Introduction: Make a Dress From a Button-Down Shirt

Picture of Make a Dress From a Button-Down Shirt

This is a surprisingly simple way to turn an old button-down shirt into a fun dress. It requires very little sewing. I wore one of these dresses to my Junior prom, and now I'm making a second one with my mom for this instructable.

Things you need:

- a big, button-down shirt
- 4 or 5 buttons
- needle and thread
- straight pins
- scissors
- someone to help you, or a dress form

Step 1: Choosing a Shirt

Picture of Choosing a Shirt

If you don't already have an old shirt you can recycle for this purpose, you should be able to find one at a thrift store. Hold the collar under your arms, and make sure it's long enough that you'll be comfortable wearing it as a dress. Short sleeves are ok, but make sure they're long to reach around your chest and overlap in the back.

Also, try and find a shirt that has darts in the middle of the back. If the darts are at the shoulders, it won't fit as well. It seems like women's shirts mostly have darts in the middle, and men's shirts have darts at the shoulders.

I used a blue polka-dot shirt for my first dress, and a red plaid one for the second. A Hawaiian shirt could also be a lot of fun.

Step 2: The Structure of the Dress

Picture of The Structure of the Dress

Here's how it works: the collar goes across your chest, the sleeves wrap around to your back, and the buttons now button up your back.

If you're lazy or desperately need a dress in the next 5 minutes, you can tie the sleeves behind your back and you're finished. However, I recommend cutting the sleeves short and securing them with buttons instead.

You can choose to leave the collar sticking out, like in the first picture, or you can cut it off. It's a matter of how the shirt fits, and personal preference.

Step 3: Cutting Off Extra Bits

Picture of Cutting Off Extra Bits

Now is when you need that friend/parent/child/dressform. I tried making a duct tape dress form a while back, but it came out all weird and lumpy - luckily my mom was happy to help instead. You should be making these adjustments on whoever will be wearing the dress. So from now on when I say "you" I mean whoever's doing the adjusting, and when I say "the person" I mean the dress form or the person the dress is for.

Pin the sleeves together in the back and button up the buttons, so that the dress stays up. Then you'll have to fuss around a bit to make sure everything will fold right. You may need to tuck in little bits of fabric along the side, and tug out other bits so they don't get lumpy. These little adjustments don't have to be permanent yet - just make sure that you'll be able to get the front of the dress to look ok, and you can tack down the folds later if you need to.

You'll have to decide whether you want to keep the collar or not. If you don't want it, now's the time to cut it off.

Now you have to cut the sleeves short. Stretch the sleeves behind the person's back, and mark where to cut them. The ends must overlap by at least a few inches, so there's room for buttons and buttonholes and for hemming the ends.

If you started out with a short sleeved shirt, you probably won't have to cut the sleeves any shorter.

Step 4: Hemming the Sleeves

Picture of Hemming the Sleeves

If you cut the sleeves shorter, you'll have to hem the ends so they don't unravel. First trim the ends so they're straight, and then fold down the edge of the fabric and pin it. If you want, you could make a larger hem on the side that's going to have the button holes, and cut the button holes out of the hem for extra reinforcement.

Make sure the sleeves are still long enough to overlap in the back!

Choose some thread that matches your fabric and sew the hem.

Step 5: Buttonholes and Buttons

Picture of Buttonholes and Buttons

First we'll cut the buttonholes, and then add buttons. The buttonholes don't have to be placed all that precisely. Just try to get them in a straight line along the edge of the sleeve that will be on top. Once again, make it overlaps enough with the bottom sleeve to fit buttons.

Pick out some buttons - you'll probably want 4 or 5. Lay them out along the edge of the sleeve, and draw little lines marking the positions and sizes of the buttonholes. Then cut slits along the lines, long enough that you can squeeze the button through.

I hear there's an easy way to sew buttonholes with a sewing machine, but sadly I do not have one, so I'll be doing it by hand. If you're going to do it by hand too, take a few feet of thread, double it over, and start stitching around the edge of the hole. It doesn't have to look pretty (it will be covered by the button) but it should be durable. Try to cover the entire edge with thread, and not leave tufts of fabric sticking out. Take extra care at the ends of the slits, so they don't start ripping farther.

Once the buttonholes are done, it's time to mark where the buttons should be. Have the person put on the dress, and pull the sleeves behind their back. You don't want the dress falling down, so you should pull the sleeves until it's tight but not uncomfortable. If you can't breathe, it's too tight.

