How To Shorten A Dress: Temporary And Permanent Alterations

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A dress can be an incredibly versatile garment. It can be even more versatile if you know how to raise and lower the hem. If you know how to make a dress shorter without sewing, you can greatly expand your wardrobe without buying a thing.

And if you want a permanently shortened dress, we can help you with that too. 

Reasons Why You Might Want to Shorten a Dress

Why might you want to shorten a dress?

Well, let’s start with an obvious one. Most of us have a formal dress that we acquired for a prom, wedding, or other function. We justified the expense saying we’d wear it again, even knowing how unlikely that would actually be.

However, if you could convert that formal gown into a shorter dress, there are all sorts of occasions where you could wear it. You could, of course, shorten the dress permanently to the new desired length, or you could temporarily shorten it. 

Either way, that expensive formal gown can find a new life.

You might also find a dress or skirt that would be just perfect…if only it were a bit shorter. Or even a lot shorter. Knowing how to convert any dress or skirt to the desired length means that you can make it fit you.

How to Make a Dress Shorter Temporarily

There are several ways to alter the length of a dress without cutting it, and to make a temporary hem. From hem tape to safety pins, here are the tricks.

Hem Tape

So, you want to make a long dress shorter temporarily. Hem tape could be a solution. Iron-in hem tape is semi-permanent, but double sided removable fabric tape can give your old dress the quick change makeover that it needs.

Use a Belt

Would you like to know how to make a dress shorter without sewing or making a temporary hem? Simply belt the dress at your natural waist and pull the fabric up a few inches over the belt in the waist area. This works best with a maxi dress or other loose fitting dress.

Tie a Knot

Another way to shorten a loose-fitting dress without hemming it is to tie a knot at the hem or at the waist. You can make the new length pretty much as long as you like, and take it out when you’re done.

This video can give you a few ideas.

Secure with Safety Pins

Safety pins are another way to make a temporary hem. It doesn’t take very many safety pins to do the job. In fact, this video shows you how to do it with just a few safety pins.

The last thing anyone wants is a safety pin showing in their dress, so be sure to hide your safety pins in the waistband or side seams of your dress.

How to Permanently Shorten a Dress

Of course if you want a permanently shortened dress, that’s pretty easy, too. No machine? No problem! It’s pretty easy to hem that dress by hand.

Before You Begin

The first thing to do is to determine if your dress has a straight hem or a curved hem. You can make a shorter hem for either type of dress, but hemming a curved hem dress requires an extra step.

First, lay your dress flat. Now look at the bottom edge. Is it curved like this?

make a dress shorter

Or straight like this?

shorten dress

If your edge is curved, you’ll need to square it.

First, sew a line of long, loose basting stitches along the line where you want the new hem to be. You can do this by machine or by hand.

dress shortening

Next, gently pull the stitches until the side seams appear to be straight, parallel lines leading down to the bottom edge of your dress.

dress shorten simple

Now, flip your shortened hem up and secure it to the inner part of the dress with pins.

easy ways to shorten dress

Now you can complete the hem using one of the methods below.

Hand Hemming

Hemming your dress by hand may sound like a lot of work, but it’s not. In fact, if you’re not a regular sewing machine user, sewing by hand may be faster and easier.

Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Put on your dress.

Step 2: Use tailor chalk to mark where you want the new hem to be.

simple ways to shorten a dress

Step 3: Take the garment off, turn it inside out, and lay it flat.

Step 4: If you need to square the hem, use the method described above. If not, continue on to the next step.

Step 5: Turn the hem up along the chalk line. Secure it to the wrong side of the fabric with pins. Use a measuring tape to make sure that the hem is the same length all the way around.

how can you shorten a dress

Step 6: Press the new hem with an iron.

Step 7: If you’re shortening your dress by one inch (2.54 centimetres) or less, then you won’t need to cut. However, if you’re shortening by a lot, chalk a second line half an inch (1.27 centimetres) above the new hemline.

ways to shorten a dress

Step 8: If you’re cutting, cut along the new chalk line and remove the extra fabric.

dress shortening tips

Step 9: Fold the new edge under by a quarter inch (.635 centimetres), press with your iron, and secure with pins.

shorten dress pins

Step 10: Secure the two layers of the folded edge to the back of the fabric using a blind stitch, as shown in the video below.

Using a sewing machine

If you want more than a temporary fix, a sewing machine can help you to make a robust, permanent hem for your dress.

Prepare your garment as above. Square your hem if necessary, then follow steps 1 through 9.

Once you have the correct length, use your machine to stitch the hem to the inside of your dress. 

You can use a straight stitch if you don’t mind your stitching showing on the front. Some sewing machines also have a blind hem stitch, which is less visible.

Keep your seam ripper handy in case you make a mistake!

Fabric Glue

Some types of fabric glue make a permanent bond that’s ideal for hemming your garment to an ideal length.

To glue a shortened hem, first, square the hem if needed. Then follow steps 1 through 9 above.. 

Instead of sewing, apply the fabric glue per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Shortening Specific Dress Types

Many hems are fairly straightforward, but some types of dresses may require a few extra steps.

