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How to Make a Dress Tighter

Maybe you started a new diet and it worked better than expected, or you just like to shop the sales rack and bring home the clothes that almost fit you. Either way, you may find yourself stuck with many too-big dresses in your closet! Don’t worry, though, because you can learn how to make a dress tighter and keep wearing your favorite outfits for years to come.

The most permanent way to make a dress tighter is to tailor the side seams or add darts to make the bust smaller. Making a dress tighter without sewing is possible with safety pins, double-sided tape, or even grommets. Quick hacks like gathering the dress with the help of a metal bracelet can also make a dress tighter quickly.

In this article, you will find out how to make a dress tighter at home or even out and about in a hurry. You will discover nine methods for making a dress tighter, ranging from sewing to simple safety pins. Finally, you will learn tips for how to make loose clothes look tighter.

How to Make Dress Tighter

Can a Dress Be Made Tighter?

You can always make a loose dress tighter. You can alter a dress one to two sizes using sewing techniques, or use temporary fixes such as a shoelace and safety pins to scrunch excess material at the back of the garment.

Actually, finding a dress that is too big for you is kind of good news. You can pretty much always remove extra fabric to make clothing smaller. It’s much harder to make a too-small garment bigger to fit you!

Why do you want to make your dress tighter? Well, most dresses have design elements meant to highlight certain parts of the body, like the waistline. Other key areas include the shoulder seams and the bust.

If the dress does not fit these parts of your body closely enough, the shoulder seams will hang off your shoulders, the waistline will droop down toward your hips, and the bust of the dress will look poofy.

Of course, you can find many different dress styles and some have a loose, flowy shape on purpose. Think of a smock dress or some types of maxi dresses, for example. But even these styles need to fit you in places like the armholes and shoulders!

How Can I Make My Dress Tight at Home?

You can make your dress tight at home using simple hacks for a quick fix or using sewing techniques if you own a sewing machine.

Either way, it’s a good idea to keep a few crucial tools handy.

  • You should always keep a few safety pins stuck to a scrap of fabric in your purse or backpack. You can use these little tools to fix a ripped hem, a torn strap on a bag, or tighten up a loose dress!
  • Double-sided tape can save the day in an emergency. Get a roll of this cheap tape before a prom, wedding, or formal event. You never know when you may need to hold up an awkwardly slipping part of a gown or quickly make a dress look tighter for the big event!
  • If you have access to a sewing machine, stock up on a few spools of ½” elastic. You can use this to easily alter a dress at the waist.
  • Of course, the most permanent and professional way to make a baggy dress fit you is to tailor the seams, making the dress one to two sizes smaller. Before trying this, buy a thread that matches the garment, so your alterations do not show on the outside!

How to Make a Dress Tighter: 9 Methods

How to make a dress smaller

You can make a dress tighter with sewn alterations, with gathering techniques, or even by inserting grommets and laces!

The main idea is to make key areas of the dress smaller to highlight the shape of your body. You may want to focus on the waistline to quickly make a baggy dress look like it fits you, but you can also alter the bustline or the shoulders to tailor the garment to your particular shape.

1. Tailoring at the Waist

The best way to make a sleeveless, fitted, or A-line dress tighter is to tailor the side seams at the waist. This method requires basic sewing skills and access to a sewing machine. That said, you will find it pretty simple once you try it!

You can also find this method called “taking in” a dress, which is just another way to describe sewing new seams farther inside the shape of the dress to make it smaller.

You can perform this technique on a dress with sleeves, but you would need to rip out the sleeves and then sew them back in to add new side seams. This can get much trickier.