Use a pen to draw a mark through each buttonhole, so you know where to attach the button underneath. Take off the dress, and sew the buttons downs at those marks.

Step 6: Done!

Picture of Done!

You can fuss with it a bit at this point, tucking and tugging the fabric into place. If you need to, you can use a couple stitches to tack down folds.

But really, you're finished. Congratulations! Go enjoy your dress. Or go ahead and make another one.


megsashyl (author)2014-08-16

WOW its just amazing. I just love this amazing idea.

Friends check here Electric & glow jackets for bikers

SophiaM1 (author)2014-08-07

Nice idea you have there!

Thumbs up!

princessbaker16 (author)2014-06-02

i would like to make this

heartart (author)2012-01-20

Love this. My daughter is starting to sew and this is perfect for her. Yawl are about the same age. Plus, she loves strapless dresses. I bet you could do a LOT with a sewing machine, so make a couple of these, sell them to your friends and go get you a sewing machine at Wal mart or other local store!! You will LOVE doing buttonholes with the Brother machine. It is literally a ONE STEP buttonhole!! I was afraid of them until I got my newer machine and now I have buttons on everything. The day I learned I did 14 buttonholes. hahahah Great instructable!!

sheinonen (author)2012-01-09

Wicked cute and resourceful. Next trip to the thrift store I'm getting an over sized shirt to try his out!

pyromonkey (author)2012-01-09

Very cute. In my case I need to get a shirt in a 5xl so I can get the right length :P

sokamiwohali (author)2012-01-09

GREAT IBLE! HOWEVER...i was noticing in the back of the dress that its all bunched up...if you wanna add to the WOW factor and have ppl ask where you bought the dress, decieve them and cut off the "front side" of the shirt, cut off the extra material on the dress to allow you to splice the button panes of the dress into the back and make it look like a big company made it. I LOVE how you used the arms to secure the dress on. im following. i would love to see what else you come up with!!

Oh, and i will make one of these and then show you what im talking about. ill also make an 'ible (of course crediting you) so everyone can see what i did.

theartisticmess (author)2011-11-26

im so lucky to have a sister thats practically my size!

jleung4 (author)2011-10-10

Ha ha, this is so cool. Have a look at this amazing video which shows how to create a dress yourself too from this fashion blog! (scroll at the bottom of the blog) 

Cannot wait to take my fiance's shirts and make them into dresses haha

alawrence5 (author)2011-09-11

WOW! this is perfect! i have been looking for easy beginers dress patterns and this so right! thanks so much you are great!

goingon (author)2011-09-02

unbelievable, so impress

hpsomadeli (author)2011-08-01


Jent13 (author)2011-02-18

Hi I am just wondring where the darts were on ur blue polka dotted dress? and also how you made it not have the overhang at the edges in the back and have it gathered/pleated above by the butt?

grooooovy (author)2010-08-24

This is REALLY cute, creative too! I would definitely make this sometime.

miso_soup (author)2010-08-08

This dress is sooo cute!

msbrainiac5 (author)2010-07-16

wow this is cool I'm gonna do this this weekend. Thanks for posting this.

chabias (author)2010-07-15

Your dress is TOO adorable!! As for the left-over sleeves....whenever my mother-in-law makes a dress for her grand-daughter, she makes a matching dress (same material) for 'Barbie'. Just a thought.

VagsmaCutter (author)2010-07-14

Well, after numerous attempts, I can't come up with a comment/ compliment that doesn't sound creepy and for that(this) I apologize; your mom has awesome shoulders. Thanks for sharing this, it is a wonderful idea and a well built instructable as well.

remiska (author)2010-07-11

Make a Dress from a Button-Down Shirt

LiaVivas (author)2010-05-20

 Hey! your idea is great, it really blew my mind the first time I saw. I was meaning to make one for me for quite a while but I had forgotten where was it that I had seen this idea. Finally I got around to it, and I must confess... mess it all up :( i feel really silly since everybody says it is so easy, but no matter I´ll try again! In the meantime my mom came up with some ideas to clean up my mess... will see how it works out...

chihuahualover112 (author)2010-03-17

 supercute!! i will definitely be going to the thrift store soon! i was thinking about maybe making a band out of the sleeves to go around the waist and add a bow on the side in the front for an extra detail!

peace, love, art (author)2010-03-10

Maybe you could cut the arms each into a thin strip. Then you could tie the arms into a bow in the back. I plan on testing it out soon.

shoster (author)2010-02-26

Very cute!!! No reason you couldn't use the left overs from the arms or som ribbon to make cute straps too! I might do that with som old shirts for my daughters, they are little yet so straps would be more "appropriate"!!! Thanks for the fabulous idea!!!

great_leon_8 (author)2010-01-09

 this is just so easy!! you've got a very very creative mind...that was sooooo easy!! i am DEFINITELY going to try it!!

apierce47 (author)2009-09-29

I used your idea in my Communications class, giving a demonstation speech, and I wore the dress that I made while I gave it. I just love your idea.

perrineco (author)2009-09-23


I really like your how to.
I was wondering if I could translate it in French and add it to my list of how to as explained in my french post (
Of course, your website would be quoted and there would be a link!

