5 Reasons To Sew A Shirt Dress

5 Reasons To Sew A Shirt Dress

1. Bite-Size Tasks

The construction of a shirt dress can be broken down into digestible chunks of work for tired brains at the end of the day – pockets, cuffs, plackets, waist ties, collars, button holes… If you want a 15-minute task, sew a shirt dress.

I particularly enjoyed sewing turned and stitched sleeve hems on my latest make. Such a small task. So satisfying.

turned and stitched hem ii

2. Variety Of Techniques

You’ll learn or re-familiarise yourself with at least one new-to-you technique. Shirt dresses are particularly good for transferable skills, such as learning to sew a collar stand. This will feed well into other makes, such as pyjamas and actual shirts!


3. Proliferation Of Patterns

This is the age of the shirt dress. It seems as though a new pattern is being released every week. Below, some goodies:

Sew Over It Vintage Shirt Dress applies sweet details such as the gathered yoke

McCalls 6885 is an interesting pull-over variation

McCalls 6696, beloved of bloggers

The Rosa Shirt Dress from Tilly And The Buttons

The Maker’s Atelier Oversized Shirt Dress – this pattern designer is one of sewing’s great undiscovered secrets if you ask me. Get in quick!

That’s without even scraping the surface of all the vintage shirt dress patterns out there. Shirt dresses first became fashionable in the 1950s, thanks to post-Second World War New Look designs.

vintage day dress patterns

4. Eminently Wearable

I find shirt dresses easy to fit and easy to wear. Bodices tend to be loose fit, and with little fuss around the waist (unless you want to add your own belt) they accommodate the practicalities of life, such as eating, sitting and fabric shopping.

nautical shirt dress

I’m wearing the McCalls 4769 – 37 reviews on Sewing Pattern Review

5. Buttons!

Lots and lots of lovely buttons to play with, and who can complain about that? Though you may want to up your button hole game with a kit such as this one.

Buttonhole equipment

tray of buttons

I haven’t counted up how many shirt dress patterns I own, but it’s several – and I’m eyeing more. Any tips of your own for sewing these beautiful dresses?

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28 Responses to 5 Reasons To Sew A Shirt Dress

  1. Totally agree! Well said! And reason No 6: there’s an Instagram community sewing challenge to sew a Shirtdress currently running! 😉

  2. I really have enjoyed the shirt dresses I’ve had in the past but they were RTW. Now that I need an FBA and my waist is a bit thicker, I’ve stayed away from button downs because of front gappies. I also prefer knits for the ease. Maybe I could build that in with a woven? I think it’s beyond my skills right now.

    • LinB says:

      You can do It! Shirts and shirtwaist dresses are easy to tweak for extra room at the bosom and waist. You can even add a buttonhole to the button band, between buttons, and put a button on the underside of the buttonhole band — button through to the inside of the blouse. That simple technique has saved many a blouse and dress for me.

  3. Allison says:

    Love your nautical look!! It’s fabulous!

  4. nothy says:

    I love the Tilly and the Buttons shirtdress. The shape is very flattering….

  5. suzy roberts says:

    Nice post Karen, I love making shirtdresses too (5 already this year)..like Sarah above, I was going to mention #sewtogetherforsummer as reason number 6…it´s going well and so many people are getting involved and trying something a little more challenging. Also, it´s worth mentioning, there are gifts, not for the best but selected at random to make this a very inclusive challenge.

  6. I’ve been on a shirt making BINGE for that past 2 months and it has been fun! I think it does take some experimentation to find just the right pattern for you – so far my very favourite has been the Cashmerette Harrison. The fit on this is absolutely amazing for me anyway. Right now I’m making J.Stern Designs fitted shirt by the cupful and it’s pretty amazing as well 🙂 This is how I got stuck here for months – they ARE fun 🙂

  7. Jo says:

    I made the Green Bee shirt dress but it was a bot loose fitting on me so I am trying one from the Ottobre magazine this time with proper plackets and cuffs. Whoo! I love your sailor one, it looks so well fitted. Jo x

  8. PocketC says:

    I really want to try one! I have the M6696 pattern but I have been discouraged by my attempts at a regular shirt. I struggle with fitting, and fitting seems to matter for this. You are right though it’s just one piece at a time! I’ll have to try it again soon.

