Fashion stands among those few industries which are ever-evolving. Its evolution is characterised by adaptation of new trends and creativity which keeps fashion creators on their toes. Whenever certain stagnation creeping in the field of fashion is sensed, there always comes up an idea that either rejuvenates or revolutionises or redirects the journey of fashion evolution. Whenever it happens, the demand for fashion goods only accelerates further. One such innovative idea is convertible or transformable garments.

What is a Convertible Garment

There was a time when people would make fun of those who would wear their garments inside out, showing an unusual side with rough, stitched edges, and faded graphics giving a messy appearance – a social stigma of sort. But as of today, when fashion evolves much faster, the manufacturers, designers and brands are seriously working on the concepts of reversible, and convertible or transformable or 2-in-1 garments – an idea that is currently enjoying the spotlight. All these multiple terms only point at any single garment that can be worn differently or in multiple ways even offering more than one functionality. While a reversible garment is simply the one which can be worn inside out to appear a new or different garment, a convertible or transformable or 2-in-1 garment offers two or more functional and/or aesthetic alternative styles through various manipulative methods such as wrapping, twisting, folding, gathering, rolling, tying and binding. They can be converted into different looks which share certain characteristics and functions with the original clothing. They provide the wearer with extended function and/or aesthetic styles, thereby contributing to stalling or delaying of the purchases of additional new garments. Transformable clothes are able to increase the product use frequency and extend the product’s life cycle as they can be repeatedly transformed into different styles or looks.

Initially, the idea of a convertible garment was considered too bold to be undertaken, highly imaginative to be practical and, more so, extremely challenging to be realised. Nevertheless, it gradually became acceptable, a reality and practical too. Today, fashion consumers are showing their inclination towards such attire.


The idea of convertible garments is beneficial to both consumers and retailers. While consumers benefit more, the retailers also derive certain benefits from convertible garments. Due to their convertibility, the garment can provide the retailers an additional competitive edge in the market. The garments, when added to a retailer’s product portfolio, are bound to attract consumer attention. By addition of such unique apparel to their merchandise offering, the retailers are able to add novelty and versatility to their SKU width which eventually helps in realising improved revenue levels.

The garments, which can conveniently switch their aesthetic, style and functionality, provide an alternative option to consumers who wish to achieve desired features in their clothing without the necessity of purchasing new ones. Even purchases for different occasions can be contained too. In addition, consumers can modify the existing garment according to their various desired or required styles, to make a personal fashion statement. Then there are customers who are busy in their hectic schedules, and there are others who have limited budgets. Such customers need cost-effective multipurpose garments that can save them another shopping trip to buy new clothes that must also match their fit, size, colour and style and, for brand loyalists, even the brand they love to wear. Of course, they have the option to shop again but they also know that they will have to do it at the cost of their precious time. All this can be beautifully taken care through a convertible garment which, solely, can be equally appropriate for the office, evening party, or an outing with family and friends.

The convertible clothing comes handy in travels as they are extremely functional and carry-on friendly. They enable travellers to travel light without the need to repeat their outfits more often. Carrying convertible or reversible garments while traveling not only maximises luggage space but also reduces decision-making conundrum with few pieces to choose from. Since convertibles are one-time spend, they need to last long hence they are designed keeping in mind changing seasons and trends. They stay relevant all through and can be worn year-round. In a way, they can be called both – ever-trending or trend-independent. Rightly so, they are more durable to get more wear and outlast fashion trends. Thanks to this feature, they keep shopping frequency to minimum and thus save money as well. In addition to saving money, they also yield lesser ‘cost per wear’ – a calculation wherein the price of the garment is divided by the number of times it is worn. In case of convertible clothing, one gets two or more pieces for the price of one thereby lowering the cost per wear. This simply tells the wearer whether the clothing item he or she had invested in is worth the investment or not. The cost per wear can thus dramatically modify one’s shopping habits.

Growth Drivers

Although selective convertible apparel for differently abled and aged people have been existing for some time, the convertible garment for daily use is something that is now gaining traction for various reasons.

Fashion consumers always seek newness, innovation and exclusivity in their attire. For this, they shop frequently, try new brands and pieces, update their wardrobes and still look for more. While this behaviour drives them to purchase new apparel, but at the same time, they are required to dispose-off a number of garments in their wardrobe that are either underutilised or out of fashion to make way for more. This is very common in case of fast fashion specially, where consumers can have more styles with lower quality and cost. However, the final outcome of this cycle is nothing but the increase in landfill waste due to frequent disposing of clothes. This is where convertible clothing comes as an alternative due to their multiple wearability options that make them good for all occasions.

In today’s scenario where the consumers’ demands are diverse and harder to predict due to fast changing fashion trends and tastes, the convertibility of garment enabling its multiple styles and functions, can effectively meet diverse needs of the consumers. Owing to various manipulative methods of wearing the convertible garments, their demand among consumers is on a rise. The growing demand is expected to increase the use intensity of convertible garments, extend their lifespan and reduce disposal, inadvertently providing a potential solution to the problem of excessive apparel consumption faced by today’s fashion industry. Besides being additional source of revenue, the concept is also being favoured and supported by the young consumers. With positive acceptance rate of convertible apparel in the market, the majority of young consumer segment considers these apparel as innovative fashion alternative.

