How To Make A Shirt Smaller (DIY Guide)

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Buying a shirt that’s too big, or losing some weight and noticing that all your clothes are too baggy, can seem like a big wardrobe problem.

However, you can easily make a shirt smaller to fit and look better. 

How do you make a shirt smaller?

There are various ways to make a shirt smaller. One method is removing the sleeves and altering the entire shirt according to your size. You can also cut the shirt to make it shorter or add a knot or safety pins for a temporary fix. You can make a shirt smaller with or without a sewing machine. 

Not everyone is skilled with a sewing machine.

Therefore, this DIY guide has included both sewing and non-sewing methods for making a shirt smaller. In addition, we’ve also included some temporary techniques that will work in the short term. 

Follow along for a complete DIY guide on making a shirt smaller or shorter.

How To Permanently Make A Shirt Smaller

How to make a shirt smaller

If you purchased a shirt online or at a thrift store, you might notice that the shirt is too big in some areas.

If you don’t want to return the shirt, you can alter it to ensure it fits you perfectly.

Nobody is built the same. A shirt might fit perfectly in one area while it is too big in another. 

Fortunately, it’s easy to alter a shirt, and you can do so without having a sewing degree!

This section will share some tips for permanently making a shirt smaller. Some methods require a sewing machine, others don’t. The method you choose depends on the equipment you have available. 

This is how to make a shirt smaller permanently. 

1. How To Make A Shirt Smaller With A Sewing Machine

Sometimes, you may need to take the entire shirt apart, cut it, and stitch it back together.

This method is perfect if you need to alter the whole shirt. It also provides you with the most professional-looking results. Therefore, this is the best method to use if you’re changing work shirts or expensive blouses and shirts

To make the entire shirt smaller, take the shirt and lay it flat on a hard surface.

Then, take another shirt that fits you perfectly and lay it on top of the other one.

Start with the sides of the shirt. Use the shirt that fits as a guide and cut the bigger shirt according to this size. Remember to leave a bigger seam allowance than you think you will need.

Also, use the smaller shirt’s armholes as a guide to cut the bigger shirt to size. Then, turn the sleeves of your current shirt inside out and trace the S-shaped pattern onto the bigger shirt.

Finally, cut the bigger shirt’s sleeves according to that shape and size. 

Repeat the same steps on the shirt’s other side.

The bigger shirt should now be cut smaller and more to the shape and size of your existing shirt.

Next, turn the shirt inside out and ensure all the sides, armholes, and sleeves are cut to the same size. This is why a bigger seam allowance is required

Now it is time to sew the shirt back together.

Start with the sleeves. Line each sleeve up with the armhole, pin it in place, and sew the sleeve onto the shirt.

Then, sew the sides of the shirt back together.

Finally, cut the hem of the shirt shorter if need be and give that a seam as well. Making an entire shirt smaller is as easy as that! 

If you don’t want to cut the shirt apart, or you don’t want to make the whole shirt smaller, you can also use one of these methods to make a shirt smaller.

  • Add a hem to make the shirt shorter.
  • Add darts or tucks to improve the shirt’s shape or make it more form-fitting.
  • Add shirring (stitches with elasticated threads) to gather the loose fabric around the shirt and make it more flattering. 
  • Add elastics to the hem, collar, or sleeves of a shirt for a more fitted and flattering look. 

These techniques all involve some skill level and knowledge of a home sewing machine.

But what if you don’t have a sewing machine?

2. How To Make A Shirt Smaller Without A Sewing Machine

It’s relatively easy to permanently make a shirt smaller, with or without a sewing machine.

In fact, you’ve likely shrunk one of your garments previously, whether on purpose or not. 

If you want to make a shirt shorter, you can cut it to the length you want and stretch the hem to give it more texture. This method works well for T-shirts and casual wear. 

To make the entire shirt smaller without a sewing machine, boil it in water for thirty minutes, then place it in the tumble dryer.

The hot water and air shrink the shirt’s fibers, making the shirt smaller. 


Assuming you have a shrinkable material, that is! Don’t try 100% polyester…

These are easy methods for shrinking a shirt. However, using these methods for business attire isn’t recommended as the result isn’t as professional or neat as the sewing method’s final product.

Therefore, we recommend sewing your workwear to make it smaller and using the other techniques for casual wear that doesn’t have to be perfect! 

How To Temporarily Make A Shirt Smaller

Sometimes, you might not want to alter the shirt permanently. For example, when borrowing a shirt from someone, you don’t want to make it smaller permanently.

In this case, a temporary fix will suffice. 

You don’t need a sewing machine or special equipment to temporarily make a shirt smaller.

On the contrary, all you need is creative thinking and perhaps some safety pins. Here are a few ways to temporarily make a shirt smaller. 

1. Knots

You can use a knot to make almost any kind of shirt smaller. For example, when making a button-down shirt smaller, leave the last two or three buttons undone.

Then, tie the ends into a knot or bow and ensure the shirt doesn’t bunch up anywhere. 

You can also make a front, side, or back knot in a T-shirt to make it shorter. This will give the shirt a more cropped and fitted look.

Also, roll the sleeves up to make them shorter for a more finished look.

Obviously, using knots to make a shirt smaller works better for casual wear than formal or work wear. 

2. Safety Pins

You can also use safety pins to make a shirt smaller without permanently altering it.

Add safety pins to the inside of a shirt to give it a more form-fitted look. Add safety pins to the chest area of a shirt if you feel that it hangs too low.

Use safety pins to pull the back seam of a shirt in and give your shirt a more flattering look. 

Always ensure that the safety pins are inside the shirt and not on the outside. This will give your shirt a more professional look and won’t make it as obvious that you have altered the shirt. You can achieve this by turning the shirt inside out and adding safety pins.

Then, turn the shirt back the right way and try it on to see how the shirt fits. 

3. Hem Tape

Hem tape is another way to make a shirt smaller without permanently altering it.

However, using hem tape is a more time-consuming process, resulting in longer-lasting effects than the other techniques. Hem tape isn’t ideal when borrowing someone’s clothes.

You can find hem tape (or double-sided fabric tape) in most fabric and craft stores. Apply the tape to your shirt and use an iron to activate the glue. Then, attach the other side of the shirt to the tape, and you are ready to go. 

Hem tape works excellent for hems, but you can also use it to take a shirt in, make the collar smaller, or create folds in the sleeves of a shirt if the sleeves are too long.

The hem tape will release after a few washes, making this a longer-lasting temporary fix for a shirt that’s too big. 

4. Styling Techniques

Another great way to make a shirt smaller is to add accessories to hide the parts of the shirt that are too big.

For example, wearing a belt will help to accentuate your waist and pull the shirt in somewhat if it is too big. Also, rolling up a shirt’s sleeves is a great way to hide too-long sleeves. 

Tuck in a shirt to make it shorter or give it a tighter fit.

For example, pair a loose-fitting shirt with tighter pants for a complete look. You can also wear a scarf or necklace to hide a shirt’s collar that is too big. Or you can throw the one shoulder off and wear the shirt as an off-shoulder.

You can also pair a long, button-down shirt with stockings to create a shirtdress. These methods don’t require any shirt alteration but still transform it enough to make it appear as if it belongs to you – as long as you have the right fabric for the task.

The great thing about temporary alterations is that it allows you to wear the same garment in different styles. Therefore, you might consider temporarily changing the size of your shirt if you want to wear it in another style in the future. 

How To Make A Shirt Smaller

Making a shirt smaller is relatively easy, and you can alter the shirt permanently or temporarily.

Cutting and sewing the shirt is the best way to make it smaller permanently. This is the best method for changing office wear or formal shirts.

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