Hot! The “Cheap Means Cheap” Dress

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 The Facts

Fabric: Vintage 1970s- 1980s dress, thrifted $13
Pattern: none
Notions: none
Time to complete: 5 hours
First worn: June 2011
Wear again? Yeah. 
Total Cost: $13 

If you're ever in New York City and looking to score a great deal on a vintage piece of clothing, don't bother trying Cheap Jack's. I stopped there in March during a business trip and was quite excited at the promise: it is huge and stocked to the brim with vintage pieces. However, it's probably the most overpriced vintage store I've ever shopped at. For example, there were a number of late 1960s and 1970s cotton housedresses being sold for $150+. To justify the prices, they're always having 50% sales. It doesn't matter — it is still overpriced.

The only reason that I ended up buying something from Cheap Jack's was because:

  • I felt pressured by the sales staff
  • I spent a great deal of time looking around and didn't want to leave empty handed
  • I found an okay 2-for-1 deal and ended up with 2 dresses from something like $27
  • Neither of the dresses blew me away, but I figured I could alter them to make them work

After reading Yelp reviews (after the fact), someone freaked me out by saying they wouldn't be surprised if the clothes there were infested with bed bugs. I wrapped my two dresses in a plastic bag, tied a knot, flew them home and prompty washed them in the laundry (alone). When I took out the dress, I saw that the hot pink dye had run and made the white side all splotchy.

So I was left with a dress that was probably a modern size 16 or 18, covered in pink splotches and the lost souls of bedbugs.

So incredibly lame.

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This was the dress I ended up with and the alterations I ended up doing. It is much easier to make a little illustration than explain it all out in prose.


I have to say I'm quite proud of the result! My alteration skills have much improved and I really owe it to the intense sewing I do. It goes to show that almost anything can turn into something wearable!

Unfortunately I didn't get any decent shots of the dress at full-length. It was incredibly windy during our picnic and the dress kept on blowing in really annoying ways.

My hair looks ridiculous in this shot, but at least it's a full-length representation:

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Mena Trott

Mena Trott started The Sew Weekly to document her attempt to sew all of her own clothes in 2010. Since then, she's made over 125 outfits and has way more clothes than she needs.


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  1. Very impressive!!! Also, would you mind showing us your hair, it looks very cute!

  2. That is one impressive alteration!!!! I know it was prompted mainly by the stained white section… but your new design is about 100 times nicer! (I’m thinking netball uniform with the original!) Well done!.. I would never have seen that potential!

  3. Amazing! Looks very different and very well fitted. I wouldn’t have thought it was the same dress.

  4. judy roberson

    Wow… that is a total turn around of the old dress. So shocking..great job ..Pretty dress after you finished..

  5. Wow! It looks great and I love the diagram of alterations.

  6. It looks incredible! I was blown away when I saw the “before” – you did an amazing job transforming a dud dress into something gorgeous!

    i hate cheap jack’s to death. and now that you’ve hipped me to yelp reviews, i probably won’t even venture onto that entire block. it is now in the ranks of abercrombie and fitch.

  8. Wow–what an amazing alteration! Bravo for taking what was a bit of a disaster and remaking it into something truly fabulous. I especially love that shade of pink on you–so vibrant! :)

  9. So cute! Don’t know if I would have thought of that…

  10. Wow! That’s some impressive reworking!

  11. love it!! you are incredible :)

  12. Wow! This is outrageously impressive and an inspiration to everyone who loves to re-work vintage pieces. Three cheers for you!

  13. I love it, Mena! That shade of pink looks very well on you. The neckline is definitely my favorite part!

  14. You are so creative! This is a beautiful piece. Also, your HAIR is ADORABLE!!!

  15. INCREDIBLE!!!! This is so inspiring. You made the dress perfect!

  16. Gorgeous dress. I would never have had the vision to make it. Kudos!

  17. AMAZING transformation!!! Very inspiring, as I have a number of items aching to be refashioned.

  18. Wow! Absolutely adorable, Mena is hard to imagine the finished dress before so flattering and original. I confess … if I’m in that situation, I sit in a chair to mourn inconsolably …..

  19. I love this dress! Could you clarify a little bit about what you did? To get the design on the new part of the bodice, did you use the reverse side of the piece you cut from the skirt, or did you add that yourself? And where did the front skirt fabric come from since you cut away that huge chunk of skirt for the bodice? I do a lot of refashioning, so I like details. :) Great work!

