Men's Shirt into Retro Dress

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

My brother accidentally bought a shirt that was far, far too large for him. Rather than return it, it sat in the bottom of a cupboard for months doing nothing, so I kindly offered to take it off of his hands. Being quite a large shirt, there was plenty of material to work with for my latest refashion, as you can see it swamps me!

I do have a love of all things vintage, so I decided that a retro style sun dress would be a great project. This is probably my most ambitious upcycle to date, and it wasn't plain sailing but i'm pretty pleased with how it turned out, so... grab yourself a large shirt and let the refashioning commence!

I should mention that you'll also need a bit of extra fabric to create the collar, and 1 hook and eye fastener. I had the smallest slither of red plaid left, and I thought it would go nicely with the black.

1. To start with, chop off the arms as close to the seams as possible (keep these, we'll be using them later!), and cut off the collar straight across the shoulders. Then cut the shirt in two pieces- the top piece is for the bodice and the bottom piece is for the skirt. You'll want the skirt to be about twice as long as the bodice but alter the ratio to suit your shape. Bear in mind also, that the top 2 inches of the bodice will be folded down to create the collar trim.
NOTE: Be sure not to cut too close to the button holes, chop right through the middle so you've got equal amounts of fabric either side of the cut.

2. Pin the bodice around your torso with the right sides together (inside out) and the buttons done up (at this point, it would be useful to get a friend to help). Start pinning it in so that it fits you nicely- don't make it too tight though or you'll find it strains at the buttons! This was the hardest part, and I found that the best way to get the right fit was to keep trying it on, altering it bit by bit. You should aim to pin it in at both of the sides under the arm pits first, and then under the bust. Carefully take it off, and using your pins as a guide, mark with tailors chalk where you need to sew. Remember to leave yourself room for error by not making your bodice too small, it's easier to sew an additional seam in than to unpick one... as I learnt the hard way!

3. Once you've got your bodice fitting you nicely, it should look a little something like this. You should be able to see that I've folded the top 2 inches down, this is going to form a retro style collar I mentiones earlier, and will be covered with the strip of fabric I mentioned earlier. But for now, move on to the skirt.

4. Get the bottom part of the shirt, and cut it vertically straight down the back middle.

5.Then get those sleeves, chop off the cuffs and cut them in half long ways. This opens out the sleeves to give you extra fabric that we'll sew into the skirt to give it more volume.

6. See how I've laid out the sleeves in between the 2 skirt panels that I cut in half- this is how they will be stitched together, but forst you need to sew the sleeve panels together with a straight stitch, and close off the raw edges with a zig zag stitch. If you have any wonky lines on the lower unhemmed edge (as I did in the above photo), give them a quick trim so they match the shape of the 2 skirt pieces. Then, hem the lower edge of the sleeves. Now they are ready to be sewn into the skirt, one edge at a time- be sure to line up the lower hems so that it doesn't look out of place.

7. Time to gather the skirt now on the upper raw edge; sew a straight stitch (change your machine settings so you can sew a stitch with loose tension, and long in length) all the way across. You may find it easier to work in sections so you don't have to sew across any hems that could snap your thread when being pulled together. Gently gather your skirt, keeping the bodice near as a point of reference- you'll need the width of the gathered skirt to be the same width as the lower edge of the bodice.

8. Pin the bodice and skirt 'right sides' together and sew across with a straight stitch, Finish off the the hem with a zig zag stitch.
You should be able to see the dress taking shape now! BUT you'll need to finish off the upper raw edge, which is where the additional contrasting fabric comes in. You will need to cut 3 strips:
-1 x strip that is 2 inches longer than the width of the bodice, and 3 inches wide.
-2 x strips that are 2 inches wide, and 20 inches wide (these are for the straps, 20 inches should give you plenty of room for error!).

9. Use an iron to press the bottom raw edge of the long strip up 0.5 inches.

10. Pin the the raw edge of the strip, to the raw edge of the bodice, right sides together. Fold the over-hanging ends in and pin those in place, then sew a straight stitch all the way across.
Once the strip has been stitched down, fold it across the other way, so it is now 'inside' the dress, with the ironed edge flapping loose. You will now need to stitch this ironed edge down, get as close to the edge as you can. Once you've done this, fold and iron the strip so that it takes the form of the collar. I'd recommend sewing across again with another straight stitch to keep the collar folded down in place.

11. For the straps, get your 2 smaller strips of fabric, and fold them in half long ways, right sides together and stitch into 2 long, thin tubes. Turn them in the right way using this amazing bobby pin trick that I learnt from this blog (Dimity's Fiber Adventures). Where you sew the straps down is a matter of preference, I pinned them where I thought they should go, tried the dress on and marked accordingly. I had to cut a few inches off the length to make them short enough, then I pressed up the edges with an iron and sewed them to the dress with 2 parallel straight stitches on each join.

Almost done now... I promise!

12. The top of the dress is probably flapping around a bit, and that will never do! To give the collar a nice curve, I did a type of 'concertina' fold with the edges of the collar forming an 'M' shape. I then pinned the fold in place and sewed it down with a straight stitch.

13. To keep the dress closed at the top, I sewed in the hook and eye fasteners.

The result should be a light, floaty, retro style dress that buttons down the front!

 I am rather tall so it does come up a little short on me so realistically I'd probably wear this with leggings. Here is the finished product, let me know if you try this out!


  1. What a GREAT upcycle! The dress is adorable! -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

  2. Amazing!! I've got a Craft Gossip post scheduled for tomorrow evening that links to your tutorial:

  3. Oh! I pinned it to my 'DIY & Remake Clothes' board, too!

    1. Awesome, I'd love to see it if you do make one :)

  4. I love the finished dress. I have lots of my husband's shirts (also quite large) lurking in the wardrobe because he no longer wears them. They are such good fabric that it is a shame to waste them. Clever idea.

    1. I know exactly what you mean! My other half has the most colourful selection of shirts... I'd love to upcycle all of them but he might complain if I steal too many of his clothes ;) lol

  5. Hello !! I love this style !!! This skirt is most beautiful in a rtro gothic dress ! KIS

    1. Thank you, I love retro gothic things :D

  6. Found you on the refashion coop site. I'm loving this dress; pinned it for a possible refashion. Thanks for the clear tutorial.

    1. Aww Great, if you ever give it a go I'd love to see :)

  7. Thanks for the tutorial! I made a dress out of a floral button down, but added lace as the trim on top. It came out perfect :)

    1. That's great, the addition of the lace sounds really pretty :)

  8. A red tulle ruffle at the bottom would give you a little more length, and look so adorable !

    1. That's a great idea, why didn't I think if that?! I think it would compliment the red tartan trim nicely :)





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Hello and welcome to my blog! I'm a seamstress with a passion for refashioning clothing, and I've decided to document my creations and share my upcycling tutorials. My aim is to inspire people to re-use and re-love the clothes that they already own.

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