Upcycling throughout decades; 40’s upcycling trend resurfaces, modernized

Chloe Ward, Reporter

     Upcycling, or “fashion life-hacks” as called by newer generations, is everywhere. Between Pinterest, TikTok, and YouTube, repurposing old items is in the trends, but when did it begin?

     This wave of creativity in fashion expression began during the time of the Great Depression, the 1930s, and carried on through World War II, mid-1940’s. Economic crises put pressure on most women, typically below middle-class, who still made most of her family’s clothing. With the economic crash falling onto their laps, women had to scrounge for materials and were forced to use creative methods to do so. Flour Sack dresses and overalls are an example of this, which were garments made from the colorfully patterned food sacks purchased in bulk (thevintagenews.com). 

     The rise of World War II took an elegant spin on this idea, and people began to use upcycling as not only a budget option but a statement. Jewelry was made from plane parts, a purse from a gas mask, and parachutes were repurposed to make elegant dresses from their silk (Good Worldwide). One woman went so far as to make a wedding dress out of the parachute that saved her Pilot husband’s life, and it’s now displayed in the Aviation Museum of New York (CBS).  

     Since then, the trend has died out en masse. “Fast Fashion” took over the industry, meaning large corporations that sell mass-produced clothing goods at low cost. Being affordable, trendy, and widely available, the creativity of upcycling was reduced down to the occasional thrift store shopper.

     However, within the past decade, the internet has inspired a new wave of fashion creativity in reusing other products. YouTube has introduced “Life-Hack” videos, a genre that includes fashion, makeup, and other tips on how to improve daily life. Fashion life hacks can range from how to fix pants that are too loose, to turning a sheet into a dress with thread and a belt. Similar videos appear on TikTok, though in a much quicker and appealing form to teenagers new to fashion. Other social media that incorporates this trend is Pinterest, Etsy, and Instagram, where people can share their creations and ideas to inspire others. 

     Junior Student Samantha Przychoda has had positive creative experiences with upcycling, as she goes to goodwill with her grandmother and reuses all the clothes they pick out. They have hemmed long skirts to be her ideal length, added ribbon to sweatshirts to make them more fashionable, and even experimented with painting and embroidering fabric. “Overall, it’s pretty useful when you want something new to wear, but can’t find anything,” Przychoda explains, “It allows you to be more creative with the things you wear.” 

     Though not the same as it once was, the tradition of upcycling has been modernized to help people interested in making their clothing or even just for people on a budget.