Upcycle: Men’s Shirt to Toddler Dress

shirtdress worn

There are a lot of really cute blog posts out there about taking a men’s shirt and converting it into a little girl’s dress. Some of them involve elastic necklines, some are plain shift dresses, others are sundresses with straps… I knew I wanted to make one for my daughter (even found the perfect shirt at Goodwill), but I wanted to make it look like, well, a dress– not a shirt repurposed into a dress. I wanted a full skirt, yet I needed to keep the main central button strip intact to avoid unsightly seams right at the waistline. How to do it?

After much thought, I figured out (in my head at least) how best to achieve my goals. And what do you know? It worked! Exactly the way I expected it to, which is always fantastic.


Men’s button-down shirt, any size is fine but larger gives you a fuller skirt.

1.5″ grosgrain ribbon

Single-fold bias tape

Start by taking a dress that fits your daughter, and that has a waistline at the height you’re looking for. Use it to trace out a paper pattern of a sleeveless bodice, adding a 3/8″ seam allowance on all sides and a 1″ allowance at the waistline.

Spread out your shirt and figure out where you want your bodice to be placed along the center placket. You’re looking for two things– you want the uppermost button to be about 1″ to 1 1/2″  from the top edge (most important), and ideally you want another button right around the waistline. If your bodice just isn’t the right length for this, don’t worry too much– just make sure the top button is in place. Remove the breast pocket by unpicking the seams, if there is one.

shirtdress pattern placing

Trace out the bodice on both sides of the center placket. This will be your front bodice piece.

Next you’re going to cut out the upper edge of your gathered skirt. Mark the lower edge of your bodice, and cut in a horizontal line from the side seam of the shirt to a point just about 1/2″ from the center placket.

shirtdress cut bodice

When you’ve done this on both sides, carefully flip the shirt over and continue your horizontal cut across the entire back of the shirt. At this point you will have the front bodice piece, connected to the entire skirt, and no back bodice piece.

shirtdress bodice pattern cut

Use your pattern to trace out a back bodice piece from the back of the shirt. You can do this wherever you like, since there are no buttons to worry about.

shirtdress back pieces

Stitch the side and shoulder seams of the front and back bodice pieces. You should now have a completed bodice, attached to an ungathered skirt only by the center placket.

Take your grosgrain ribbon and lay it over front waistline of your bodice, centering it over the line between the bodice and the skirt. Fold the edge of the ribbon and tuck it right under the seam of the placket. Pin in place, letting half of the ribbon overlap the raw edge of the bodice waistline. Topstitch in place with matching thread.

shirtdress sash

Now, run gathering stitches along the entire top edge of the skirt and gather to the circumference of the waistline.

shirtdress detatched

Just as you did with the bodice, pin the grosgrain ribbon so half of it overlaps the skirt and topstitch in place. From the inside, it’ll look like this (though my work is sloppy):

shirtdress inside

Your basic dress is now assembled– the grosgrain ribbon waistband conceals the seam that allows you to gather the skirt at the waist without cutting into the center placket.

Use your single-fold bias tape to finish the neckline (see, you needed the room above the button to finish the neckline properly) and armholes. To do this, open the bias tape and pin it, right sides together, to the edge of the armhole. Stitch in place, turn the entire tape to the center, and stitch again as if it were a facing. For a picture tutorial, click here.

shirtdress bias

Hem your skirt using whatever method you prefer, and add any embellishments you might want. I made two yo-yos with button centers for the front of my dress!

shirtdress rosette

shirtdress done


1. You could also use this method backwards to make a dress with buttons down the back. If you do, feel free to leave the ribbon ends long to tie as a sash in the new back!

2. You may need to angle your waistline up towards the sides in the front, just to make a more flattering line. If you do, angle the placket ends of your ribbon when you pin it to make sure it follows the line of the waist.

3. Grosgrain or another sturdy woven ribbon really is the best for this application. Satin will pucker like mad, so don’t use it. If you can’t find grosgrain ribbon, you can always cut some long strips from the shirt sleeves and sew them together to make a waistband.

4. It’s fairly easy to remove the breast pocket of a shirt– just use your seam ripper (or tiny scissors) to snip the threads, and carefully tear away the pocket. You’ll still be able to see the seam holes at first, but a light press and some steam will make them disappear completely.

2 thoughts on “Upcycle: Men’s Shirt to Toddler Dress

  1. Such a great idea – your little one looks very happy with it! I’ve unfortunately not got the sewing skills or a child to make this for, but I’ll be passing it on to my friend who’s just bought herself a sewing machine today! P.S. thanks for the like on my blog 🙂


  2. Pingback: White 1920s dress, Part III: Construction | It's All Frosting...

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