What Constitutes Convertibility

Since the convertible garments are transformable, they are expected to provide an enjoyable and easy way to be transformed into different styles. Additionally, they are expected to be easy to match with other items the consumer is wearing. It is not just the tangible aspect of a garment that makes it transformable but also intangible aspects such as personal values which may include fashion consciousness and the tendency for creative choices. When this is complemented with an individual’s environmental beliefs and environmental apparel knowledge, it can have critical impact on one’s sustainable consumption behaviour.

A garment can be convertible by way of manipulative wearing as mentioned earlier in this feature. How about deriving convertibility from the fabric used? There are brands already working in this direction. The need for such innovation is more apparent than ever. In the same regard, designers are wooing customers with adaptable fashion – from easy material add-ons that alter the styles to tech-enhanced outfits that augment in real time. A number of fashion brands have already explored how the materials can transform the garments into multi-use clothing which can adapt to different scenarios and needs.

The daughter of famous British singer-songwriter Paul McCartney, Stella McCartney – a fashion designer, offers such multi-tasking garments collection named Stellawear which is a lingerie and swimwear hybrid collection, featuring bodysuits, briefs and bandeau tops which can be worn as underwear or for swimming. The range’s special design and aesthetic ensure that collection appeals to people wearing the pieces for different circumstances, while inspiring less buying and more wearing. The products, made using recycled materials, are produced by Italian manufacturer ISA. The story does not end here. Wearable technology company Petit Pli has already launched a clothing collection made from mono-fibre polyester that adapts to the wearer’s body shape and size two years back. The versatility of this patented material is meant to make it suitable for all genders, styles, shapes and sizes including pregnant women. Having previously designed clothing for children, the brand is expanding into adult wear.

So, for the wider fashion industry, such malleable materials are giving brands room to experiment with fabrics as a route to increasing a garment’s convertibility in a bit different manner. This development has revived the fortunes of nostalgic textiles such as popcorn fabric that has the ability to easily adapt to a range of body shapes.

There are also convertible garments which are designer-led pieces and use buttons and stitching for endlessly adaptable and repairable pieces. Working on this approach, an independent designer Sofia Ilmonen has created a collection named ‘Same-Same-but-Different’. It features a modular design concept that allows garments to be endlessly reconstructed, changing their size or style, or repaired. Using a series of fabric squares which can be added or removed through a simple button and loop mechanism, each design is smartly constructed.

Designing a Convertible Garment

Styling is at the core of fashion and varies from individual to individual. Driven by creative thinking, the consumers rely on imaginative outfits to boost their style quotient. In this sense, convertible fashion allows individuals to express themselves creatively regardless of the season or weather. Over the past few years, certain design methods have evolved while producing convertible apparel such as zero-fabric waste plus convertible design, and the modular approach using hook and eye fasteners and zippers. There are also numerous styling tips trending in regard to convertible garments. For instance, a woman long shirts can be used as shirt dress among various other possibilities. They can be worn with a belt looped around the waist, canvas shoes and a sling purse besides option of getting accessorised with jewels around the neck. Similarly, nowadays women can artistically divide their dresses into two halves which they can turn into skirts or full dresses as the situation demands. Think of an off-shoulder dress that can be worn in a variety of ways to make impressive appearance. At the same time, people are seen frequently styling their dress with waistcoat into double duty to increase the style quotient. There are dresses available now with possibility of 15-20 different styling options. By adding accessories like scarves and jewellery, the number of combinations can only increase. Coming to skirts, they too can serve multiple functions. A shawl or stole can be worn as a halter top, and a skirt or even a basic garment can be draped creatively.

As a concept, designing of convertible clothing may also utilise principles of both deconstruction and reconstruction. While the term deconstruction is inspired from architecture, in fashion, it refers to designing new clothes from the old ones by disassembling them, rearranging the pieces, and attaching them back together in a renewed form as reverse-engineering. On the other hand, although reconstruction shows the assemblages in cloth, the completion of process without destroying cloth is emphasised more while reconstructing the piece. Convertible garment designing is based on the fact that garments are three-dimensional products. While it is natural to think of the overall outline and shape of the garment as its silhouette, this thought changes when the garment is seen in a 360-degree view as bending and moving piece, and revealing its volume. This becomes a key consideration while designing and developing a convertible garment, or in other words the chosen design must factor-in all the situational realities which the garment can face when used practically. Today, with the use of augmented technology, convertible design experience can be enhanced. The consumer can try out the concept of a given convertible cloth before purchasing it in real life.

Way Forward

Convertible clothing is indeed emerging as a great trend, but they are yet to become wardrobe essentials. As consumers understand the possibility of converting numerous dresses for the price of one, they are getting more adventurous and self-expressive in regard to their convertible attire which also offers possibilities for fashion consumption to be more sustainable. However, the real turning point will come with the larger understanding of the concept and even a larger acceptance of the same. So far, the focus has been on the design strategies of convertible clothing and that too from the designers’ perspective. Going ahead, a more deep-diving is needed to understand shopping and consumption behaviour in regard to acceptance, usage and satisfaction level that consumer expects from convertible garments. This will help the providers understand what triggers and hinders consumers to purchase a convertible garment.