Once just a fashion blip from the 80s, off-the-shoulder tops have cycled back into the world of trending fashion! Do you have some glitzy shoulder-baring shirts from your heyday in the 80s that you can dig out of your closet or borrow from your mom? If you don’t, you can learn how to cut an off-the-shoulder shirt yourself.
The most popular way to cut an off-the-shoulder shirt is to use scissors to transform a loose t-shirt into an off-the-shoulder drape. Other popular methods include using a sewing machine to turn a button-down blouse into an off-the-shoulder shirt. Long sleeve shirts and sweatshirts can also get an update with cut-out shoulders using chalk and scissors.
In this article, you will learn what an off-the-shoulder shirt is. You will discover nine ways to turn a shirt into a stylish off-shoulder number. Finally, you will find tips on how to wear your new off-the-shoulder top!
- What is an Off-the-Shoulder Shirt?
- How to Cut Off the Shoulder Shirt: 9 Methods
- How Do You Cut Up a Shirt and Make it Cute?
- How Do You Cut a Shirt to Make it More Feminine?
- How Do You Cut a Shirt Into a Tank Top
- How to Wear an Off-the-Shoulder Top
What is an Off-the-Shoulder Shirt?
An off-the-shoulder shirt leaves either one or both shoulders uncovered. Popular styles include loose tees, peek-a-boo shoulder shirts, Bardot neckline tops, and gathered peasant blouses. Many off-the-shoulder shirts use a band of elastic around the low neckline to help keep the top in place, though some t-shirt styles count on the stretchy fabric to keep the shirt in place.
While you may associate this shoulder-baring trend with the 80s, the Bardot neckline–famously named after an actress–has its origins way back in the 1800s. During this era, Napoleon’s empress made off-the-shoulder dresses super popular. This led to the Queen Victoria style dresses of the late 1800s, with their huge bell-shaped hoopskirts and low necklines.
As with most fashion crazes, if you look back far enough, you can see that the same ideas seem to cycle in and out of style!
But it is true that the off-shoulder look hit the modern world in the 1980s. Peekaboo shoulders and the one-shoulder drape became a symbol of rebellion largely because a bared shoulder suggests an “undressed” look. Celebrities like Madonna made the look into a trend.
In the 1990s, the off-shoulder mostly disappeared, along with the giant boxy shoulder pads that had a brief moment in the sun during the 80s.
Then all things the 80s became cool again in recent years, and just like that, you can see bare shoulders everywhere!
How to Cut Off the Shoulder Shirt: 9 Methods
You can cut off-the-shoulder shirts using just chalk and a pair of scissors or create more elaborate styles using a sewing machine. You can wear a retro 80-s look or snip out the more modern graphic tee shoulderless style. Check out these step-by-step guides to get started!
1. Cutting Step by Step
The simplest way to cut a shirt off the shoulder is to use a t-shirt and a pair of scissors to create a classic Bardot neckline. T-shirt fabric will not fray, so you don’t have to sew it after cutting if you don’t mind the slightly rugged cut edge look. This is a great way to update a fitted tee with a crewneck collar to make it more unique!
- Smooth out the shirt flat on a hard surface, with the front of the tee facing up to you.
- Use a tape measure to measure outward from the neckline at the shoulder seam, stopping at the point where you want the new neckline to begin, and mark this point with chalk. Repeat this measurement on the other shoulder seam as well.
- Next, measure down from the center point of the neckline to mark where you want the lowest point of the new neckline to fall in the center of your chest. Mark this with chalk as well.
- If you feel confident in your drawing ability, you can freehand draw a curved line connecting your three chalk points. If you prefer a little assistance, you can print out a half-circle shape online or even trace the neckline of an off-the-shoulder top you already own.
- Use sharp scissors to cut through both layers of the shirt along your curved chalk line.
You can easily modify a button-up blouse into one of the most popular off-the-shoulder looks using scissors and a sewing machine. For this method, you need a button blouse much larger than your usual size to pull the shirt on and off over your head without unbuttoning it.
