Don’t Buy DIY: Men’s Shirt to Cute Summer Dress OR 2 Days to Make the Dress; 4 Weeks to Write the Tutorial…


Isn’t that how it always is, for goodness’ sakes??

This is a dress made from a chambray shirt by Urban Renewal, a division of Urban Outfitters that refashions clothing into salable, new pieces. Great idea. I came across it on, who didn’t seem to think much of the design. It really appealed to me as a cute summer dress, and I coveted, I must admit. (It’s no longer available on their website though.)

Hub had bequeathed me two of his old Dockers work shirts since the cuffs and collars were slightly frayed. (This is irksome because no one would actually notice the fraying and the rest of the shirt was still serviceable, but whatevs.) Yours truly had some great raw material to work with – and if you have a guy in your life who’s parting with any of his button-downs (or you feel like thrifting one for cheap at the Goodwill), so will you!


[I’m a Misses’ 4/6 dress size; I started with a L shirt and used almost all of the fabric…though I would have liked to work with the XL since I wanted a little more length. I’m 5’6″. Calculate accordingly.] This project took me about a day and half…and that was with a million interruptions. The sewing itself was pretty simple…the issues were with salvaging the fabric from the shirt to use. This is probably an intermediate project because of that.]

You will need:

-1 button-down men’s shirt
-fabric scissors
-sewing machine
-thread matching color of thread used in topstitching of shirt
-1/2″ wide elastic for waistband (your waist circumference -1″)*
-1/2″ or 3/8″ wide elastic for bodice top (your over bust measurement – 1″)*

*Note: this is a pull-on style tube dress. You have to be able to get into it, so you don’t want to make the bodice too fitted or the bodice top elastic so tight that you can’t shimmy the dress over your hips. Just sayin.’ Or maybe you could put it on over your head…? You don’t want to rip anything, so make sure you have enough wiggle room!

How to:
Button the shirt all the way up.

1. Cut according to the picture:

-the sleeves off at the armscye seam
-the cuffs off the sleeves
-each sleeve open down the sleeve seam

-the collar off the shirt at the collar seam
-the pocket off the front of the shirt (ripping the stitches carefully…we want to use the pocket fabric so keep that and the shirt intact when removing)

-the shirt straight across from underarm to underarm (both back and front of shirt)

-the button placket (button side only) from the top half of the shirt
-the back yoke from the remaining back of the shirt (if it has a back yoke; if not, do not cut)
-the shoulder seams open

What you should have left is the picture on the right above. Now we have to create each piece of the dress from the parts of the shirt we’ve just cut.


1. Turn shirt bottom inside out. Sew both sides together with a line of stitching just outside the stitching of the button placket. (We don’t want the button placket to show on the finished piece – and all we’re doing is sewing the two sides together to create a finished skirt – since there’s that handy button placket, no need to pin!) Cut off button placket to create seam allowance on inside. This seam is now the skirt CENTER BACK (CB) seam).

2. Turn shirt bottom right side out. Cut straight across bottom to create hem (or leave as is if you like the “shirt-style” hem).  I stitched 1/4″ on inside of hem so that the fray wouldn’t go all the way up my garment. I left the raw edge cuz I liked it like that. You can leave the hemming until later, once you put it on and adjust the length, or you can even add a little ruffle onto the bottom for more length if you have enough fabric (I didn’t).

Now I know, I know, by turning the front to the back and not adjusting the side seams makes the skirt a wee bit too wide in the back and not wide enough in the front. But all you pattern nazi’s – shove off! This is what refashioning’s about.


1. Sew sleeve cuff placket closed by topstitching the open side down to the sleeve, using the same color thread, spi, and seam allowance as the other side of the placket (which is likely topstiched). We don’t want that sleeve slit opening up! (Repeat for other sleeve)

2. Place sleeves, right sides together, with the (former) cuff edges together. Sew cuff edges together, matching placket lines, leaving a 3/8″ seam allowance. Open – you’ll see that the sleeve cuff plackets create this sort of faux “vest” appearance in the back of the bodice.


The front of the bodice is more complicated, since unless you’re extremely tiny (and using an XL or larger shirt], there won’t be enough fabric to go around. We’re going to have to salvage fabric from other parts of the shirt and sew it into the bodice. First, wrap the bodice around your top, remembering that it needs to be slightly loose in order to get it on. If the two end of your shirt sleeves (i.e., the sleeve caps) can meet in the center with a 3/8″ overlap for seam allowance, this is how we’ll do it below: (If they don’t meet, you’ll have to calculate how much fabric you’ll need to add and then cut out a piece from your shirt top to fill it in.)
a) You’ll need two pieces of fabric, roughly triangles. First pin your sleeve caps together (right sides together) and b) trim your seam allowance straight so we know what we’re working with.


c) [Just to explain, if you open the sleeves flat (keeping pins in there), you’ll see two big gaps at the top and bottom of your bodice. We’re trying to cut two pieces of fabric to fill in those gaps.] Now you can probably get each piece of fabric from each side of the shirt top. You might be able to get both from one side.