How to Shorten a Dress With a Curved Hem

A lot of loose, flowing dresses, for example prom dresses and maxi dresses, have a curved hem. Simply flipping the edge up and stitching a straight line can result in buckling and pleating. You can avoid this by squaring the edge to gather the extra fabric, as described above.

Remember to use a measuring tape to make sure that the new hem is the same length all the way around, before trimming away the excess fabric.

How to Shorten a Ruffled Dress

There are a few different ways to shorten a ruffled dress.

First, if the ruffle is on the bottom edge, and you don’t want to keep it, you can simply unpick the seam holding the ruffle to the dress, fold up the new edge, and sew, tape, or glue it into place.

If you do want to keep the bottom ruffle, but you want the dress to be shorter, then unpick the seam holding the ruffle, fold the raw edge back against the inner part of the dress, pin the ruffle back on, and secure according to one of the methods described above.

And if you want to shorten a dress without a ruffle, then add a ruffle to it, check out this video.

How to Make a High-Low Dress Shorter

Most dresses are one length all the way around the bottom. A 

A high low dress, aka a mullet dress or waterfall dress, has different lengths. That is, the hem is higher in some places than in others. Often, the hem is very high in front, and very low in the back. 

Making a new hem on a high low dress is easier in some ways than making a new hem on a regular skirt, and more difficult in other ways.

Have your measuring tape ready.

First, lay your dress out on a flat surface. You’ll want to lay it out so that the high edges meet the high edges, and the low edges meet the low edges. The hemline will have an “S” shape.

Next, mark your new hemline with pins. You might want to experiment a bit with the dress on, first, to find the perfect mix of high and low. Once you have the hemline where you want it, use your tailor chalk to mark a line half an inch below the pin line.

Now flip the dress over and chalk the new hemline on the other side.

Use scissors or a rotary cutter to cut along the chalk line.

Double fold the raw edge, pin, and press. Finish using one of the methods describe above.

You can also finish the raw edge with a serger, as in this video.

How to Shorten a Dress With Attached Lining

This is actually easier than it sounds, and there are a few ways to do it.

For the first method, unpick the hems of both the dress and the lining. If the lining is attached to the dress inside, unpick the stitches that hold it there. Fold or cut both the lining and the dress as needed, then re-hem both using one of the methods above.

Remember that the lining should be shorter than the dress itself.

This video shows another easy method.

How to Make a Tiered Dress Shorter

Many times you can simply unpick the seams holding the tiers. Once you have the length you want, secure the new edge using one of the above methods.

How to Shorten a Dress With a Zipper

If your alterations cross over a zipper, don’t worry. If you know how to shorten the zipper itself, it’s not that complicated.

Check this out.

Now that you understand the process, mark your zipper as directed in the video, and whipstitch the new end point. Make sure that the new end point is above the cut you’ll be making across the middle of the garment. 

Now shorten according to the directions for shortening from the middle (below).

Best Ways to Shorten a dress From the Middle

Sometimes it’s easier to shorten a dress from the middle than from the bottom. As with hemming from the bottom, this type of alteration can be permanent, or temporary (without sewing). [1]

First, put the dress on and figure out where you want the shortening line to be. Mark it with pins. Now flip the dress inside out, and use chalk to mark your line.

Now it’s time to choose your method.

Sew It

Cut along your chalk line. Shorten as desired, then re-attach the two pieces by sewing.

Tape It

Pinch the chalk line, and draw as much fabric into the fold as needed. Secure to the inside of the dress with tape.

Pin It

Exactly as above, but secure with safety pins.

Whatever your method, measure carefully to make sure your alteration is even.

Dress Shortening FAQs

Still have questions? We have answers!

Can You Remove Stitches Used to Shorten a Dress?

With your handy seam ripper, you can remove practically any stitches that you’ve sewn.

Can You use Regular Tape if You Haven’t Got Hem Tape?

That depends on the tape and the fabric.

Regular sticky tape may not be strong enough to hold heavy fabrics for a long time. Duct tape is strong enough, but it might not be the best choice for your garment. Some commercial double sided tapes work great. Experiment with what you have on hand to find the best fit.

Can a Short Dress be Formal?

It depends on the event and the host.

If a strict dress code isn’t specified, then an elegant shorter dress made from opulent materials may be appropriate. On the other hand, if a dress code is specified (for example black tie or white tie) then it’s best to follow the rules. [2]

That’s How to Shorten a Dress!

Did you like our alterations tutorial? Do you have ideas for more tips for our readers? Drop us a line!

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how to shorten a dress
About The Author:
Jess Faraday

Jess Faraday learned to sew as an act of teenage rebellion. Her mother always hated to sew, so Jess took up the hobby to prove a point! It has since turned into a satisfying lifelong hobby. When not sewing, Jess enjoys trail running and martial arts. She’s even written a novel or two!

  1. Sewing Machine Buffs | How to Shorten Your Dress From the Middle |
  2. Sew Guide | Dress Code: The Basic 10 Dress Codes Defined |

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