DIY Projects That Cost Less Than a Cup of Coffee

When it comes to killer style, you've got Vogue and Caroline Trentini and vintage midi-skirts — and then you've got dollar stores. Nobody likes 'em. Everybody avoids 'em. In the world of fashion, dollar stores are the weird stepsister locked in the attic that gets fed once a day through a slit in the wall. They're dusty, they're full of toxic-looking cleaning products, they sling terrifying “deals” like 2-for-$1 creamed corn, and you can't find a quality cashmere sweater in there to save your life.

While I wouldn't recommend buying any sort of long-wearing personal product at your local Dollar Tree — because that bright purple body lotion looks downright poisonous — dollar stores will always have a special place in my heart. Beneath their shopworn surface, they're full of weird treasures. Tucked into their oft-forgotten sections like Garden Supplies and Party Favors, there's a goldmine of sparkly, tacky, neon, and vaguely raver-inspired trinkets just begging to be safety-pinned all over your haute couture.

When browsing your local dollar store for “fashionable” supplies, forget about the clothing aisles, and don't bother with the makeup. You've got to use a little ingenuity, my friend. That puffy paint? Perfect for wrecking your white Keds — but in a good way. That plastic spade? Looks like an avant-garde umbrella to me. Sure, these little wardrobe updates won't last much longer than a night of wild dancing, but that's part of their sketchy charm. So if you're broke and feeling DIY-ish, put down the Vogue and head to the dollar store. You never know what sort of glittery, expired, off-brand, hilarious gems you'll find there, but you know you can afford it.

1. Turn those terrifying “hair extensions” into surreal hair accessories

The fact that a headband coated with scraggly plastic orange hair exists is a nightmare that I don't have time to analyze right now, but if you chop off a piece of that "wig," Rapunzel-style, you'll have a hair accessory almost worthy of Lady Gaga's literal hair bow. Snip off a strand of the fake hair, fashion it into any shape you like — a bow, a knot, a straight line — and tie it in place with a piece of thread or elastic. Slip two bobby pins through the thread and fasten to your own hair. Cheap trick — or subversive Dada art installation? Only your fake hair knows for sure.

2. Tuck those $1 flowers under your favorite collar

Other kids may be wearing ties around their neck, but if you're more "androgynous garden sprite" than "conformist," this is one of the quickest ways to brighten an old shirt. Cut off a few sprigs of the least-horribly-fake fake flowers at the dollar store and bend the stems to fit the curve of your collar. If your collar buttons down, it may be heavy enough to keep the flowers in place; if not, safety pin the flowers underneath the collar, then fold the collar down over the stems. Tuck any remaining leaves under and make sure the flowers are cascading down from your throat like you're some old-school highway robber.

3. Stick confetti to your face with glitter gel for the best real/fake birthday ever

Nothing says “it's my birthday, please buy me an entire menagerie” like a few miniature birthday hats glittering next to your eyeballs. Use the body glitter you saved from your lost middle school years to arrange the confetti in an artful constellation on your temple. Don't feel obligated to stick to a birthday theme, either — did somebody say “tiny metallic graduation hats”?

4. Pin that shredded tinsel to your hair, girl

In the sparkliest corner of the dollar store, you will find the Party Aisle, aka your own personal Sephora. Grab a tangle of tinsel in your favorite metallic and you'll have enough shiny hair extensions to last you until the apocalypse strikes. Just trim the tinsel to match the length of your hair, knot a few strands of tinsel onto each bobby pin, and clip the whole thing in place. If you're feeling subtle, pin the tinsel to the underside of your hair for an occasional flash of metallic. If you're thinking, “I'm already pinning dollar store tinsel onto my hair; why are we talking about SUBTLETY?” then I like the way you think.

5. Turn your hair into a '90s daydream with these classy clips

These are not the hair accessories of the elite, my friend. Don't you dare use them to finish off your elegant up-do or your glamorous blow-out. Use those poisonous little neon plastic claws to make tiny buns all over your head. It's simple math.

6. Head over to the dollar store wedding section for your next music festival crown

You don't need a man to walk you down the wedding aisle at Dollar Tree, girl. Just grab the bridal garland that speaks the most to your strong, independent heart. Cut off a foot or two, fashion into a circle, and wear it to Coachella or wherever the kids are getting their overpriced indie rock fix these days. Nobody will ever know that your dreamy little festival crown was actually meant for a six-foot wedding cake.

7. Turn all those tacky, oversized Christmas decorations into statement necklaces

I think this is a "Christmas door knocker." I don't understand it, but I don't need to understand it, because despite the fact that it's almost rabidly tacky and makes an extraordinarily loud jingling sound, I strongly believe that you could also find this sort of thing selling for $25 at Target.

8. Use that off-brand glitter to jazz up your manicure

Where but a dollar store are you going to find glitter with colors like “weird murky purple-brown” and “copper that's been left out in the sun too long” for less than the price of a cup of coffee? You know the drill: Apply topcoat, sprinkle on glitter, freak out about the mess, apply another layer of topcoat, get a huge amount of glitter on your other hand, race to the bathroom, realize that glitter doesn't just “wash off” with soap like NORMAL THINGS DO, repeat until your whole world is sparkling with regret.

9. Sew dollar store pom-poms onto anything boring

Pom-poms are the synthetic equivalent of dandelions: bright, youthful, and weirdly annoying. They also look enthusiastically cutesy on almost anything. Pierce a pom-pom with a threaded needle and you can conquer the world. Sew a bunch of them along the tops of your jean pockets. Attach them to the corners of your collars. Fasten them to bobby pins, waistbands, and socks. And tie them onto the laces of your most serious-looking shoes, because being an adult means having the budget to blow a single dollar on neon-colored bits of absolutely useless, totally entertaining fluff.

10. Mix and match those $1 party favor rings to be the most popular dancer at the club

This is hardly a DIY project, but do you really want to be breaking out your sewing kit for everything? I've said it before and I'll say it again: The party favor aisle of any dollar store is where it's at. Do you think you'll find a pack of leopard-print star-shaped plastic rings anywhere else in the free world?! Because you won't. Stack as many cheap rings as you can onto each hand — I recommend mixing and matching for the most authentically crazed-raver look — and take extras to make new friends and bribe the DJ all night long.

11. Glue googly eyes on all your old jewelry

If two heads are better than one, then AN INFINITE AMOUNT OF EYES is better than two. Turn yourself into the seer of the century by gluing googly eyes — $1 for a pack of 125; you heard it hear first — onto everything you own. Those old earrings? That cheap ring? Your bathroom mirror? Your phone case? Your kid brother's earlobes? All's fair in love and DIY.

12. Bring back the '90s with pony bead friendship bracelets

Ravers are already back on the pony bead train, but you don't have to like EDM to appreciate the return of the pony bead. Turning them into simple bracelets is weirdly therapeutic, because it's impossible to check your email while stringing misshapen pieces of plastic onto stretchy thread, so make enough to hand out to all of the people you care about. It's an easy way to say, “Hey, dude, we're all Millennials here.”

13. Sew holiday tinsel to the bottom of your skirt for one night only

There are swingy skirts, and then there are swingy skirts trimmed with a sparkly length of tinsel, and I think you know which one I'm going to recommend. Tack the tinsel all around the edge of your skirt with big, loopy stitches that you can easily pull out later. If you don't have any sewing equipment, safety pins will work — you'll just have to use about one million. Dance until the tinsel whirls off completely, and then go home. You'll need your energy for tomorrow's dollar store run.

Images: Tori Telfer