I love customizing jackets. For me, it’s not only about having an item of clothing that I can wear with anything–it’s that it says something about me. I use my jackets as a canvas for screaming: “HEY GUYS THIS IS EVERYTHING I AM/LOVE/BELIEVE IN.” And thus complete strangers can take one glance at me and instantly know what I’m all about. And a custom jacket is of course a key component in any badass gang: the Pink Ladies, the Man-Eaters, the Pin Pals–what would they be without their jackets? As much as your personalized jacket is all about you, it can also be about being part of a group, sharing tastes and beliefs, and creating unity between you and your friends.

My own mini girl gang (we currently refer to ourselves as Mermaid Tears) includes, but is not always limited to, me, Ava, and Mirren (last seen in the Queens of the Neighborhood photo album). (We adopted Sasha for the shoot.) For this fun-packed extravaganza, we each got our hands on an Urban Outfitters vintage denim jacket and brainstormed about ten thousand ideas for materials, techniques, and imagery so that we could show the world we mean business. We hope to inspire you to think of then thousand ways to customize your own denim jacket.

Left to right: Eleanor, Mirren, Sasha, and Ava.

We started off by working on what we’ve dubbed our “homework sheets.” These are photocopied templates that can be colored in and bejeweled in preparation for making your dream jacket. If you really want to do your homework, and if, like me, you never got over the joy of coloring books, grab your own template here.

My design:

Mirren’s design:

Ava’s design:


Eleanor’s jacket

First, I tie-dyed my jacket. I should note that I tie-dye all the time, and by now I usually just make it up as I go along. If you’re a beginner, it’s probably a good idea to follow the instructions that come with the dyes.

1. Cover your work area with newspaper. Then fill an empty spray bottle with watered-down bleach, and spray the jacket all over to lighten it up. The ratio of bleach to water is completely variable. Start with a lot of water and a little bit of bleach, and slowly add more bleach if you feel the fabric is not getting light enough. You don’t want to immediately overdo it, as too much bleach can eat away at the fabric. Do this outside or in a well-ventilated space, as the fumes don’t smell great, and working with bleach is not 100 percent risk free. Give the bleach a short while to set (I waited about 30 minutes), and then put the jacket in a cool, gentle wash.

2. Once your jacket has dried, you can get to the tie-dyeing. I decided to use pink, orange, and purple dyes. I poured about four ounces of dye into each tub, along with 2-3 gallons of very hot water. Then I added two tablespoons of salt to each tub. (The more salt you mix in and the hotter the water, the less likely the dye is to fade. If you want a faded look, you can put in a little less salt, use cooler water, or wait a shorter amount of time for the dye to set before washing.) I dipped various areas of the jacket into the tubs, and sprinkled some dye mixture onto other parts. Sprinkling salt on the jacket at this stage can make a nice speckled effect. I recommend wearing gloves, which I did not do (and consequently I had red hands for days afterwards, which raised eyebrows in my place of work). I let the jacket dry overnight before hand-washing it in cold water and allowing it to dry again. Washing is important, as it ensures that you won’t start leaking rainbows in the rain, and it fades the color a little so it looks more subtle.

3. I found a gorgeous vintage belt at a market stall and stitched it to the collar of the jacket. You can easily find pieces like this at markets, boutiques, or online. You could also use fabric, trimmings, and/or other embellishments. If you want to make your collar detachable (so you can mix and match it with other jackets and outfits), you can attach it with safety pins instead of sewing it on.

4. For the back of the jacket, I found a flower ribbon in a local craft shop, and I cut out the flowers to appliqué onto my jacket. You can cut shapes out of any printed fabric, or make your own shapes. Next, I used anti-fray glue on the edges of the flowers before sewing them on. Then, to compliment the mirrored collar, I bought some mirrors (you can get these from a lot of craft stores), which I stitched in the center of each flower.

5. After seeing Meadham Kirchhoff’s Fall 2012 collection, I was inspired to make my own googly-eye buttons for the cuffs of my jacket. I bought a pair of stuffed-animal eyes from a craft store. These normally can be simply punched through fabric, but as the buttons on denim jackets are hard to remove, I decided to saw the backs of the eyes off, using a small hacksaw on a cutting board. Be careful if you do this! I had my parents help me with this part! Then I superglued the eyes over the original buttons.