills in the comments!

xo
Carly

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How to Sew a Ruffle – WITHOUT a Ruffler Foot!

How to Sew a Ruffle Without a Ruffler Foot Chic Creative Life

This post contains affiliate links – and I receive a small commission on sales from readers clicking through these links. My full Disclosure Policy is here.

I just LOVE ruffles – and always struggled how to sew a ruffle since I didn’t have a ruffler foot for my sewing machine. (Those things are expensive and complicated, man!) Though I eventually made the plunge and bought a ruffler foot sewing machine attachment, I can seriously count the number of times I’ve used it since then on one hand! I simply prefer a quicker, easier way to make picture-perfect ruffles – that is completely adjustable to my garment – and comes out great every time. Plus, ruffles are so IN this Spring & Summer for 2020 – check out the pattern trends for McCall’s Patterns for example – and a lot of my DIY’s use this method, so I figured it was high time to walk you through how to make them! Ruffles look so pretty especially using shirting fabric – and they’re amazingly simple to make using this method.

How To Sew a Ruffle Without a Ruffler Foot

You Need: sewing machine zigzag foot  /  long length of elastic cord (doesn’t matter what color)  /  pins

How To:

1. Switch your sewing machine foot to a zigzag foot, and change the machine settings to as wide and long a zigzag as it will go, with a looser tension.

2. Place the straight edge of a piece of fabric you are wanting to create ruffles in, wrong side facing up, under the machine foot.

3. Knot a long piece of elastic cord at the end, and place it on top of the fabric, about ⅜” from the edge.

4. Lower the zigzag foot down in front of the knot, backstitch a few times over the cord (do not go through the cord), and proceed to stitch in a zigzag over the cord down the length of the straight edge.

5. When you stitch all the way around and are nearing the knot in the elastic cord, go as far as you can without hitting the knot, and backstitch a few times over the cord.

6. Remove the ruffle piece from the machine. Pull on the un-knotted end of the cord, gathering the fabric underneath it.

7. Gather the ruffle piece until it is basically the same length of circumference as what you want to attach to, pin it to the other piece, right sides together.

8. Stitch ruffle below the elastic cord to secure it to the other piece, and remove the elastic cord by pulling it out from under the zigzag stitching from the knotted end.

And that’s all there is to it, friends! I’ve created the graphic below for easy pinning so you can save this post and come back to it.

how to sew a ruffle without a ruffler foot step by step pinterest graphic chic creative life

By the way, elastic cord is hard to come by lately – but I’ve had really good luck with searching for elastic cord sold by Etsy sellers. Try them instead of Amazon or the local craft store!

As long as you can sew in a zigzag – you can create a ruffle. Hopefully this will ease any worries you might have about creating the perfect ruffle – and next time when it comes to it, you will know EXACTLY how to sew a ruffle the easy way!

xo
Carly

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8 Fashion Trends for Spring & Summer 2020

8 Fashion Trends for Spring/Summer 2020 shopping collection

This post contains affiliate links – and I receive a small commission on sales from readers clicking through these links. My full Disclosure Policy is here.

So many fashion trends were on the Spring & Summer 2020 runways that seem recycled from past years. Well, that’s pretty much to be expected with fashion – what goes around, comes around! Though I’m not suggesting you indulge in ALL these trends ALL at once (then you would be a slave to the Fashion Industry’s whims)…you might find inspiration to pull out of your own closet, give a dust-off, and enjoy again.

The weather is warming up, the birds and insects are coming out of hiding, flowers are blooming, the world is in lockdown. Let’s look at some pretty things to lift our spirits, shall we?

8 Fashion Trends for Spring & Summer 2020

1. The Crochet Dress

Seen on the Spring runways at Marni, Fendi, and Jil Sander (just to name a few!) this 70’s revival received a modern update this year. Pretty, airy, and feminine, these can display a little – or a lot! – of skin to the warm breezes of Summer.

Recommended: Navy Blue Mesh Panel 3D Floral Lace Double Layer Midi Dress, $40.99

2. The Bra Top

Underwear as outerwear showed up at Dior, Givenchy, and Giambattista Valli. Channel the high-end designers by sporting a demure bikini top or bra that looks less like lingerie and more like a cool lounge top. Even if you’re naturally shy, you can still pull off this fashion trends for spring & summer 2020 by layering under a blazer or lightweight Spring coat.

Recommended: Padded Lace Longline Bralette, $13

3. Yellow Neon

I’ve always loved this color and certainly don’t need the latest crop of designers telling me to go wear it! Though Courreges, Marni, and Balenciaga got with the program this year, neon yellow will always be a neutral in my mind – and something that is cheerful and sunny even on cloudy days.