In any case, now’s the time to cut off one (or both) of the shirt top front pieces from the shirt top back. Fold the piece in half, and matching stripes/pattern, place your pinned sleeves on top, matching pin line to fold line.


d) Trace around the edge of your sleeve cap for the lower gap (onto the shirt top front fabric below). Draw a straight line from the sleeve edge all the way to the fold of the shirt front fabric. Move your shirt sleeve so you can get the best placement for the next piece of fabric – do the same for the upper gap. Take off the sleeve.


Add 3/8″ seam allowance around your tracing on the sleeve cap part only. Then cut each piece out, cutting through both layers of the folded shirt top fabric.


e) Remove pins from shirt sleeves and separate. Take one fabric gap-filler and pin one side of the triangle to one side of one of your sleeve cap, leaving 3/8″ seam allowance. Sew, stopping at dot in picture (3/8″ from edge of sleeve cap below). Place other sleeve cap underneath in a similar manner, this time folding the 3/8″ SA under the line you just sewed. Stitch filler to second sleeve cap, again stopping at center dot. This should create a filler sewn to the top of the two sleeve caps – that are still not connected to each other down the CF line. Their 3/8″ seam allowance should still be free and have no stitches tacking it down to the filler piece. I hope that makes sense.
f) Repeat for the top sides of the 2 sleeves. Now you have the sleeve caps connected by those little fabric fillers we just made – but not in the center, right? Now’s the time to match those sleeves together, placing flat – and sew that center seam, reinforcing at the top and bottom (which are the points of those triangles – i.e., godets – that we just made). [between the arrows and the word “SEW” in the diagram above, but NOT BEYOND, lest ]


Note to all those finicky grain-matching people out there: by turning the sleeves sideways to use as a bodice, and keeping the shirt bottom vertical to use as a skirt, this means that the bodice stripes are going to be horizontal and the skirt stripes will be vertical. Deal with it! This is what refashioning’s all about..and besides, it looks kinda cute this way.


Turn bodice inside out and pin bottom of bodice to top of skirt (with right sides together, skirt on the inside). Sew together.
Overlap 1″ of your waistband elastic, secure ends together with a stitched square with an “X” going through it, to make a big elastic circle. Place circle over waist seam that you just sewed on your dress, and sew elastic to dress. (Of course, if you’re super-talented, you probably don’t need to sew the bodice to the skirt first in a separate step; you could just attach the elastic in one fell swoop. I hate you.)
Make a similar elastic loop with your over bust elastic (for the top of your bodice). Stitch to top edge of bodice, fold under twice, and stitch again to completely encase the elastic with fabric.
Measure height of CF of bodice; cut shirt front button placket piece you cut way back in step one to this height, leaving about 1/2″ extra on both top and bottom (to turn under). Make sure the button placement will be attractive when the placket is sewn to the bodice.

Cut two pieces of fabric from your leftover shirt back. (Mine were 2 7/8″” wide by 20″ long.) Sew a narrow hem on each ruffle edge, turn, then sew again to encase any raw edges.
Triple-knot a double-length of thread and hand-baste other side of each ruffle with 3/8″ long stitches. Once done the length of each ruffle, pull on your thread to gather ruffle length attractively and match it to length of shirt front button placket you cut in the previous step. Pin ruffles to underside of placket (with about a 1/4″ to 3/8″ underlap), leaving 1/2″ at top and bottom of placket sans ruffles. (Pins shown in diagram above in red.) Fold under bottom of placket. Place placket + ruffle decoration on top of bodice front. Repin same area to bodice front (going thru all 3 layers), centering placket on CF, removing earlier pins as you go. (Make sure that bottom of the placket stays folded under, matching fold to waist seam!!) Topstitch through all layers, vertically down each side of button placket – approximately 1/8″ from edge.

Fold down top of button placket to wrong side of bodice front; topstitch horizontally at top edge to keep in place.

I also (since I’m completely anal) was irritated by the ruffle not sitting flat on the bodice – so I tacked the ruffle down in various places by just handstitching with one or two stitches here and there to the bodice.

I also made straps from extra fabric from the shirt (about 3/8″ wide) that I tacked onto the inside of the bodice. They can tie around the neck halter-style, or can be tucked into the bodice when I just want to wear it like a tube dress. I put a snap on each end, and another 2 snaps on the inside of the bodice back – so the straps can also be snapped down and look like regular spaghetti straps. (not pictured; sorry)

Plus, I made some accessories from the leftover shirt fabric, but that’s definitely, definitely another post! Hope you have as much fun making your dress as I did!

shirtdress3Enjoy your summer!



