Easy Thrift Coat Alteration

As consumers buy cheap clothing more frequently, second-hand shops increasingly receive low-quality donations. The precious pool of high-quality thrift store garments dwindles daily. Rummaging through many thrift stores, I have found a few categories of clothing consistently yield high-quality garments.

What is the category with the most high-quality garments, you ask? Coats!

Thrifting at the Salvation Army.

Coats are great items to buy second hand. Outerwear, constructed using high-quality materials to withstand the elements, holds up well over time!

As a Chicagoan, I have a coat for every kind of weather event: rain, sleet, snow, polar vortex, etc. But I do not just need coats; I love coats!

And a truly great coat is as timeless as it is practical.

Coats of many colors!

While on a trip to Michigan, I stopped at the local Salvation Army. It was clear that the store had recently been blessed by the wardrobe of an incredibly stylish woman (size 6). I paid under $20 for an armful of gorgeous and vibrant vintage coats (mainly Harve Benard).

Harve Benard camel coat. 70% wool, 20% nylon, 10% recycled cashmere.

Most of the coats needed some kind of alteration and all needed professional cleaning. One gorgeous camel coat fit well but had should pads a bit too robust for my petite frame.

While strong shoulders can help balance wide hips, too much volume overwhelms a small figure.

With a only a seam ripper, pins, needle and thread, I reworked this coat to better suit me. Here’s how I did it!

Well suited.


  1. Locate the shoulder seams in the lining of the coat. Be sure to locate the shoulder pad underneath the lining.

    Find the seam that runs between the neckline and shoulder.
  2. Using a seam ripper, gently tug the stitching between the neck and shoulder. Work slowly and gently. Rip the least amount of seam as possible to pull the shoulder pad out. Three inches of open seam in plenty.

    Open the shoulder seam to access the shoulder pad.
  3. Once you have opened the seam, pull the shoulder pad through the lining. Note how the shoulder pad is attached to the coat. Using your seam ripper again, carefully rip the seams connecting the lining to the shoulder pad.

    Rip the seam attaching the shoulder pad to the lining.
  4. Check to see if the shoulder pad is now freed from the lining. Some shoulder pads, like this one, may be tacked to the lining. Be sure to rip that seam. You should now be able to remove the shoulder pad from the coat.

    Rip the tack connecting the shoulder pad to the lining.
  5. Once the shoulder pad is removed, match the shoulder seam back up and pin in place.

    Use straight pins to hold the open seam closed.
  6. Using your needle and thread, simply stitch the shoulder seam back together. Be sure to make your stitches small to ensure a tight seam. This is especially important around the shoulder area where you need good freedom of movement.

    Stitch the shoulder seam back together.
  7. Repeat on the other side!

Removing the bulky shoulder pads made a big difference in the fit of this coat.

But because of the cut of the coat, the shoulders retained their beautifully structured shape! This coat is ready for many chilly Chicago days to come!



© 2021 Emma Westfall

By Emma Westfall

Founder of Una Voce Equa, a fair fashion blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s