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Alter a Men’s Shirt: Adjust the Shoulders and Torso

Threads #217, Spring 2022
The adjusted shirt has a trimmer fit, and the sleeves are the right length.

Learn how to reduce a collar, narrow shoulders that are overly wide, or shorten sleeves that are too long. Although I explain in this article how to make these fit alterations on men’s shirts, they can be done on garments made for or worn by any gender. Your effort will be repaid in a shirt that skims the body smoothly with minimal excess fabric.

Manufacturers market to middle-sized people, so if you are at either end of the size spectrum, you might not find shirts to suit your measurements. But you can start with a store-bought shirt and customize its fit.

Off-the-rack shirts are typically constructed with flat-felled seams and narrow hems, so they have little seam allowance available for enlarging the garment. Therefore, to get adequate ease in a shirt, you’ll need to start with a shirt that fits the largest or longest part of your body well, then take in or shorten the oversized areas. A tall, lean person may buy a larger size to accommodate long arms but find the shoulders, collar, and torso too roomy. A shorter person with a well-developed upper body and neck can shorten the sleeves and torso on a shirt that fits their circumference appropriately. These alterations continue my instructions on improving the fit of purchased shirts. In Threads #216 (Winter 2021), I had focused on fixing excess width and length in the shirt’s body.

Understanding fit adjustments can benefit you in multiple ways. They enable you to create your preferred silhouette, whether that is somewhat relaxed or more fitted. If your body changes, you may be able to alter shirts you own already. And if you enjoy thrift shopping, you can personalize the fit of that one-of-a-kind, vintage shirt you fall in love with.

The shoulders are too wide

Too-wide…

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  1. user-7931766 | | #1

    The majority of men's dress shirts have flat felled seams. When you narrow the sleeves, do you change from flat felled seams to a regular seam? What do you do about the cuff?

    1. CarolFresia | | #2

      To make the sleeves narrower, sew a new seam more or less parallel to the original sleeve seam. Taper gradually back to the original seam by the time you get to the cuff. You can then press the allowances to one side and topstitch them to mimic the original flat-felled seam construction.
      If the new allowances are wide enough, trim off the old seam and finish the new allowances as desired. Serging and then topstitching them down to create a faux flat-felled seam is the easiest method. From the outside, they'll look similar to the original seams.
      If you are willing to spend more time, you can remove the cuff; resew the sleeve seam in a true flat-felled seam; recut the cuff a bit smaller if desired, and reattach it. This is more of a complete overhaul than an alteration, though, and you may not need to reduce the cuff circumference.
      Carol Fresia, Threads Senior Technical Editor

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