How To Tailor A Shirt

Now that you know how your shirts should fit from Fit Is Everything – Part 1 (The Shirt), maybe there are some current pieces in your closet that you might want to make you fit better. This week I will teach you how to tailor shirts to fit your body better. With this method, you will be able to make the waist, chest, and arms slimmer.

This is going to be a long and in-depth article, detailing the process from start to finish. I apologize in advance if it’s a tad long. I will also provide a video how-to at the end of the article that may clear up some questions you may have.

First, find a shirt that is too big for you.


Next, using one hand, fold all of the extra fabric behind you until the front looks like it should. Then using a ruler or tape measure in your other hand, measure how much fabric you folded over. In my case, I folded over 4 inches, meaning I want to take 8 inches out of the torso.

Front and back of measuring the extra fabric

**Warning: The more fabric you take out, the more likely chance things will look weird. For example, on shirts with pockets, the pocket is going to move towards your armpit. In this tutorial, I used the biggest shirt I owned. 8 inches is a lot. When I find a good fitting shirt, I usually take out about 1.5 inches.**

Skip anything about the sleeves if the sleeves fit well. I found this happened often when tailoring my polo shirts. If this is the case, end your taper in the armpit.

Measure your bicep’s circumference when bent, but without flexing. My bicep is 12 inches. Take this measurement and add 1 inch to it. This brings my sleeve circumference to 13 inches.

Measure your bicep without flexing

Now you have your two measurements. My measurements are 8 inches out of the torso and a 13 inch sleeve circumference. Divide both of these numbers in half. My two new measurements are 4 inches out of the torso and 6.5 inch sleeve. Divide the torso measurement in half again because we are taking half out of each side of the seam. This brings my new torso number to 2 inches.

Moving onto the sleeve measurement, we need to figure out how much to take out. Fold the sleeve in half and measure where your bicep would be. My shirt sleeve is currently 8 inches across.

Measure the sleeve at the bicep

This means I need to take out 1.5 inches out of the bicep to get to the 6.5 inches I want. My two measurements are now 2 inches out of the torso and 1.5 inches out of the bicep.

Turn your shirt inside out and lay it completely flat with the side seams facing up. Using a pen and a ruler, measure and mark dots starting at the waist.

Mark your shirt with a pen

When you get to the armpit, I did 1.5 inches instead of 2 inches so there was a gradual curve in the armpit from the torso to the arm. If you are not making the sleeves slimmer, end your taper at the armpit seam, and match the taper to the angle of the sleeve coming down so it’s a smooth arch.

If you are slimming the sleeves, mark your 1.5 inch mark at the bicep.

After you have put the bicep mark, draw a straight line from the edge of the cuff to the bicep mark.

Draw a straight line on the arm from the bicep mark to the cuff

Then, connect the dots, and repeat on the other side. (At this point, if you like to sew with pins, insert them. I find that it’s just an extra step that I don’t need.)

Connect the dots on both sides

Get your sewing machine, load a matching color of your shirt into the bobbin and spool. You’re ready to sew! Sew along the line that you drew, making sure that your fabric is lying flat and the old seam is all the way to the edge. When you start, sew forward and back then forward again in the beginning and end to make sure it doesn’t come unravelled.

Sew along the line you drew

Now turn it back, right-side out, and try it on. Make sure it fits right. It may be a little tight in the armpit area, and you might see some weird bunching. This is because of the extra fabric that is still in there. The next step, once you are sure that you’re happy with the fit, is to cut that out. If you aren’t happy, you will need to use a seam ripper to take out all of the stitches. This is a pain and will take a while, so hopefully you measured/sewed correctly.

Get some scissors and cut about 1/4 inch from the seam you just sewed on both sides.

Cut off the extra leaving 1/4 inch

We will finish this seam with an overcast stitch. This is optional, but highly recommended for dress shirts. It will keep it from fraying. This isn’t as important on t-shirts and polos. They won’t fray nearly as easy.To sew an overcast stitch, you will need an overcast foot and turn your sewing machine to the overcast setting. See your instruction manual for these. Do this for both sides.

Overcast Stitch

And you’re finished! Enjoy your newly tailored shirt. What once was your least favorite shirt in your closet might just become your favorite!

Before and After Tailoring 2

Before and After Tailoring

Some things you can try after you are comfortable with this is instead of sewing a straight line down the side, try a curved line. The waist stays the same and the chest stays the same, but the stomach area will be brought in. Do this by taking more measurements of your body and making something that fits you perfectly.

If you are more interactive, here’s a video that I made with most of the same information!



If you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to write them in the comments section. I know this was a tad complicated. I’d love to help or talk about your experiences! Or if you are viewing this from my homepage, click the “talking bubble” at the top of the article to comment.


“Think of Your Dress Shirt as Your Bulletproof Vest. It’s the first thing you put on and your last line of defense. When you button it up in the morning, you should feel confident, in control, even invincible. Seriously, putting on a crisp, clean shirt that fits perfectly makes you feel like you’re the boss.” – The Editors of GQ



20 thoughts on “How To Tailor A Shirt

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  5. Hey Zack, I was just wondering what type of sewing machine you use, and what can you tell me about looking into getting one?

    • Thanks for the question, Tyler. My machine is a New Home which was bought by Jenome quite a few years ago. It’s an older machine that I found at a garage sale. It’s in great condition. I bought it from a seamstress who couldn’t see well enough to use it anymore. As for what to look for when buying one, I’m not an expert, but I do know that there are three main companies now (Janome, Singer, and Brother). You won’t really go wrong with one of these, but I would definitely check garage sales and craigslist. You can get one for a steal.

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  7. Zach, I just found your blog and I must congratulate you! Great job with the advice and tutorials, as they are super clear. Question: what about correct shirt length? Looking at this post, on your before and after shirt alteration, the shirt sleeves look like they contain a bit too much material – specifically the bunched up material around the elbow. Is this just personal preference? Thanks in advance!

    • Yeah, I’d say that it’s just a bit too much, but I’ve tried sleeve length alternations before and they take a LONG time. That might be one of the things you take to a tailor and find out how much it costs to shorten the sleeves. Just make sure you don’t make them too short either! That will look worse than too long.

      Thanks for reading!

  8. Hey Zack,

    Nice tutorial/video. One of the things I was wondering was if I was just going to trim down the sleeve width. I have a shirt that fits well in the torso, but is too wide at the sleeves. Where do I end the marks? Going from the cuff to the bicep is fine, but then do I go from the bicep mark to the armpit? I feel like there will be a hole in the armpit if I do it that way and cut away the excess fabric. Any tips? Thanks!

  9. Thanks for taking the time for this. Would you still recommend using this method instead of darting shirts for a slim fit shirt? With the shirts I have, the chest and stomach fits pretty well, however the back has too much material. I will give this a try tho on some older shirts to see if it works out

  10. Hi Zack,

    Thanks for the great and simple instruction. I had been taking out fabric all the way to the cuff and having to rip and restitch that. This is much faster.

    -Marvin A.

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