  1. Start by trying on the dress to determine how much excess fabric you need to remove. If you have a friend to help you, try the dress on as usual and have your friend use sewing clips or pins to pinch in the sides at the waist until you like the shape of the dress. Make sure you pinch up equal amounts of fabric at either side of the waist.
  2. If you need to do this yourself, try on the dress inside out and then pinch up the sides and hold the excess fabric with pins or clips. Use a mirror to make sure you have gathered equal amounts on each side.
  3. If the dress has a lining, you will need to use a seam ripper to open up the side seam of the lining to get to the actual side seam of the garment. Use a seam ripper for this step and work slowly to avoid ripping the delicate lining material.
  4. You do not need to rip out the seam of the dress, though. You will simply sew a new seam inside the old one!
  5. To do this, use chalk and a ruler to mark the new seam from the waist or just below it all the way up to the armhole. Use your pins as a guide. Make sure you draw a smooth line for the new seam and that it measures the same distance inside the old seam on both sides of the dress. For example, if you pinned one inch of extra fabric on one side of the waist, draw a new seamline on both sides so that they match.
  6. Now insert pins carefully all the way down your chalk lines on both sides. Try on the pinned dress inside out to make sure the new seams will fit you properly.
  7. If everything fits well, you can start sewing! If not, adjust your measurements, draw new chalk lines, and baste the seam with pins to try the dress on one more time and make sure it fits.
  8. Set up your sewing machine with thread that matches the color of the dress. Ideally, you should also use thread made of the same material as the dress–if you have a silk dress, use silk thread, and for a cotton dress, use cotton thread.
  9. Sew a straight stitch down both chalk lines.
  10. Clip off loose threads and turn the dress right side out. Try it on and make sure it fits.
  11. Cut away the old seam and use a zigzag stitch to finish the raw edge where you cut.

2. Add Darts at the Bust

Adding darts below the bust can shape a baggy dress into a fitted and sleek-looking number. A too-big bust area looks puffy and ruins your whole outfit. Fortunately, you can make one simple alteration to fix the issue!

A dart pinches a triangle of fabric out of the surface of the dress and uses one straight seam to hold that fabric on the inside of the garment. This shaping element gives a three-dimensional structure to the bodice of a garment.

Drawing and measuring a dart onto an existing dress takes a few moments, but sewing it only takes about ten seconds!

  1. Try on the dress and mark the widest portion of your bust on each side with chalk.
  2. Take the dress off and measure one inch toward the side seam away from that point. This will mark the tip of the dart.
  3. Next, pick a place on the side seam for the wider section of the dart. This point will fall below the armhole, creating an angled line toward your bust.
  4. Draw a line between these two points using your chalk. This line forms the center of the dart.
  5. Now you want to make a triangle. To do this, you will draw the “legs,” or long sides, of a triangle starting from the skinny point near the bust and widening to either side of your side seam marking.
  6. If you want to take in more fabric to create a more delineated shape, make a larger triangle. To take in just a small amount of fabric from beneath the bust, you can mark as little as half an inch from the center point.
  7. Set two equally distant points to either side of the sideseam marking. Draw two chalk lines connecting these points to the top of your center line. You should now have a chalk triangle with a line down its center.
  8. To sew the dart, fold it in half longways with the center line of chalk exactly on the fold.
  9. Set up your sewing machine with thread that matches the dress.
  10. Sew down the chalk “leg” or wide section of the triangle, starting from the side seam and stitching straight down the chalk line to the skinny tip.
  11. Tie off the threads at the tip of the dart.
  12. Fold the fabric triangle to one side and press it with an iron.
  13. Repeat this process on the other side of the bodice to have matching bust darts.

3. Tailoring at the Shoulders

Another common issue with a too-big dress is that the shoulder seams may hang awkwardly past the ends of your shoulders. You can fix that by removing the sleeves and moving the seam toward your body.

To do this:

  1. Try on the dress inside out. Feel for the bony knob at the end of your shoulders. Mark that point on each shoulder as this is where you want the shoulder seam to fall.
  2. Take off the dress and use a seam ripper to carefully remove both sleeves. Set them aside.
  3. Measure from the ragged edge of the old shoulder seam to your chalk marking. Make sure you have marked a point at an equal distance from the old seam on both shoulders.
  4. Pin the sleeve back to the dress, but this time place the top of the sleeve at your chalk marker rather than at the old shoulder seam.
  5. The sleeve may be too small now that you have added more space at the top. You may need to find the side seam at the bottom of the armhole and sew it a little farther inside the dress to take in the extra space ad allow the sleeve to fit exactly into the circle of the armhole.
  6. Once you have pinned the sleeve in, sew around the circle of the armhole using a ½” seam allowance.
  7. Clip threads and try on the dress to see if this fits. Check your shoulder bone again to see if the shoulder seam rests properly. If everything looks good, repeat this process on the second sleeve!

4. Without Sewing

If you don’t own a sewing machine or just don’t have the time to make permanent alterations, you can make your dress tighter without sewing! This method gathers up excess fabric and holds it in place using a few simple tools you probably have around the house.