Thank you,


emattrose (author)perrineco2009-09-26

Hi Perrine, Please feel free to translate this instructable for your site. I'm flattered!

mb_hatter (author)2009-09-22

This is so very cute and I cant wait to try it out. Thanks for adding!

crafthooligan111 (author)2009-09-21

omg1 this is SO awesome, i'm wearing one right now! so easy!! thanks SO much!

jodij (author)2009-09-21

you have my vote..hope ya win! you definately need the sewing machine with all that creativity.:)

sewshesaid (author)2009-09-21

Very clever idea. Love it when folks come up w/ ideas to upcycle old items. Congrats. Cant wait to see your next creation. Darlene

Very Interesting (author)2009-09-19

Very cool!

cynthia hensley (author)2009-09-19

This is the cleverest & cutest thing I've seen in a long time! You are such a clever girl & I hope you win. I've been an artist & crafter for nearly 50yrs & sewing since age 5 & this is one of the best ideas I've seen!!! Kudos!!

jaydeechick (author)2009-09-19

Wonderful idea. I live in a town where most summer days are around 45*C (113*F). Summer is almost here, and these dresses are going to be brilliant. Thanks so much. I'm off to raid hubby's wardrobe. Jen (Bourke NSW Australia)

tim_n (author)2009-09-18

After my wife was browsing instructables last night I heard her say 'don't be suprised if any of your shirts go missing'. I think this is probably why. Great instructable

emattrose (author)tim_n2009-09-18

I'd guard your closet closely if I were you :)

Lor (author)2009-09-18

wow. you are an absolute genius. this dress is the most darling thing, and the instructible is very, very easy. I LOVE IT. It's incredible. I dig it with the collar in the front. Makes it very cute. why has no one thought of this before. i made one dress so far, it was really easy, looks fantastic, especially after I threw a belt on it, and now i'm making one with pockets. (I just slapped on two side pockets. I'm thinking of alternatives, like slitting side seams and inserting pockets, too.) This is really, really neat. Thanks so much.

emattrose (author)Lor2009-09-18

Those are some cool ideas! Could you show us a picture of the dress you made? I'd especially like to see how it worked with the belt.

make-happy mama (author)2009-09-18

What a great idea for marking button placement. I've never thought of doing it that way before. Silly me--I always put the buttons on first and then try to place my holes to match.

BrindaMS (author)2009-09-18

aussome! looks very chic!

RoyalPayne (author)2009-09-18

Wonderful. I can see the possibilities, especially with a little time spend with a sewing machine. What a wonderful, green, cheap way to reuse something, and stand out while doing it.

mgroodt (author)2009-09-18

Very nice. A couple of years ago I made a marching army for our sunday school by sticking sequins onto long sleeved blue shirts with wide cellotape. A sunday school teacher never throws anything away and I still have the shirts, about 30 of them ... Now I'm thinking I could use them in this way (tying the sleeves so they can be used again) for our latest play. Thank you!!

Carmelite (author)2009-09-17

Where did you get the money to hire a model? ; )

BoeroBoy (author)2009-09-17

Bummer, the link I saw to this was elipsed to "Make a Dress from a Butt..." My curiosity was mislead. Still a cool idea though.

emattrose (author)BoeroBoy2009-09-17

....trying to imagine how that would work....

rpaxton (author)2009-09-15

What a great idea! I have a shirt at my parents house I was going to make into a dress this weekend...this may well be my new pattern! One question, though...the first one looks like it's a bit more fitted. Is there something different about the blue shirt from the red, or did you do something different to get that look? Thanks for the 'ible!

emattrose (author)rpaxton2009-09-17

Each dress will come out differently, depending on the size, cut, and fabric of the shirt - I didn't try to make one more fitted. You can fuss with it to try to adjust the fit, but for the most part you've just got to start with a good shirt and accept how it comes out.

hishealer (author)2009-09-15

Does the collar have to extend all the way around the ribcage?

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