There are very few people in the world that can afford to buy new designer clothes for each school year, and yet nobody likes to look as if their clothing came from the local discount store. Fortunately, you do not have to spend thousands of dollars to get those designer looks, if you know how the designers do it -- by adding simple touches to ordinary clothing. So with a little sewing skill, and some time, you can have a unique wardrobe that will cost you little more than what you are already spending, and the great news is that the modifications you make can be reused on other garments, too, so your investments will be made only once.

7. One of the great secrets of designer clothing is that most ready-to-wear clothes come with cheap plastic buttons. Simply by replacing the buttons, you can instantly upgrade the look of your clothing. Buttons are inexpensive and can be used over and over.

The best buttons are those made from natural materials such as bone, horn, shell, wood, or metal. From these materials, you can find buttons in every style, from plain to fancy filigrees, and everything in between. If you cannot find a button that suits you, you can even make them yourself by using polymer clay to make your own buttons and bake them. Or you can find ceramic buttons, or even make them in pottery class, glaze them and fire them in a kiln. In any case, once you have chosen your buttons, check the size to make sure they go through the button holes on the garment, then carefully cut off the old buttons and sew the new ones on in their places. The cost per garment is only a few dollars, and the buttons can be reused year after year, so be sure to save your buttons for future use.

Button It Up: 80 Amazing Vintage Button Projects for Necklaces, Bracelets, Embellishments, Housewares, and More
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(price as of Sep 26, 2015)
This book will give you a new appreciation for buttons and all the clever embellishments that buttons can give to just about any object!

6. For women's garments, adding trim to hems, collars, and cuffs is easy and inexpensive. Simply take a ruffle, piece of lace, or piping and carefully attach to the underside of the hem, collar or cuff. Using tiny stitches in thread the same colour as the original garment will ensure that the stitches will not show, and this upgrade will instantly transform any blouse, skirt, coat, or jacket. The edgings can be reused on other garments as long as they are carefully maintained and cleaned. This requires a little hand work but the look is priceless!

5. If you have a sewing machine that has automatic embroidery stitches, you can kill two birds with one stone. You can reinforce hems by sewing over the hem with a suitable embroidery stitch. For a subtle and refined look, choose a small embroidery stitch in a thread colour that matches the fabric exactly. For a bolder look, try a contrasting colour, silver, gold, or even variegated thread (different colours on the same spool), or you can use one colour thread on the spool, and a contrasting or coordinating colour on the bobbin. You can also embellish collars and cuffs with this method. Embroidering hems, collars and cuffs with machine embroidery is easy, and involves only the cost of the thread and your time.

4. For worn places in garments that still fit, you can salvage the garment by adding a patch. Whether this is an elbow patch in leather, corduroy, or velvet for a jacket, or an appliqued patch embellished with rhinestones, or a contrasting fabric patch (such as a fake one from a foreign hotel or a real one from another state or country, or from a sports team), a patch can add interest to a worn garment and give it many more years of usable wear. This is great for hand-me-down garments, too, as each child can add his or her unique touch to the already worn garment, and make it look and feel like new for them. Just think of all the team jackets you see with embroidery patches, and you too can make your wardrobe a star with one embroidery patch, or dozens of embroidery patches. The sewing skill required to add embroidery patches in any garment is minimal, and sturdy embroidery patches will keep your garment wearable for another year.

Singer 2-inch-by-3-inch Iron-On Patches, Dark Assortment, 10 per package
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Embroider, applique, or cut into fancy shapes, these patches will enable a garment to be worn for yet another year. Great for dressing up hand-me-downs, as long as you have a little imagination. Add some iron-on letters for even greater effect.

3. A garment that needs letting out can be worn another year, and given a custom look, by taking the garment apart, inserting new material at the seams, and then being resewn. This is a time-consuming and painstaking procedure, but if you know how to custom fit clothing, it will be very rewarding. You may prefer to use a fitting shell to make sure that the garment fits correctly—but do not try this unless your sewing skills are quite advanced. Otherwise, you may end up in well over your head. However, for an otherwise unsalvageable garment, this may be worth the experiment.

2. Decorative rivets are another fun way to add interest and a unique touch to a garment. Most sturdy garments can easily handle rivets, and the rivets can even be used to reinforce wear points, just as they do on denim jeans, where they are often used at the corners of pockets. Even if the rivet serves no purpose other than to add interest, a bit of decoration can go a long way towards making a difference in the look of your wardrobe. Bear in mind that you cannot reverse this decision, so make sure you place the rivet exactly where you want it before you apply it!

1. Fabric paint is another way to dress up a discount store garment. If you have a steady hand and an artistic eye, you can paint a design by hand. If you are not quite so experienced, a stencil will go a long way towards making sure you stay on the right track. Try out your design on a piece of paper first, and don't forget that fabric hangs differently than paper, so allow for the fabric to move as the person wearing the garment moves. But there is nothing to add a beautiful touch to a wardrobe like an elegant design in fabric paint! You can buy fabric paint in every colour of the rainbow, as well as metallic colours like silver, gold and copper, and computer programs can help you with the design. Make sure the fabric paint is washable, of course!

Martha Stewart Crafts Satin Paints 18-Pack, Bright
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Need some Martha Stewart-style inspiration? You can't go wrong with these all-purpose paints which are suitable for fabric, come in eighteen colors, and are non-toxic, so they are safe even for infant clothing!

With these changes, you are sure to add interest to any back to school wardrobe, whether for boys or girls, and make your clothing stand out from the crowd. Instead of thinking, "Oh, I saw that outfit at ______," everyone will be asking you, "Where did you get that?"