The Shirt Dress: Picking the right shirt

Hello fellow Presser Footers. I'm thrilled to be with you this week! And a huge thank you to Kelli and Rian for inviting me.

As Kelli mentioned, this month we will be making The Shirt Dress, which is a girl's summer dress made from a man's dress shirt. The goal is something like this (with your own twist, of course):
And you can find the very step-by-step tutorial HERE.

The Shirt Dress project is one of my favorites because:
* it's simple to make
* the possibilities are endless
* it fits in the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle category (and that's something we can all appreciate)

So if you're ready to dive-in, here are some tips for picking the right shirt to use....

1. There's never a right or wrong shirt. You can use almost any shirt and make it work by adding your own twist and cute coordinating fabric as the waistband. What I'm trying to say is: think outside of the box. A manly looking print can end up looking real cute on this girlish-styled dress.

2. Raid your husband's closet first, sifting through shirts that don't fit him well or shirts you're just sick of. Ask his permission of course to use any of them.
For my first shirt dress I went with this shirt that was super baggy on my man. I never let him wear it because I hated how it looked. He, of course, was thrilled with the transformation:
3. Run to your local Thrift Store and check out their selection. I often find myself at Goodwill because it's closest to me. But I find their prices a little high: $5.50 for a long-sleeve men's shirt. I was hoping for 2 bucks! But hey, $5.50 is still a great price for an adorable little dress that you, yourself have created.
I often sift through all the shirts, grabbing any that I find immediately appealing. I also search the women's shirt rack (though these don't always have enough fabric) and the children's rack (if you want to make an Infant sized dress, you can use boy's dress shirt). Any size men's shirt will work, but the larger the better because then you have more fabric to work with.
After scouring all the racks I end up with a stack of shirts and from there, I narrow it down to the few shirts I love the most. It's easy to get carried away and overby at a thrift store. So I try to stick what I really think I will use and sew with.

4. Don't worry about pockets. These can easily be removed with a seam ripper (do this carefully though! I've torn holes in my shirt by going too quickly). Save the pockets for a future project or add them to the bottom of your dress!

5. Decide how you want your sleeves to look. You can make them traditional (capped, as in the tutorial), puffed like these:
Or leave them sleeveless. If you choose to do puffed sleeves you will need a long-sleeve shirt since you will be using the cuff of the sleeve. For other styles, you can use a short-sleeve shirt since there's enough fabric there.

6. Choose fabric for your waistband. You need very little fabric for this portion, maybe 1/8 to 1/4 of a yard. Find something that makes your dress pop! (or tones it down if you have a loud print). I often use scraps that are in my fabric stash. But when I have a specific color scheme in mind, I run to the store (prewash your fabric before sewing). Of course the waist band is totally optional too. Or you can make a removable one as shown here.
The waistband fabric is a great way to give it a girly twist. Your shirt may be black or brown with stripes (very manish) but mixing it with a hot pink or polka dot print waistband can make it feminine. Like I said, the possibilities are endless!

And just to give you give you more inspiration, you'll find a fashion show of what others have done here.

I'll be posting more tips as the week goes on. If anyone has questions or if you get stuck, post questions here, leave it in the comments, or send me an email (danawillard@gmail.com) and I'll incorporate that in the next blog post.

I can't wait to get started with you all! Here's what I'll be working on. Purchased at Goodwill; Beautiful white linen:


  1. i love the white linen. i am going to salvation army this weekend and can't wait to pick something.

  2. The thing I am most excited for is making a dress with perfect button holes. That is always the hardest part for me and this time you have pre-solved the problem.

  3. Does any size men's dress shirt work?

  4. Rian and Sis, this blog keeps on getting cooler and cooler. Love the projects!

  5. I am so glad I found your blog today. I am just a little bit (OK, a lot bit!) excited. I'm off to the Thrift Shop this afternoon.

  6. The men's shirt can be any size, but the larger, the better....then you have more fabric to work with!

  7. I'm excited to have found presser foot (via Made, via Wardrobe Refashion)! I'm jumping in and trying this project, probably as a gift for our niece. Thank you Dana!

  8. i cant wait to make one. if im lucky, i might even be able to fanangle it to fit me! maybe...

  9. Megan - i think you could get it to fit you. that get's me thinking.

  10. Oh, you could definitely make one to fit you, though it would prob be more of a shirt.
    There are some fabulous Men's shirt transformations to a women's shirt on this site:

  11. I totally love this. FYI most Goodwills have dollar tags on Thursdays.

  12. Marie Danneels23.11.13

    Thank you very much to show how to make this dress, love it !
    Marie from Belgium