- Try on the blouse and use a safety pin or a piece of chalk to mark where you would like the new off-shoulder neckline to go. Typically in this style, the “neckline” is a straight line stretching from one armpit to the other, making measuring easy!
- Now use chalk to mark this line across the front of the blouse.
- Make a second chalk line one inch above this point. You will need the extra inch to sew a neat folded edge later.
- Use scissors to cut through both layers of the blouse on your second, higher chalk marking.
- Next, set up an iron and ironing board and carefully press the top ¼” of the cut edge to the inside of the shirt. This will create a neat closed edge, so the blouse does not fray as you wear it. You may need to remove a button from the front of the blouse to make this fold.
- Use your sewing machine to stitch along that fold, holding it in place.
- Now go back to the ironing board and press a ¾” fold around the neckline.
- Once again, use the sewing machine to stitch this fold in place, but try to stitch as close as possible to your original stitch line. This way, you leave a pocket of space between the stitches and the top edge of the fold.
- Stop sewing with a one-inch gap left unstitched.
- Wrap a piece of ½” wide elastic around your shoulders. You want it to feel snug but not stretched tight. Cut it at this length, leaving about an inch of extra elastic to allow you to sew it into a circle later.
- Attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic and use this to work the elastic into the one-inch gap you left and wiggle it around inside the pocket of space in your neckline hem.
- Once you make a full circle around the neckline, pin the two ends of the elastic together and put in a few stitches on your sewing machine.
- Finally, use your sewing machine to close up that one-inch gap you left, completing your gathered off-the-shoulder top!
3. Cutting the Neck
One of the coolest ways to make an off-the-shoulder shirt by cutting the neck is to create a one-shoulder top. This method works best when you use a t-shirt, though you could also use a button-down and hem the neckline as a final step.
- Turn your tee inside out and then spread it out on a flat surface with the front of the tee facing up to you.
- Use a piece of chalk to mark a point right beside the crewneck collar on the shoulder seam.
- Next, mark a point right below the armpit on the opposite side of the shirt.
- Draw a line connecting those two points. You will want the line to curve around the edge of the crewneck collar and then form a straight line down to the armpit point.
- Cut through both layers of the shirt following your chalk line.
- Try on your one-shoulder top and see what you think!
4. Graphic Tees
While you can use the basic off-the-shoulder method described earlier to turn your graphic tees into off-the-shoulder tops, you can also use this even more unique method! Because this technique leaves a shoulder strap in place, you can try it on a fitted tee or a loose, baggy tee.
One thing to keep in mind with graphic tees is that you do not want to accidentally cut off an important part of the image, logo, or lettering. For this reason, you may want to mark your cutting lines with the shirt turned right side out.
- Smooth out the tee on a flat surface.
- Start by drawing a chalk line around the outside edge of the crewneck collar, from the shoulder seam to the midpoint of the rounded collar.
- Next, mark a point halfway down the top edge of the sleeve.
- Draw a straight line connecting the collar midpoint to the sleeve midpoint. You may want to use a ruler here.
- Locate the shoulder seam that attaches the sleeve to the shirt. Use your ruler again to draw a line from the top of the shoulder seam straight down to your horizontal chalk line that crosses the tee from the collar to the sleeve.
- Use the ruler again to draw a second line 1 ½” to the inside of the shirt next to the first vertical line. This will form your shoulder strap!
- Finally, use sharp scissors to cut out the shirt. Begin by cutting along the curved collar line that you drew. Then cut along the straight line, but stop when you get to the shoulder strap lines.
- Cut down from the top of the shirt to cut out the shoulder strap.
- Snip out the triangle of chalk lines left inside the sleeve.
- Now you have an off-the-shoulder tee with a shoulder strap!
5. Button Blouse
You can turn any oversized button-down shirt into an off-the-shoulder top in just a minute without cutting or sewing! This is not a permanent alteration. You simply wear the top in a different, stylish way.