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52 Comments on Don’t Buy DIY: Men’s Shirt to Cute Summer Dress OR 2 Days to Make the Dress; 4 Weeks to Write the Tutorial…

  1. Erica
    8.01.2009 at 6:31 pm (6 years ago)

    That is really cute. How tall are you? cuz idk how you made that shirt to be that long haha.

    Would be cute to wear with jeans too and just cut it a little shorter.

  2. Kristin
    8.01.2009 at 9:56 pm (6 years ago)

    Wow, there is no way I could attempt this. But am I amazed by the way it turned out and your awesome tutorial!

  3. Erica
    8.02.2009 at 1:51 am (6 years ago)

    Oh yea, didnt think bout tucking it in… could make another one with thick shoulder straps too! Man I wish I knew how to sow lol

  4. carlyjcais
    8.01.2009 at 6:35 pm (6 years ago)

    Great idea! (I'm 5'6″…the shirt got to be mid-thigh length because of the added fabric for the bodice, which was salvaged from the sleeves:-)

    I've been wearing it with jeans, and I sort of tuck the bottom under and pouf it out so it looks like a little bubble-tunic. I'll have to post the piccy.
    Thanks for your comment!

  5. JOWY
    8.02.2009 at 4:36 pm (6 years ago)



  6. Dissolved Girl
    8.04.2009 at 7:54 pm (6 years ago)

    I really like the dress. I need to try and make it myself. hmmm…. Now to steal one of the SO's shirt. :)

  7. Megan the Plumber
    8.04.2009 at 3:58 pm (6 years ago)

    Wow, that looks great!

    I sleep with loads of men, so i've got loads of shirts that i've taken the morning after at home! I've been looking for something to do with them. Thanks

    • elizbeth
      2.13.2011 at 2:26 pm (5 years ago)

      I think the posting is hysterical… hope you are practicing safe sex.
      This dress is great!!!!!! I made a red sateen one from a shirt I found at thrift store–just in time for valentine’s day! :)

  8. Clover and Violet
    8.06.2009 at 11:53 am (6 years ago)

    Wow, this is too cute! I only wish my husbands shirts were wide enough to fit around my hips… But, I may have to pick up a used shirt and give it a try! Thanks.


  9. Donna
    8.10.2009 at 9:38 am (6 years ago)

    This is a wonderful tutorial! I am gonna try this one. Love the shirt that you chose to refashion. That dress turned out so beautiful.

  10. Jeni
    8.14.2009 at 10:50 pm (6 years ago)

    Hi, thanks for a great and inspiring article.

    I am currently featuring some tutorials on my website and would like to link to yours if that's ok? Let me know if you have problems with me using one of your photos.



  11. Rachael Adele
    8.17.2009 at 2:07 am (6 years ago)

    OK, I just made the dress following your tutorial. Check out my version on my blog:
    Thank you so much, I love it!

  12. binelectric
    8.19.2009 at 7:50 am (6 years ago)

    it's funny, just two days ago I also turned a men's shirt into a dress, but it looks quite different :-)

  13. Ayca Karaoglan
    8.19.2009 at 7:52 am (6 years ago)

    wonderful idea! thanks for the pattern! i'm going to sew a dress for me right now :)



  14. Jen
    8.20.2009 at 7:38 pm (6 years ago)

    Hey again!

    I finally got round to posting up my features on DIY tutorials. It should be the first post on my website (it has a new layout too yay!).

    Hope you like it :)


  15. Anonymous
    8.29.2009 at 10:37 pm (6 years ago)

    this is such a cute dress i'm sweing it now
    i finished the bottom part and the back of the brodice and im starting the fromt
    I'm starting to get confused
    also i just noticed this will barely cover my crotch
    I'm 5'8 darn i guess i need XXL

  16. Deanna
    9.01.2009 at 6:55 pm (6 years ago)

    I love this dress and am so glad you posted it. I will be trying this with my dads dress shirts. Thank you!

  17. carlyjcais
    9.08.2009 at 5:44 am (6 years ago)

    Anonymous: If you're having trouble, pls email me and I will do what I can to help! If there isn't enough fabric to cover your crotch, you can (hopefully) create a waistband from leftover fabric in the shirt, and then attach the skirt part. Or wear as a tunic. I'm not quite as tall as you, so I had enough for the skirt (though it is pretty short). You can of course add extra fabric (from something else) as a waistband to add length.

    Thanks Jen Ell and Jeni for featuring my li'l ol' tutorial!


  18. sarah
    9.12.2009 at 4:57 am (6 years ago)

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  19. carlyjcais
    9.12.2009 at 5:37 am (6 years ago)

    Megan the Plumber: You are hilarious! ROFL

    Deanna: Thanks! How did your version from your Dad's old shirts turn out?

