How To Shorten A Dress

It can be difficult to find the perfect dress at the ideal length when store-bought dresses are too generic. You might find something in-store that fits great and looks perfect aside from being a few inches too long in the skirt. Or, you may get a second-hand item from a friend that you would love to transform. How do you shorten dresses, and does it have to mean getting out the sewing machine?

There are two ways to shorten a dress that is a little too long. The best solution is to alter the hemline and bring the bottom skirt section up to the required length. You can do this by sewing a new hem or by fixing the material with an alternative product. There are also some temporary fixes for the hem that may not be as effective. The alternative is to bring the dress up by shortening the straps. But this can be problematic without good sewing skills.

women cutting a dress

Is It Easy to Shorten a Dress?

The ease of the process depends on what you want to do. Some methods are much easier than others depending on the tools and products used. The first thing you need to do is decide whether you want to permanently make the dress shorter at a fixed length or to temporarily do so. There are pros and cons to each approach.

Permanently making a dress shorter is great if you have a second-hand item that is a little longer than needed, or if you make a mistake while sewing. You can bring the length in line with your requirements and keep it that way every time you wear the dress. The right method should mean that the dress doesn’t slip over the course of the day. However, once you go for a permanent method you probably aren’t going to be able to amend what you have done. 

That is where some of the more temporary solutions could help. There are ways of altering the way you wear a dress that could shorten the length for one use. This can make a dress more practical for a single occasion or add a new style. For example, you could hitch up some of the material around the waist, fold it over, and secure it with a belt or tie. There are similar approaches with gathering and knotting the skirt material. The problem though is that these adjustments may not stay in place for long and may not look as neat as you intended.

How To Permanently Adjust the Length of Your Dress

If you decide that the best option here is to make a permanent change to the length of the skirt, the most reliable method is to sew a new hem. The ease of doing this can all depend on how much you want to take off.

Take your time measuring both yourself and the dress to make sure that you get the right fit. Or, have someone help you by pinning the dress in place while you are wearing it. This can be a much better option because you see the way the dress drapes and hangs on the body and are more likely to get a straighter hem. Don’t rush this because once the hem is sewn it is a pain to start ripping it out and trying again. Pin the new hem into place and see how it looks and feels.

If you plan to work on dresses or tops regularly, you may wat to consider making a DIY dress form. That way you place your garments on the form for a better fit, especially when trying to take measurements on yourself when you’re alone.

Try and get a good look at the length from all angles, which could mean having your eager assistant take photos of the dress from the back. See how it feels to walk around in. Also, try sitting down in it – being careful of the pins – to see if the hem rides up much further than you intended. If you feel it is too short then you can unpin and bring it down. Or, if you haven’t gone high enough, you can go a little higher. 

Once you are sure that you have the perfect length on the pinned garment, you can take it off and sew the hem in place on the sewing machine. Go slow to create a nice straight stitch. Once complete, you can press and launder the dress ready for your big occasion. 

Cutting Your Dress to the Right Length

A common problem with adjusting the length of dresses is the excess material. This isn’t an issue if you just need to bring a hem up by a couple of centimeters as it won’t show too much underneath. But what if you want to turn a full-length dress into something just below the knees?

Again, measuring is crucial because you don’t want to go crazy with a pair of scissors or fabric scissors and find you’ve taken far more off at the back than at the front. A good hack here is to get a dress at the length you want, put it over the longer dress, and then trace the hemline onto the material. You can do this in chalk, so it rubs off at the end. Cut below this line to give yourself enough excess material for the new hem, and then pin as you would have before.

How To Shorten Straps on a Dress

A different way to change the length of a dress is to work from the top rather than the bottom. The length of the straps on a dress can make a big difference to the length of the garment overall. So, if you shorten the straps and hitch the dress up from the shoulders, you could bring the length up just enough to make a difference. This could work if you only need to lose around an inch. More extreme adjustments require sewing and cutting at the hem. The other issue is that by altering the dress from the top, you could also end up shifting the neckline, bust line, and waistline on the dress. Mistakes here could result in the need for massive alterations.

Still, it can be helpful to know how to shorten dress straps when sewing at home in case they get too long or don’t sit flat against the body. The best way to do this is to pinch together the excess material at the shoulder seam, rather than cutting and modifying the straps in a more visible place. Pin it in place and then see how this alteration affects the rest of the dress. Mark your additional adjustments and take the piece to the sewing machine. You may have a lot of work ripping out seems and other features so make sure this is worth the effort if all you want to do is shorten the dress. 

How To Shorten a Dress Without Sewing

If this all sounds like too much hassle or you don’t have much confidence working with a sewing machine, there are other options. The great thing about making a new hem for a dress is that the excess material and modifications are hidden from view. This means that you can apply other forms of fixatives to the material to keep it in place. There is the risk that the products will lose their adhesion with time, or after too many washes. You might also see a slight change in the look or feel of the hem depending on the product. However, this can be a great option for quick fixes on dresses that aren’t worn too much.

One solution here is fabric glue. A good fabric glue will stick the material together with a strong clear substance and shouldn’t be too much of a problem when it comes to the texture. You can apply it to the hem, press the material in place, leave it to dry, and then have a new hem without sewing.

The downside of glue is that it can get a bit messy. That is when you can turn to a hem tape instead. These are mess-free strips that you apply to the hem and heat up with an iron. This fuses the materials to bond the hem. It won’t last forever, but it is pretty easy.

The ease of use with these non-sewing methods for shortening dresses will also depend on the change in length. Glue is great for small adjustments if you can get a good applicator. Webbing works great for a couple of inches. Anything beyond that and you still need to be very careful measuring and cutting the fabric.

Can You Shorten Dresses at Home?

To summarize, there are options available if you have a dress that is too long right now. Small alterations with fabric glue or tape on a new hem can be effective, although a little prone to degradation. Cutting and sewing a new hem is trickier and more permanent. As long as you take care when measuring, cutting, pinning, and reviewing the length, you should be fine. Don’t be scared to make these transformations if it means you will wear the dress more often and with greater confidence.