crafts · outfits · Sewing · Thrifting

Military shirtdress: before and after

On one of my thrifting expeditions recently I ran across a military style shirtdress.  It was super dowdy, but a good quality brand (Talbots,) made of a lovely silk.  It appeared almost unworn. The hidden clasp at the waist (a nice feature in a shirtdress – mine always gape there!) was detatched, and I sincerely hope that’s not why it was donated (although, based on the number of requests from friends and family for me to sew on buttons, I wouldn’t be surprised.)  Here is the before shot:

As you can see, not so cute.  This is actually a size 10 petite.  Last I checked, I wear a 6 in Talbots, and 2 sizes isn’t a bad alteration.  And petite is always better, because the shoulders on a petite tend to be narrow.   My inspiration was this dress, from Anthro this fall:

I shortened the dress by 4 inches (actually too much… I had to take a really tiny hem!) I shortened the sleeves, and took 2 inches of width out of each side, from the sleeve to the waist.  The skirt portion originally had a slit, which I sewed up.  That altered the hang of the skirt enough that I didn’t need to adjust it.  The waist is elastic, and it’s meant to be worn with a belt, so I didn’t adjust the waist at all.  It was made a little more complicated by the fact that the skirt was lined.  I wanted it to look nice, so I carefully removed all the hems and made a nice, neat new hem in both.  The results?

I am really happy with how this came out – it’s very on trend, and you would never guess that it was a $2.50 thrift store purchase!  I think I got close to my inspiration.  The only differences are the sleeves (I wanted shorter sleeves, and though I made a tab I ended up preferring the sleeves hemmed shorter,) and the belt – I dislike fabric ties, and prefer a nice, stretchy elastic belt.  This project ended up costing about $5 (I had to buy matching thread!) and took me one evening to complete.

Here is how I’m actually wearing it today (it’s a cold one!)


Sweater: 525 america, this is definitely my favorite sweater this year.  Love the shawl collar!

Belt: Forever 21

Boots: Nine West


17 thoughts on “Military shirtdress: before and after

  1. I feel silly asking this question as I have a degree in fashion design– but somehow, I know more about creating a dress from scratch rather than altering one to fit. My question is: How do you alter the size of the dress to make it smaller? More specifically, what do you do to the side seam at the armhole? Do you just taper in from the armhole, or do you do something at the armhole to make it fit better there too? Thanks. Great refashion, by the way!

    1. On this dress I wanted the sleeves to be narrower as well as the dress (as is often the case for me.) I removed the sleeve hem, and then sewed a new seam from the tip of the sleeve all the way down to the waist, using the old stitching as a guide (I serged it off afterwards.) I blended with the old seam near the waist, since I wasn’t taking it in there. If I needed to be more specific, I would have actually pinned the dress to fit my body inside out, and then drawn a line for the seamline where I placed the pins.If you only needed the body smaller you could either blend the seam out at the armhole or remove the sleeve and reset it, removing some width to go with the new armhole opening (I find that generally if the body is too large, at least the top of the sleeve it too large as well.) This is also how I sew dresses if I think I will need adjustments – close up the sides last, and it’s easier to fit.

  2. I just wanted to say that I find your sewing posts to be so inspirational! I sewed a little as a teenager, but never very well. Reading your blog has made me want to take it up again – if only I had room for my sewing machine in my tiny apartment!

  3. You’ve inspired me to look into the closet of my stepdaughter where resides the same dress, I think, in red! I’ve offered to re-fashion it (for her or me) & will see what she says. Thanks for being so relevant!! (Your dress looks very cute now & it is interesting how basic concepts about dress, like ‘military-style shirt-dress’ morph ever-so-slightly to trend.)

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