  20. LOVE THE SUNGLASSES!!!!! Are they vintage? Ray Bans? I MUST have a pair; where can I get them? The dress is adorable. Everything you make always looks great.

  21. Good work… and your hair looks GORGEOUS!

  22. margueritedesigns

    Gorgeous shade of pink. Glad you could make it work for you!

  23. Really good job of refashioning. You look fabulous in it!

  24. I love how you altered this! And you look fantastic! Duly noted, I will never go to Cheap Jacks!

  25. Very impressed at your refit – particularly how you kept the decoration around the neckline. Great outfit.

  26. Fabulous redo. You look great in that dress! It’s a thousand times better now. Congrats on another successful week!

  27. Oh Mena, this is such a gorgeous refashioned dress! It looks so awesome compared to the original, the neckline is just splendid and the color wonderful on you!

  28. Great refashion!! Brilliant.

  29. Absolutely gorgeous Mena! Your mad sewing skillz really shine at the moment! Is there nothing you can’t attempt!?
    The neckline detail is so clever, and you’ve really used the original dress well, and that’s what makes a great refashion in my opinion! I’m so surprised there was enough pink fabric to go round!

  30. Wow the fit is really amazing, you look fabulous in pink. I love your diagram too it certainly saves writing out the process and really makes you think of how you can manipulate and get the most out of the fabric.

  31. I love what you did to this dress.

  32. LOVE this! So clever to cut the bodice piece from the skirt! I agree that your version is way better than the original! It fits beautifully! And it looks like you are having nice weather…perfect for a picnic :)

  33. Thanks, Katie! My hair is actually just in braids that I’ve clipped on top of my head. For some reason, it looks like I cut my hair in these pictures! It’s still longish. :)

  34. Thanks, Casey! I had to Google netball to see that was. See, I learn something every day. :)

  35. Thanks, Lisette! I actually had fun putting the diagram together. It was so much easier than writing it out.

  36. Thanks, Michelle! I only wish I took a picture wearing it (or even trying it on, for that matter). I never even bother to put in on before altering it!

  37. Thanks, Oona! I almost want to go back with you just to mock the prices! But yes, it was a horrid shopping experience.

  38. Thanks, Forrest!

  39. Thanks, Katie! I hope it does inspire people to give their duds a second chance!

  40. Thanks, Meg! Yeah, the neckline was a little added bonus caused from mistakes as well!

  41. Thanks, Elise. My hair is just pinned up (though it looks like it is cut short).

  42. Thanks, Elizabeth!

  43. Thanks, Erin! This is the first real refashioning I’ve ever done so I’m hopeful to start new ones!

  44. Thanks, Rosy! That’s usually my strategy (mourning) but since this was a weekly challenge, I thought better of it. :)

  45. Thanks, Laura! The skirt was so huge that I had enough for a more fitted skirt even after cutting such a large pane! And yes, I used the non-stained reverse side for the new bodice piece.

  46. Thanks, Janie! Yes, the sunglasses are vintage. I bought them for about $20 at the Alameda Antique Fair. They had been lost for almost six months and then on Friday my mother-in-law found them in a chair at her house! I was so excited!

  47. Thanks, Tilly! My hair is just pinned up (even though it looks cut). I was surprised to see how it actually looks short in all the photos!

  48. Thanks! Yes, stay clear of that shop!

  49. Thanks, Jen! Yeah, the neck was a kind of fun accident.

  50. Thanks, Adey! I wish I had thought to take some of my old maternity clothes, like you! That was such a brilliant idea!

  51. Thanks, Sertyan!

  52. Thanks, Veronica! This dress was enormous so I lucked out! Oh, and believe me, for the next challenge I have enough UFOS to fill a room. So, yes, there is a lot I can’t do! :)

  53. Thanks, Kazz! Diagrams rock. I’m going to do more of those.

  54. Thanks, Natalie!

  55. Thanks, Debi! Yeah, we’re having our warm week of Summer here in SF. :)

  56. Wow! You look amazing – the neck detail is so pretty!

  57. You did a great job Mena. Beautiful.

  58. I was the strange lady who told you I loved your outfit the other day out at Sloat shopping centre! This was the dress you wearing and it looked so amazing. You are so talented. Congratulations on all of your beautiful creations.

  59. Amazing & gorgeous!!