Recommended: Candidly low heel sandal with tubular strap in yellowicon, $60

4. Ruffled Tiers

Prairie-style for days, these ruffled tiers are super-sweet volumes of indulgence at the Christopher Kane, Roksanda, and Alexander McQueen shows. I feel lighter and happier when covered in ruffles (seriously, can you EVER have too many??) and this is truly a welcome trend.

Recommended: DIY Babydoll Dress from 3 Men’s Shirts, $0 if you own 2 button-down shirts already!

5. Bermuda Shorts

Kind of an update on the cropped clamdigger-length pants that were everywhere last year and you had to have model proportions to pull off well >: ( …the longer-length shorts that hit around the knee are a new iteration. Bottega Veneta, Chloe, and Altuzarra offered their interpretations…and paired with a cute color-coordinating blazer these shirts give off a cool, laid-back 2020 vibe.

Recommended: Board Short in Blackicon, $40

6. Polka Dots

Another graphic print I just adore – they almost act as another neutral when paired with a more busy print, and help a color POP when layered together. Dries Van Noten, Sacai, and Maison Margiela shared their pretty Spring versions of this sophisticated classic.

Recommended: 80’s Vintage Polka Dot Smock Top in White, $39.90

7. Vests

Vests are already a wardrobe staple for me and I’ve been wearing them for years – so happy to see them back in fashion! Something tailored, fitting, and chic is the name of the game – at Celine, Max Mara, Gucci, and Rag & Bone.

Recommended: Jersey Cropped Suit Vesticon,$29

8. 1960’s Wallpaper Prints

I’m personally not a huge fan of 60’s wallpaper prints…which showed up in the Prada, Marc Jacobs, and Gucci collections…but I DO love a tropical oversized print! Nothing says Summer so much as large flowers and palm trees! (Evidenced by my DIY Printed Flat-Bottom Zip Samudra-Style Pouch tutorial using my Palm Tree Print Fabric, available on Spoonflower.)

Recommended: Tropical Print Paperbag Waist Belted Shorts, $8.95 (!)

The nice thing is – if you DO want to purchase any of the above – they ALL can be bought online – and all delivered to your home. Except of course the DIY Babydoll Dress – which you can make yourself from 2 button-down shirts on hand!

xo

Carly

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My Backstory: How I Started DIY Men’s Shirts Makeovers and the Transformation I Experienced Because of It

My Backstory: How I Started DIY Men's Shirts Makeovers and the Transformation I Experienced Because of It, photo of Carly J. Cais wearing DIY men's shirt dress

Hello dear readers!

It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve posted anything new…and it HAS been. 2 years, 3 months, and 1 day! So much has been happening in my life and there have been a few times over the months and years when I have wanted to close down my chapter as a blogger for good.

BUT! Something kept tugging at me – something that said that this site had been and still continues to be a valuable resource to people, so I shouldn’t shut it down entirely. And it didn’t feel entirely finished to me – I felt like I still had more to offer and share with everyone, but wasn’t quite ready to come back to it just yet. Not for many months – and I’ve even had some huge setbacks in-between! But that’s a story for another day…

Given I, like many hundreds of millions of people right now, are quarantined in our homes and are actively practicing social distancing due to the spread of COVID-19…I felt it was time to get back to the ol’ blog again. I’ve missed all of you a ton! And I realized I never actually shared my story, as to how I got into DIY in the first place, and why it became so important to me. I’ve never shared this story anywhere before now. So here goes, my men’s shirt makeover backstory…


Carly J. Cais: My Origin Story

Growing up in rural Northwestern New Jersey, a child of immigrants, meant we didn’t have a lot. My dad had come to the U.S. for a career as a research chemist. My mom came with him, and taught classes at the local college. We had no other family in the U.S. – our entire extended family lived in Australia. My parents had purchased a small home on 1.7 acres of forest in this tiny town in New Jersey, and initially money was tight. My mother was very scrappy: she made Halloween costumes for my brother and me our of paper mache and cut up margarine tubs, bolts of cloth from the fabric store, notions and trimmings and all sorts of things. I too was creative and loved crafting and making things. My mother taught me to sew when I was somewhere between the ages of 6-8; I made a lopsided stuffed bear with a melted-looking half-smiling half-frowning face.