    Hi Sarah! Thank you for visiting – hope to hear more from you!
    Thank you for your comments!

  20. Soccer Uniforms
    10.26.2009 at 12:07 pm (6 years ago)

    Really beautiful dress, I love the way you have presented it. keep it up.

  21. Jocelynne
    1.02.2010 at 9:55 pm (6 years ago)

    This is amazing! I looove how it turned out. I'm going to attempt this, but this a plaid flannel shirt. I'll let you know how it goes! Thanks so much for the tutorial, by the way!

  22. Grishley
    2.09.2010 at 7:07 pm (6 years ago)

    Hey Carly!

    Just wanted to say that this look is amazing! I featured you and several of your looks on my blog posting today and hopefully will bring some more traffic to your site! you are an inspiration! keep up the good work!!


  23. Term Papers
    3.12.2010 at 11:11 am (5 years ago)

    Thank you so much for the pictures for this. I have tried making the folded shirt so many times and it never works out. The photos really help!!

    College Term papers

  24. carlyjcais
    3.12.2010 at 5:00 pm (5 years ago)

    Thanks Amanda & Term Papers…

    I still have to get around to featuring your blog, Grishley…but I will! It's one of my new fave reads!
    And sorry, Term Papers, for not posting photos – I know that would have been easier to follow, but the thought didn't occur to me until after I was done with all the sewing.
    Glad you guys liked it!

  25. Anonymous
    4.27.2010 at 3:50 am (5 years ago)

    welcome to our on line shoes store web site,
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  26. five finger shoes
    5.04.2010 at 7:25 am (5 years ago)

    good post
    and welcome to our web site

  27. avice.avice
    5.06.2010 at 9:15 am (5 years ago)


  28. Anonymous
    7.21.2010 at 2:13 am (5 years ago)

    I just found your blog today, and I think you're blog is amazing! I wish I knew how to sew…

  29. prom dresses
    7.27.2010 at 2:55 am (5 years ago)

    So nice work!That is amazing!It worth trying!Thanx!

  30. Sarah O
    8.17.2010 at 9:54 pm (5 years ago)

    Alright, so I'm working on making this shirt dress right now with an XL men's shirt. Now, the problem that I am having is that my bodice (sew together sleeves) is longer than my skirt and my bodice curves out so that the center front is longer than the center back.

    Should I just trim down my bodice so that it is shorter and more rectangular before I attach it to the skirt or sew it on as is?


    chickface (at) sbcglobal (dot) net

  31. cherry
    10.08.2010 at 2:47 am (5 years ago)

    Love these dresses! Swoon. So often you find the more modern dresses are super expensive,

    these… not so much! I recommend:

  32. titanium jewelry
    12.06.2010 at 6:22 am (5 years ago)

    Wow, this is too cute! I only wish my husbands shirts were wide enough to fit around my hips

  33. Vivi
    1.29.2011 at 5:57 pm (5 years ago)

    wow, that's an amazing DIY!
    I think it is very difficult to make but it's so beautiful!

    xx Vivi

    PS: Visit my blog! ;P

  34. elizbeth
    2.14.2011 at 1:08 pm (5 years ago)

    I finished my dress! :) the hardest part was ruffles (making the strips and hemming them) and my elastic waist is not so great–but I am going to wear it with a cute black leather belt with a large daisy silver buckle. THe whole thing took about 3 hours from start to finish–not bad–and I am a newbie sewer (is that a term?). Thanks so much for this fun tutorial–I am going to try another one!!!

  35. jaime
    3.26.2011 at 10:40 am (4 years ago)

    i love this dress! I remember seeing it at UO a while ago:)!
    I attempted this tut. once already, and it didn’t really work out… hahaha!
    but now that i’m here to try it again, some of the extremely helpful drawings of your’s are not there :(! instead there’s a little question mark! I don’t know if that’s my own computers fault, but I just don’t know what to do :(!

    • carlyjcais
      3.27.2011 at 12:26 am (4 years ago)

      Argh, sorry about that. Migrating from Blogger unlinked about 2000 of my images; I’m slowly getting to fixing them. Should be fixed now!:-)

  36. christy ogle
    8.23.2011 at 4:11 pm (4 years ago)

    I’ll be trying this minus the ruffles :) Even though summer’s almost over it would look cute layered with a long-sleeve tee and some flared trousers…maybe with a cropped motorcycle jacket to toughen it up a bit. I found a similar top in Polyvore and made a set around it lol

  37. Alison
    2.11.2013 at 2:29 am (3 years ago)

    Aw, this was an extremely good post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a very good article_ but what
    can I say_ I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get
    anything done.
    Alison recently posted..Alison


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