- Unbutton the blouse completely. Put your arms into the sleeves and wrap the shirt around you so the collar stretches across your upper back and the buttoned sides cross your upper arms.
- Find a button that will hold the blouse together at your collarbone. Usually, this is a button midway down the row, not too close to the top of the shirt.
- Button all the buttons below that point.
- You should now have a top stretched pretty tightly around your upper arms and buttoning in your front, leaving your shoulders bare!
- To make it look more finished, you can fold over the edge of the blouse, opening to the outside all the way around to the collar at the back of the top.
If you have an off-the-shoulder peasant blouse but if you find it difficult to wear, try this trick to keep the blouse in place all day long.
- Find two elastic hair ties and four safety pins.
- Hold the hair ties to form a straight line and attach one pin to each end.
- Now turn your top inside out. Find the side seams right at the armpit on each side of the shirt.
- Fold the hair ties in half so that it folds over the side seam on each side.
- Use the safety pins to hook the hair tie to the blouse on either side of the side seam.
- Put the top on. You should feel the hair ties stretching to keep the shirt in place right at your armpits so the sleeves do not ride up over your shoulders!
6. 80s Style
If you want to go all-out 80s style, try this method to turn a baggy tee into a time-traveling outfit! To get the real 80s look, you should use a baggy tee, several sizes too large. If you can, pick a tee in a horrendously vivid neon shade!
- Spread the tee on a tabletop and mark a point two inches to either side of the crewneck collar.
- Next, mark a point two inches below the midpoint of the collar.
- Draw a curved line connecting these three points.
- Cut along your chalk line to form the off-the-shoulder style.
- Now draw a straight line horizontally across the shirt three inches from the hem.
- Cut vertical slits from the hem to this line at one-inch intervals to form a fringe.
- Put on your baggy, fringed 80s top and you’re ready for a disco party!
7. Loose Off Shoulder Tee
One of the cutest ways to redesign a loose off-the-shoulder tee is to add peekaboo shoulders.
- Spread out an oversized t-shirt on a flat surface.
- Smooth out the sleeves and make sure you have them folded in half, so all the edges align.
- For a simple “cold shoulder” look, place a small cereal bowl or large cup so that half of the bowl rests half on and half off of the sleeve, with one edge of the bowl touching the shoulder seam where the sleeve connects to the shirt. Trace the edge o the bowl with chalk to draw a neat half circle into the sleeve.
- Use scissors to cut along your chalk line, snipping through both layers of the shirt.
- Open up the sleeve and see the perfect circle cut out of it!
- Alternatively, you can cut a smaller “U” shape out of the sleeve at the shoulder seam.
- Then use fabric glue to pinch the two small cut-out pieces of fabric into a bow shape.
- Gather together the fabric between the sleeve hem and the cutout shape.
- Use fabric glue again to hold this gather in place. Or get a needle and thread and sew one long running stitch to hold the gather.
- Finally, use fabric glue or a needle and thread to attach the bows to the sleeve on top of the gather.
8. Long Sleeve Shirt
You can easily turn any close-fitting long-sleeve shirt into an off-the-shoulder top following these steps. This method even works for a super lightweight, fitted sweater! For a loose long sleeve shirt, try using the “button down” method described earlier in this article.
- Spread out the shirt on a flat surface.
- Decide how much lower than the neckline you want your new neckline to fall. Mark that point right below the center of the collar.
- Draw a straight line across the shirt from that point all the way across both sleeves.
- Cut along this line, removing the shoulders from the sleeves and the original collar of the shirt.
- Now snip two tiny slits at the very top of each shoulder. This will allow you to fold over the top ½” or the cut edge.
- Fold the top ½” of the cut edge to the inside of the shirt.
- Use a sewing machine to finish this edge, or apply a thin line of fabric glue to keep the folded edge in place.