As a kid I wasn’t popular – my family wasn’t wealthy, I wore hand-me-downs and cheap clothes, my mom cut my hair, and I spent most of my time reading or drawing and writing my own stories. As I got older with the same group of kids I’d been in school with since kindergarten, the gap widened. I think around 2nd or 3rd grade was when I really started noticing the differences, and I focused on the obvious one: I didn’t wear have cute, trendy clothes to wear. I felt I didn’t fit in based on how I looked, and I started sketching what the other girls were wearing and paying attention to how they’d put outfits together. I begged my mom to let me buy some patterns with my pocket-money, and I began sewing my own clothes, hoping I would fit in better if I were dressed like all the other girls.

DISASTER!

The first time I wore a dress I had made from a pattern and I was SO proud of – all the kids made fun of me, sneering “Did your mom dress you today?!” I guess what I had chosen to make: the mail-away pattern for a “Stylish V-Neck Dress” – putting in HOURS trying to figure out the crinkly tissue paper pattern with misses’ sizing for my 11-year-old self – didn’t quite line up with what was in style at Long Valley Elementary School, LOL. That day I rushed home in tears and crumpled up the beautiful tiger-striped and brick bodice inset dress, shoving it away in the corner of my closet, never to be work again.

But I kept going, paid a little more attention to what was trendy amongst the “IN” crowd, and that year I actually got quite good at sewing: I made tops and skirts and T-shirts, even vests and baggy pants. I loved wearing them because no one else had anything like them – and gradually, as I got more confident I gained friends. Probably the outfits had little to do with it…but I was more sure of myself, and felt like sewing and making things that didn’t exist until I stitched them up was my SUPERPOWER.

Fast-forward to October 2007. I had just closed down my short-lived Misses’ clothing and jewelry line RIVETED, and I still wanted to stay connected to the fashion world. I had a 2-year old child at home and was a stay-at-home mom; I’d also met someone who ran a fashion blog, and so I pitched the idea of me writing for her blog, producing monthly articles. So I began writing for FashionTribes, in a series called “Carly’s Chic Steals and Fashion Deals of the Week.” I archived most of the posts I wrote for the site here (though I can’t vouch if all the photos still exist!). WHEW those posts were bad! I honestly cringe re-reading how bad my writing was back then. But they began my journey as a blogger – though I was blogging for someone else at the time.

In January 2008 I wanted somewhere to put all my FashionTribes articles, and so I created this blog (which at the time I called Chic Steals based off the name of my FashionTribes article series). And then outside of the article I wrote, I started to post on my blog ideas I’d had, fashion I was interested in, and projects I’d made. It was still early on for this blog, but I really enjoyed sharing these things with people. Blogs were just beginning their heyday, and as a stay-at-home mom I craved adult interaction and using part of my brain that wasn’t 100% devoted to raising my child. This blog became an outlet for me.

Everything changed in August 2009 when I posted a tutorial for a Cute Summer Shirtdress I’d made from an old shirt of my husband’s. The tutorial was shared hundreds of times online, posted on different blogs, and essentially went viral amongst the DIY, upcycling, and sewing communities. I was thrilled! I had no idea that people would be interested in my little men’s shirt makeover project. SO many people commented on it, asked questions about it – and it essentially launched my blog. I started sharing tutorials and how-to’s in earnest on the blog, many of them focusing on upcycling other pieces of clothing. I became known for DIY’ing men’s shirts into cute clothing – and it was something I continued to share on my site because there seemed to be such an interest in it. During this time my husband quit his job to go to school full-time. Money was tight (just like it was when I was growing up), and though I never shared this on my website, thrifting materials or upcycling the clothing we had was necessary, both to feed my creative drive, and the needs of the blog. I couldn’t just buy things new! I enjoyed more than anything helping other people like me be more creative, more thrifty and scrappy, and make beautiful things despite their circumstances. Blogging helped me feel connected when I felt alone, and connected to many even though I was taking care of a child all day long. I felt fulfilled and whole.

Then…

May 2014. My husband left.

I wrote very little on my blog about this event, earth-shattering though it was, because I wanted to protect my son from the sordid details, not say anything bad about the “other parent,” follow all the advice the therapists give for successful dissolution of a marriage without severely traumatizing one’s child, etc. etc.

However, the silence was broken by his father, who later actually told my son that he left. So I feel that it’s at least okay sharing that much.

