Feb 11, 2010

How To: Tailor a Button-Down Shirt for a Perfect Fit

created at: 2010/02/11

Men's shirts are sized in crazy ways - sometimes its sleeve length and neck dimensions, sometimes they're in chest dimesions (like a suit), and often, just the unpredictable small-medium-large. So, men, too, often have to buy for certain body measurements - length, sleeve, neck sizes, chest girth - and have other aspects not fit. It's why most men's button down shirts are baggy with big sleeves, and that weird muffin-top thing that billows out when we tuck them in.

So, next time you find that perfect vintage buttondown at the second hand shop, but it's flows around you like you're swimming in a gingham plaid Superman cape, pay the .99, take it home, and grab your sewing machine.


  • A baggy button down shirt - this works best with shirts that fit around the shoulders and chest, but are too big around the sleeves and sides/length
  • Mirror
  • Pins
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Scissors

1).  Stand in front of the mirror, and/or get a friend to help you. Put on the shirt inside out, and button it from the inside.

2). This method is called the pinch and pin - so do just that. Begin with the sleeves and pinch the fabric until it's tight around your arm, but you still have full range of motion. Pin it from the cuffs to the arm pit.

3). Then do the same thing around your torso. Since most men's shirts do not have seams in the back, pull the excess towards the side seams, and pin from the arm pits to the waist.

4). Then, just sew a single stitch from the cuffs through the armpits, then down the sides. Sew just outside the pins, so that it doesn't get too tight and restrict movement.

created at: 2010/02/11

5). Flip it inside out, and throw it on. Done and done.


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Mary on May 13, 2018:

Hi, l need to take in a mans shirt at the sides and about three inches only down the sleeves. Could anyone advise me please

Amy O. on Feb 16, 2017:

This worked beautifully for a shirt I am required to wear for work. Instead of pinning, though, I measured the "pinch" and marked it with a pen along the seam. My pinch was 1-1/2", so I carried that all along the inside seam, and the seam along the arm. Worked great, shirt fits better!

Anonymous on Mar 29, 2016:

Hi.  Was wondering if anyone knows how to make a collared shirt smaller.  It's a polo shirt that my boss ordered and made us, all restaurant employees, buy and wear.  Mine is a medium but looks like a xxl when I wear normally a small shirt.  It's so long that it looks like a short skirt, it hangs so far past my booty and is so so wide.  I have a sewing machine but don't really know how to sew.  I have used it but very inexperienced.  Please someone help.  

Kris on May 21, 2012:

Hey Martin,

We wanted to connect to see if you'd like to do a q/a with Dudepins? Let us know [email protected]

Joshua on May 19, 2012:

HOLY SHIT. This worked wonderfully. Thanks so much.

Kaldasky on Jan 17, 2012:

This works for women's button up shirts, too. I buy a lot of thrift store stuff, but my size is hard to find (lol, my specs are 31-23-36, nothing fits ever) and I'm tired of swimming in my clothes. This worked wonderfully!

Anna on Nov 09, 2011:

That looks pretty easy enough to do for someone with minimal sewing skills. Thanks. :)

Tailoring on Sep 06, 2011:

Surprising post, your article is very useful for juniors like me thanks for sharing.

Joe on Feb 26, 2011:

useful stuff something to definitely bookmark .

Chris on Feb 23, 2011:

Hi everyone -

It's really awesome that folks are trying this out and its been working! We'd love to see some photos of your completed projects. You can send me a URL or an email at [email protected], and I'll be happy to post them here.


Anonymous on Feb 23, 2011:

This is FANTASTIC!  I've finally gotten on a diet/exercise routice that works for me, and I've been avoiding buying new clothes because I know I'm going to shrink out of them, and now I can make the clothes I already have fit better until I hit my target weight.

aj on Feb 21, 2011:


then don't sew through the cuffs. if you have stiffer cuffs, start pinching and pinning from where the cuff ends and the loose part of the sleeve begins (one layer of fabric). i find that the wrists are usually fine or have two buttons, but if the cuffs are too loose, move the button over.

i would also follow up these instructions with either removing the excess fabric with pinking shears, or if you only modify less than half an inch, at least clipping the excess in the armpit every inch or so to prevent constriction when its right side out.

this works great for skinny people like me, but you have to be careful that the shirt you select doesnt have large pockets; too drastic of a change will make your shirt front look pretty weird.

Marc on Feb 19, 2011:

I wish those pins didn't keep stabing me in the arm

jr on Feb 17, 2011:

Thanks for the tip, i've just done this on an old short sleeve shirt, turning it from a 48" chest to a 40" with a tapered waist. It's come out rather well, but for such a drastic change I'm going to have to try and adjust the width of the shoulders too. A big point that the article missed is that you need to snip the seam of the excess material under the armpit otherwise the excess material will deform the shoulder.

You won't get it right first time, so you should stitch roughly the first time, adjust as necessary, then when you get it right, redo with a finer stitch.

And btw, unless you've got a really steady hand I wouldn't use this on expensive shirts!

Anonymous on Feb 17, 2011:


Right from the intro

"So, next time you find that perfect vintage buttondown at the second hand shop, but it's flows around you like you're swimming in a gingham plaid Superman cape, pay the .99, take it home, and grab your sewing machine."

echoclerk on Feb 17, 2011:

Ha.. Seriously its a bit of a stretch to call this "Tailoring" - you just sewed through the cuff for gods sake!. A more accurate description might be - "a quick and dirty job to make a terrible shirt vaguely wearable".


I really would not try this method on anything expensive.. perhaps for a bad fitting second hand shirt.


Will on Feb 17, 2011:

...But... but... This seems way too easy!!  Could I do this with a nicer shirt?  Any downsides?

danaman on Feb 12, 2010:

This treatment looks like it's for something you bought (or inherited) a size too big, so getting the right size is the best solution.

Sleeves are rarely too wide, but the torso may be, for boxy-cut shirts.  When that happens, do the 'pinch' in back - not on the sides.  Line it up with the top of each butt-cheek in an upside-down, long "V".  You'll get a much nicer look and more comfortable fit.

Chris on Feb 11, 2010:

Thanks, Alyson. It totally works. I do it for nearly every secondhand item I buy.

AlysonIsNeat on Feb 11, 2010:

I love this post.  My boyfriend always runs into this problem with shirts not fitting correctly for him.  I will definitely have to do this!