You can easily cut the neck of a sweatshirt to make it off the shoulder if you have a regular crewneck-style sweatshirt. Hoodies do not work well for this method, as you would have to cut off the nice hood during the process!
- Fold your sweatshirt in half lengthwise so that the shoulder seams, sleeves, and collar all match up neatly.
- Use sewing pins or clips to hold those edges in place.
- Now draw a curve a few inches out from the sweatshirt collar. You can use anything curved such as a bowl or cup of the right size, to help you get a nice shape!
- Use sharp scissors to cut along this line.
- Open the shirt to see a wide opening reaching from shoulder to shoulder!
- If you feel fancy, you can fold under the top ½” of the cut fabric and sew it in place. But if you like a more rugged look, you can leave the raw edge instead.
How Do You Cut Up a Shirt and Make it Cute?
You can cut up a shirt to make it cute in hundreds of different ways. Check out this list of fun upcycles to try!
- Turn any tee into a crop top by drawing a straight horizontal line across the shirt. Then cut off the bottom of the shirt, following the line.
- Create a sexy neckline by snipping triangles in a circle inside the collar. Or cut a “U” of fabric out of the shirt right below the collar, creating a peekaboo neckline.
- Use a stencil and a craft knife to cut out all kinds of cool designs from the back of the shirt, like butterfly wings, flowers, lacey hearts, and more!
How Do You Cut a Shirt to Make it More Feminine?
If you want to cut a shirt to make it look more feminine, try shortening the sleeves or checking out these other handy tips!
- Cut the hem off the sleeves. Shorter sleeves show more of the curves of your body, making the shirt look more feminine. You can also cut the hem off the bottom of the shirt if it hangs too long for your body.
- Cut a half circle out of the back of the shirt, removing the back portion of the crewneck collar. Then use a needle and thread to attach two long ribbons on either side of the opening. When you put on the shirt, tie the ribbons into a cute back-of-the-neck bow.
- If you want a more fitted shirt, try slicing the side seams and then cutting a fringe on each side of your cut. Tie the fringe strips together, creating a knotted side seam that hugs your body more closely.
How Do You Cut a Shirt Into a Tank Top
You can cut a shirt into a tank top in many different ways, including creating a bow back.
- The easiest way to turn a t-shirt into a tank top is to spread out your tee on a flat surface and then spread a tank top. Trace the armhole and neckline of the tank onto the tee, and then cut along those lines.
- To make a cute bow-back tank, cut extra long armholes into the shirt. Then gather the fabric between the armholes at the back of the shirt. Use a strip of the excess fabric to tie a bow around this gathered material.
- Cut off the sleeves and cut a deeper scooped neck into any t-shirt to turn it into a tank. Then cut a fringe around the bottom of the shirt and tie a knot at the top of each strip in the fringe.
How to Wear an Off-the-Shoulder Top
Now that you have your own DIY off-the-shoulder shirts check out these tips for how to wear a shoulder-bearing shirt!
- Pair an off-the-shoulder top with high-waisted jeans, or wear a close-fitting top with a short skirt or jean shorts.
- If you feel comfortable, skip the bra and wear a looser off-the-shoulder top by itself. Or find a good strapless bra to pair with your top.
- To highlight the missing top of the shirt, try layering short necklaces with your shirt.
- If you want to wear skinny jeans, try pairing them with a loose, flowy off-the-shoulder top for a good contrast.
You can cut off the shoulder of a shirt in many different ways, including creating peekaboo shoulders, adding elastic for a peasant blouse style, or cutting a shoulder strap into the shirt. If you cut a t-shirt or sweatshirt, you do not have to worry about sewing because the raw edge will not fray. You can also upcycle a button-down shirt into an off-the-shoulder top by using a sewing machine to add elastic to the neckline.
For a more retro vibe, you can turn a loose, neon-colored shirt into an off-the-shoulder 80s-style top. You can even update a sweatshirt by cutting a straight line across the shirt from one shoulder to the other, removing the tops of the shoulders and the origins collar.