When this happened, it felt like my whole world came apart. I lost 27 pounds. I couldn’t keep food down for 4.5 months, surviving on dry bread and oatmeal. I kept waking up in the middle of the night, having panic attacks, my heart pounding and short of breath. I was puking into a plastic bag in the mornings as I was driving my son into school, going down the highway at 55mph. For the first time in almost 15 years I had no idea what the future looked like. And this scared me to death! How would we survive?? How could I suddenly go from a couple thousand dollars in one year from the blog, to the median income in the United States?? Since 2005 I had been forced to become a stay-at-home mother by my husband and his parents, who would not allow me to work once I had my son. They were very traditional. It was non-negotiable. Some parents wish they could stay at home with their child. I was never given the choice. I did it because that was what they wanted me to do, but my blog was a way for me to “work” on my own terms and around taking care of my son, still satisfying my in-laws’ requirements but my salvation that helped me not lose my mind in the meantime. Even though I had monetized my blog, partnered with brands to do paid and sponsored posts, sold advertising, and received some free stuff because of the blog – it wasn’t a full-time income, nor one that could support me, my son, our home, and a dog. I had not had a real job since 2005 – 9 years prior!

So I had to scramble. I applied for job after job, ones that were barely even related to what I wanted to do but just would provide a bare minimum income. I just needed to make ends meet, somehow cover the mortgage and our expenses, keep our lives afloat. My son was 8-and-a-half. He was terrified I was not going to be able to pay for the house and we would lose our home. He saw me upset and crying, sick and gaunt, not sleeping. I got rejected from job after job…or there was just silence from the employers. I had no local contacts, no one who could vouch for my work ethic and skills. My whole life had revolved around being a homemaker, cooking for my family, raising my son – and writing my blog on the side. The lowest point was where I asked for an application to work the register at the local Target, for $9/hour. I filled it out at the dining room table at home, tears dripping down my face, signing it with the date, feeling like it was a cop out. But I couldn’t bring myself to actually hand it in. The last time I had worked a cash register was 11 years ago. I KNEW I had more to offer and felt like I was letting everyone down, including my family who’d paid for my higher education (I had a B.A. degree and four certificates), my son who believed in me (I spoke 2 languages and had raised him bilingual), and myself. I felt like all my stability, my entire identity, had been pulled out from under me. I had no idea who I was anymore, all I knew was that I HAD to keep my son’s life stable. I HAD to keep him in the same home he’d grown up in, the same neighborhood, the same friends, the same routine. And that meant I had to scramble like crazy behind the scenes to scrape together everything I could to keep us afloat! Kinda like the little kid treading water, over a deep, dark scary part of the ocean – and the kindly dolphin rises below the surface of the water and lets the kid ride on its back. The kid has no idea, laughing and splashing happily on the dolphin’s back, enjoying the water – never realizing the deep dark murky depths below. THAT was everything I was trying to be for my son, so he would never realize just how close we were to the edge.

One day I went to my closet, frustrated. My husband had left a large amount of his clothing, including many shirts I had bought for him that he had never worn, many of which still had the tags on them. My side of the closet was filled, crammed to the brim with clothing I had made for my blog, received as review pieces, sewn myself…basically the physical representation of everything that was wrong in my marriage. The clothes that I owned had no cohesive style. No consistent color palette, no consistency in pattern. It looked like the closet of 20 different women! There were so many different identities I had taken on, trying to be someone else, trying to be who my husband and his parents wanted me to be, trying to pretend. I hated most everything in that closet because it wasn’t really me. I had lost my way and covered up problems with pretty clothing and writing about it, distracting me from the deeper internal issues. The clothes in my closet represented years of effort and fakery. I couldn’t stand the site of them – and began ripping everything down from the hangers. Shirts, dresses, shoeboxes, belts, bags – EVERYTHING. Even the bins I kept things in, the hangers…every item in my closet came out. I piled it all in huge piles in my bedroom and forced myself to live with it front and center for 3 weeks as I sorted it through it. Even though this was 6 months after Marie Kondo’s book debuted in the United States, I still hadn’t read it at the time. As I was going through the piles, I imposed similar questions on each piece: does this item evoke a happy memory? If NOT – get rid of it!! That was the dress I was wearing at his brother’s wedding, when he laughed during the whole ceremony and his own father had to tell him to hush up – while I was mortified. That was the skirt I was wearing for my 35th birthday – the day he forgot to plan anything and was angry at me for even having a birthday. That was the shirt I was wearing the day he stuffed a few of his items in a backpack and walked out, despite my pleas to do the right thing for our son. ALL of it HAD to go. From the piles I began selling everything I could, dragging bags to the local Buffalo Exchange, listing items on eBay, selling to friends, and finally…donating to Goodwill. I was getting rid of all the false identities I had tried to wear throughout my 11-year marriage and 14.5 years of being with the same person, in order to get down to the real ME at the center of it all. During this time I also began pitching my blog to try to drum up ad placements and paid posts, freelancing for other bloggers, consulting for small businesses. I tried to make ends meet and continue to pay the bills and the mortgage any way I could.