  9. Tammy says:

    I love ❤️ your idea that it can be accomplished in short tasks!!

  10. Mary Dadds says:

    you say Shirt dress is easy to fit.do you have a friend help you fit your sewing projects?I cannot imagine doing it alone.Thanks.

  11. Colesworth says:

    once you have made your buttonholes, mark corresponding button placement by overlaying the plackets and using chalk pen through the buttonhole onto the other shirt/skirt front. Then tape the buttons onto the marks with magic/invisible tape so that they are held in place for stitching on by machine with your button sewing foot – so quick!!

    • You know what, I have NEVER used my button sewing foot! Must remedy that.

      • Yvonne Bennett says:

        I always pull a long thread tail before snipping it from the machine. Then I thread a needle and pull that thread to the back through one of the holes in the button and tie it with the bobbin thread in a firm knot. Apply a dot of Fray Check, then snip the thread tails, and I’ve not lost a button yet!

    • cololynn says:

      Yes, I’ve done buttons on the machine – it always seems like I’ve pulled off a bit of Magic 😉 ! I like the taping idea. I pull all threads to the back, knot and fray check, as well.

  12. Robin says:

    My tip is, if you find a shirt/blouse pattern you like, try to make your own shirt dress pattern by lengthening the blouse to cover your bottom half. One way this can be accomplished is by attaching a complimentary favorite skirt to the bottom. Sometimes a shirt dress pattern will be an okay fit on the top, but through the waist on down, maybe not so good, or vice versa. The looser the fit you start with, the easier they are to fit to any body shape, it seems to me.

    I have made some poor choices of patterns in the past, and have unfortunately held onto both the patterns and the final makes, but it’s not all my bad, because this was before pattern reviews were widely available on line. Thanks for pointing out the number of reviews for McCall’s 4769, Karen. My second tip: Read all the reviews you can on a particular pattern before investing in it, for something as complex as a shirtdress, as there are many moving parts and design elements, and while they offer lots of options, this also means more potential pitfalls. Here I mean: Collars and cuffs too big for your body, or too big/small proportionately to the rest of the dress, or a weird mix of casual and formal elements, or perhaps the wrong length (even if featured as an option, a certain length may not be right for you!). So for me, shirt dresses are off the table – my lifestyle no longer supports them for the investment required.

  13. Omishev says:

    They are also great for nursing! I love wearing dresses in the summer and don’t want to buy/make ones that scream “nursing” so shirtdresses are perfect! I will wear them long after the milk is gone 🙂

    • LinB says:

      Yep. My nursing days were over 23 years ago, but I pledged at that time that I would always wear front-opening designs if at all possible. When I’m in the age group that has to have help dressing itself with back zips and buttons, I’ll be golden.

  14. Kathryn says:

    Erm, I’ve never seen the prym button hole kit! What is it called and where can​I get it? I hate the loose edges of button holes. Actually, they’re my least favourite bit of any fastening!!
    Thanks. 🙂

  15. I am tackling my first shirt dress to take part in the Instagram challenge (nothing like a little bit of pressure to get things done :-)). I picked the Alex Dress from Sew Over It Capsule Wardrobe City Break. I’m so excited!! And a little scared, so I read all the comments below your post – thanks for getting people to share so much, I really benefitted! Cheers, Melanie

  16. RZ says:

    *ponders* how hard would it be to re-fashion 2 or 3 large white men’s shirts into a shirt dress? Then, after construction, dye the white? Maybe stamp it after?

    • LinB says:

      Do it. Not hard at all, and you’ll feel virtuous for coming up with your own creation. Plus, all the buttonholes and buttons and sleeve plackets and collars come already attached.

  17. Anna-Jo says:

    Thanks for the inspiration! I’m hoping to get going on my first shirt dress soon…

  18. Your shirtdress is beautiful and they look so smart. I have 3 or 4 patterns but are scared to try one because I am so much bigger on top and think that they would end up looking silly. Maybe it is time to bite the bullet. Xx

  19. What a fun project for playful fabrics!!

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