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Reduce Fullness in Tailored Shirts

Here is an adjustment you can make on ready-to-wear shirts. This technique allows you to reduce fullness in your garment without the need to deconstruct it. The shirts shown belong to one of my clients. She loves tailored shirts but dislikes the fullness that extends from the center-back pleat. Her preference is for a slimmer silhouette, so I devised a solution. Sometimes, the path of least resistance is the way to go, as with this method. You get a professional result and will save time getting the job done.

Adjust from the center-back pleat

Most ready-to-wear shirts are a classic style with a center-back pleat, which is formed before the yoke is attached. It is generally pressed for a couple of inches below the yoke, then allowed to open up to create fullness in the body of the shirt. People who prefer more ease of movement have no issue with this style, as there are no restrictions below the shoulder blades.

Before making this type of adjustment, check with the client to make sure the shirt will still be comfortable to wear. If the shirt is yours, you can pin first, then try it on to see if the adjustment works for you.

Back of red plaid shirt hanging up
I started with one of my client’s tailored plaid shirts, which had a typical back yoke and center-back pleat.

Many of my client’s shirts were made in plaid cottons or soft flannels, so it really helped to be able to follow the lines in the fabrics to stay on grain. You can see the fullness in the shirt back below the pleat.Close-up of plaid shirt pleat, or vent, at the back yoke

How to reduce fullness

Below is the process I followed to reduce fullness in several tailored shirts.

1. Place the shirt back on a pinnable surface—I used my ironing board—and tug slightly on one side of the pleat while tucking it under. Stab pins into the surface, or ironing board, to hold the pleat in place and press one pleat foldline flat.

Plaid shirt back pinned to ironing board, to address fullness


After one side is pressed in place, repeat the process for the opposite side of the pleat, or vent.

iron presses pinned fold in plaid shirt's center-back pleat, a step to reduce fullness


2. Once the pleat is pressed flat, from below the yoke to the hem, pin the closed pleat horizontally to keep it in place. If you are working with a plaid shirt, make sure the crosswise plaid lines match.

Pinned and pressed center-back pleat


3. Edgestitch the pleat on each side to keep it permanently in place. Do this from the yoke through the hem.

Close-up of stitched shirt. This is how to reduce fullness in tailored shirts.


4. Stitch across the hemline, as well, to keep everything as flat as possible.

Stitch across hemline where pleat was sewn to reduce fullness


5. Make sure to press the area after you are done.
finished and pressed plaid shirt with reduced fullness

Reduce fullness in tailored shirts: completed plaid shirt hanging with back showing

Examples of adjusted shirts

I used this method on several of my client’s shirts. Notice that I edgestitched and topstitched a few of the shirt pleats. It really depends on the look you prefer, as well as the amount of fabric underneath the pleats after they are formed. You may need the extra line of stitching to keep the fabric underneath as flat as possible.

Fullness reduced in teal and blue plaid shirt

Reduced fullness shown on center-back of plaid shirt

Fullness reduced on animal print tailored shirt

The pink multicolor plaid shirt, below, had many vertical and horizontal lines to assist in getting the back pleat in a straight line.Pink multicolor plaid shirt's center-back pleat is pinned and pressed before stitching to reduce fullness


Even a solid chambray shirt that featured an inverted back pleat could be adjusted to reduce fullness.

Reduced fullness on chambray shirt

My client was thrilled to be able to wear her shirts after they were adjusted.

You may have some shirts that were stashed in the back of your closet because they don’t fit the way you desire. This may be the solution for you.

See more of Pamela Howard’s expert alteration methods and tips here.


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