The clothing piles got smaller and smaller as I kept looking for a job, and my identity. As I sorted and purged and only kept things that ACTIVELY made me happy, I repainted the closet and started putting only those items back. There were very few things left that did not have bad memories or feelings associated with them. My closet was mostly bare.

I had to look work-appropriate and put-together for job interviews. So I turned to the pile of shirts I had bought for my husband, never worn. In some way they represented him and this miserable new life he had thrust us all into, and in some way they still weren’t tainted with him at all. I wanted to reclaim some power from this whole situation; make lemons into lemonade. So I started using my refashioning, DIY’ing, and sewing skills to make over the pile of stuff he’d left, into cute dresses, skirts, and shirts for myself. I already have been doing that now and again for my blog…now I took it to the next level. With each item of clothing I completed and hung in my newly-redesigned and sparse closet, I took a small piece of my power back. I wore what I had made to interviews, and people would ask me about what I was wearing because it was unique and cute and interesting. They remembered me as the “shirt girl.” And something changed in me: I finally felt like I had a little bit of control again, and had found myself. Finally all my applying to jobs paid off; I landed a part-time job doing social media marketing for a commercial photography studio.

It was a small reprieve but I STILL had to hustle because it still wasn’t enough. At one point I was working 4 part-time jobs/gigs to cover all the bills! I kept trying to share how-to’s and helpful ideas for refashioning on my blog, hoping to at least keep up the happy veneer to help my audience. I knew there were people out there who enjoyed my clothing makeovers and I wanted to keep what I share out there creative and fun, not bogged down in the day-to-day of me scrambling to make money and cover the bills without destroying my credit rating or losing our home. I wanted to share and inspire people! I still kept applying to full-time jobs so I didn’t have to work so hard at so many different things…and eventually in Spring 2016 I landed the full-time job as Marketing Manager for a software company, that would lift my son and I out of that life permanently.

Being able to earn a full-time income that was enough to pay all our bills and provide adequate health insurance was such a relief! Finally I didn’t have to spend all my waking hours working, working from my laptop as my son went to his Tae Kwon Do classes, dragging my computer to the park while he played, missing out on moment after moment as I worked and worked to earn. The day ended after 8 hours of work, and I could be there for my son, pick him up from school, make him a snack after school, help him with his homework. But a side effect of marketing for work, and being creative all day was that I became so burned out I had nothing left for my blog and my audience, no time to put into tutorials, no new ideas. That went into my day job, and I posted less and less on my blog. I redesigned it and rebranded it, and launched my blog with a new name and new identity that Fall: Chic Creative Life. Around that time, the company I was at experienced a downturn and eliminated all 4 of the people from my department, until I was the only one left standing, doing the jobs of 5 people. They slashed the Marketing budget to 1/3 of what it was, and then put an expectation on me that I was required to produce 3x the number of leads that we, as a fully-staffed department, had been able to pull in last year. The numbers were impossible. The writing was on the wall for that job.

Things had gotten crazy in the day-to-day, and though I fully intended to keep blogging, I was so burned out I had no creativity left. The last post on my blog was dated December 29, 2017.

In the meantime, I switched jobs (twice), was hit by a car, broke my wrist, lost the ability to use my right hand, went through 8 months of physical therapy, had 2 surgeries, and couldn’t hold a sewing needle for a really, really long time! But that’s a story for another day.

And now: a coronavirus pandemic. I’ve been furloughed from my full-time job. We were so ill-prepared in America for a pandemic that we are literally on Plan D: social distancing. Oregon has a shelter in place order in effect. And here I find myself at home, isolated again, not working. Kinda like I was back in 2014 when my husband left and my world was turned upside-down.

But this time I have a blog. One that continued to earn a small income, even when I couldn’t actively post on it. One that at its highest point reached 120,000 pageviews a month, and had a readership of thousands of people across the world. I have the skills and abilities to makeover clothing, and a way to teach others how to do the same. Plus, throughout this whole crazy journey, I managed to find my voice, figured out who I AM, and reclaim power along the way. I’m no longer a victim of circumstance, and instead am able to choose my path. Refashioning men’s shirts may seem a strange way to assert feminism, but there it is. I’m taking my identity BACK. Sure it’s about thriftiness, upcycling, scrappiness, and a symbol of surviving the despair at the end of a relationship, but it’s also about creativity, happiness, and leaving your own stamp on things that are sometimes dull, and stiff, and sad reminders of the past. It’s about trying to look decent and enjoy things despite everything falling down around you. It’s radical. It’s a movement. And I hope you will join me.

xo

Carly

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