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altering vintage caftans…

altering vintage caftans

altering vintage caftans

Last month, I shared my newest Mrs. Roper vintage caftan collection and the “before” shots of how they look purchased straight from the flea market. While I love their roomy and comfy vibe, most were way too big for me to really be flattering at all. Years ago, I would have never been brave enough to wear pieces like this or make an attempt to get them to actually fit me. But I’ve grown to love vintage prints so much, that I’ve become better at taking a chance and knowing that simple alterations can do so much. So I took them to my local tailor to be altered and serve more function then their original state. Here’s what I did…

altering vintage caftans

This tropical caftan was probably the roomiest of all of them. I fell in love with the pattern instantly, but knew I needed to change it a bit if I was planning to wear it ever in real life. In addition to bringing in the overall width, I turned it into a kimono style robe with a simple cut and stitching down the middle.  

altering vintage caftans

altering vintage caftans

The cut down the middle really helped to make the piece more of an accent rather than the main attraction as I wore it here over a classic black jumpsuit. It’s still a fun pop of color and pattern without being your entire outfit and a nice way to ease into vintage if you’re shy about it.

Outfit: Madewell jumpsuit, Bryr clogs, Coral & Stone necklace, vintage caftan was $20 at flea market.

altering vintage caftans

I instantly fell in love with the texture and pattern of this caftan. It’s not colorful, but the white on white dots are just pure perfection. I imagine this may have been a nightgown in it’s former life and since it’s see-through, I knew I’d turn it into a bathing suit coverup perfect for the beach or pool. In addition to a simple hem for length and width, I had the sleeves made shorter since they felt too cumbersome and formal in their original state.

altering vintage caftans

altering vintage caftans

Worn over a bathing suit, it’s such a fun way to cover up while showing off a cute suit underneath. I love the new shorter sleeve which makes it feel more casual than it did before.

Outfit: high-waisted suit, Anthropologie heels (past season), Mr. Kate necklace, vintage caftan was $35 at flea market.

altering vintage caftans

This one is the most classic caftan of the bunch. It already had a cinched waist detail to help define the shape a bit, so I didn’t want to change it too much. I shortened it and brought in the width a touch, but didn’t change anything structurally about the piece.

altering vintage caftans

altering vintage caftans

This is a serious statement piece that I would never have been bold enough to wear it a few years ago. But now I love being able to express my love of color and pattern in a piece just like this. The dress is easy and comfortable, yet looks totally chic when you add heels and a clutch.

Outfit: Mar Y Sol clutch, Marais sandals, vintage caftan was $7 at the flea market.

Some people disagree about whether a vintage piece should be altered or changed in any way. Vintage purists might say not to change a garment at all. I could see not touching high-end designer vintage that might be worth a lot of money, but that’s not the kind of stuff I buy. I rarely spend more than $40 on a vintage piece and it needs to be washable and easy to take care of. Because I am petite, if I didn’t alter vintage, I would never be able to wear it. And I think that’s the cool thing about buying something that was from a different era and that someone else once wore…you’re able to continue the story of that piece but also make it your own.

Here are some final thoughts/tips from me about finding/buying/wearing vintage especially if you think you can’t wear bold pieces like this:

  • When looking through a rack of vintage, look first at colors, patterns, and textures that catch your eye. Don’t worry just yet if it fits. Grab it to try on before you dismiss it.
  • Try on a handful of things all at one time…that way you can see the variety in what you pulled, what fits, what you can make fit with alternations, or just what isn’t going to work at all. It’s better to have a handful of things to compare than analyzing one piece on it’s own.
  • Unless you are looking for a special occasion piece, stick to items that can be washed in the washing machine. This is also helpful for pieces that “smell vintage”. The smell goes away immediately if you can wash it in a machine vs. having to dry clean it.
  • Finally, start with one piece. If you’ve never purchased vintage before because you don’t think you can pull it off, start with one piece, test it out, and see how you feel. Once you get the bug, there’s no turning back…!

{“Before” photos by Mary Costa, “After” photos by Casey Brodley. Outfit styling by Joy Cho, flat styling by Julia Wester.}


  1. I love what you are doing to these wonderful vintage pieces to give them extended life and keep fashion history alive. Clothing from yesteryear is so stylish and chic ( even something as relaxed as a caftan) compared to the slouch wear that surrounds us now. I have inherited a wonderful collection of vintage patterns for caftans and I think now I just might make something with them. Thanks for opening my eyes…..and you look great in them all. Also, the garden shot for the white caftan is to die for!! Garden envy.

  2. Love these pieces! I can relate to not being brave about bold prints and colors when I was younger. I guess I lacked confidence and faith in my own taste. Now when I see a print I love, I go for it!

  3. I love your taste! You always find the best stuff! I’m curious as to how much these alterations cost…sometimes it can get pretty pricey, right?

  4. Joy great post! Please do more style/vintage content. We need more creativity infused into our daily wardrobe & lives 🙂

  5. As someone who wears caftans, loves caftans, and is in caftan meet-up groups, it’s sad to see vintage garments destroyed.

    1. Hi Barb, I am a huge fan of vintage and only modify when needed for sizing so I can continue the longevity of it. For me, it’s often the only way I can wear vintage as most don’t fit me as they come. I don’t think alterations would be considered destroying a piece but I understand everyone has their own opinions on it. Best, Joy


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