  1. Put on the dress right side out. Using a mirror, locate the center back.
  2. Place a quarter at that point and hold it there pressed against your back.
  3. Get a small rubber band or hair tie. Using your other hand, slide the band inside the dress until you reach the quarter. Scrunch up a handful of the fabric from the inside, wrapping the quarter inside the bundle so that it no longer shows from the outside.
  4. Wrap the hairband or rubber band around the fabric and quarter as if you have created a small bag around the quarter.
  5. Wrap the band as many times as necessary to keep it tight.
  6. From the outside, you should see nothing but a circle of gathers tightening up the waist of the dress!

5. With Grommets

If you like a more gothic look or want a super decorative way to tighten a dress, try using grommets and laces!

This will give the back of your dress a corseted appearance.

  1. Use chalk to mark the center back of the dress. Measure a point equally distant between the center back and the side seams on each side. Draw the line at this point to either side of the center line. You should now have three straight chalk lines down the back of the dress.
  2. Go ahead and rub out the center line so you do not get confused; you only need the two sidelines.
  3. Mark five points equally spaced down each side line.
  4. Using grommets and a grommet tool, cinch grommets into the dress at these five points on both lines.
  5. Pick a narrow ribbon in a fun contrasting color to your dress and lace it through the grommets, weaving back and forth as if you were lacing a corset.
  6. Tighten up the ribbon to draw the two lines of grommets closer together.
  7. This will tighten the sides of the dress and give you a more defined waistline!

6. Safety Pins

You can also cinch the sides and waist of a dress tighter by using safety pins and a shoelace on the inside of the garment.

  1. Draw a line down the center back of the dress and then draw a parallel line to either side, about two or three inches away (you can vary the width depending on how much you want to tighten the dress).
  2. Mark five equally spaced points down each of the parallel lines. Place a tiny safety pin at these points on the inside of the dress.
  3. Open the bottom left safety pin and stab the sharp end of the pin onto a shoelace or narrow ribbon to hold it in place. Then close the safety pin.
  4. Weave the lace back and forth from the left pins to the right pins; you should create a zigzag across the back of the dress.
  5. Now snug the ribbon tight to pull the two rows of safety pins closer together.
  6. Turn the dress right side out and try it on to see if it fits better.

If you do not want the sides of the dress to get tighter and you only want to tighten the waist, you can also just use two safety pins spaced a bit apart at the back of your waist inside the dress. Run a ribbon between these two pins and pull it tight to gather up the waistline.

7. Without Safety Pins

If you really, really need to make a dress tighter in a hurry, you can use double-sided tape or even hem tape and an iron to make it look smaller. But do keep in mind that this tape will leave sticky marks on the fabric, which could damage it later on.

  • You can use hem tape or double-sided tape to hold a “dart” in place without any actual sewing. It will not last forever, but it will give you dress more shape for an important event!
  • You can mark two parallel lines near the center back of the dress and place a line of tape along each of these. Then, fold over an inch of fabric from each side of the dress to cover the tape.
  • If you’re worried about a gaping neckline or a too-loose armhole, you can also use the tape to stick the dress to your skin to prevent any unfortunate bulges!

8. Tighter at the Top/Bottom

The best way to make a dress tighter at the top is to take in the side seams, following the steps laid out earlier in this article. If you don’t have time for that, you can use a quick hack like the safety pins and lacing method to cinch things tighter.

The best way to make a dress tighter at the bottom–in other words, at the hem–is to take in the side seams down the length of the skirt. This is so easy–you don’t have to rip out any stitches, just sew two new lines farther into the skirt!

9. Tighter at the Waist

One simple way to add a more defined waist to many dresses is to insert a piece of elastic. You need a sewing machine for this, but it only takes a few minutes!

  1. Smooth out the dress on a flat surface and mark four points along the waist. Place two marks at either side seam. Then measure a middle point between each side seam on the front and back, and mark that as well.
  2. Tie the elastic around your waist to see how long of a piece you need. You want it to feel snug but not too tight. Cut it at this point.
  3. Fold the elastic into fourths and mark each quarter-point on the length of the elastic.
  4. Now pin the elastic to your dress, matching those quarter markings. You will have to pull the elastic a little tight to get it to match the markings on the dress.
  5. Use a zigzag stitch setting on your sewing machine to sew stitches that encase the elastic and attach it to the dress all the way around the waist.

How to Cinch a Dress in the Back

How to Cinch a Dress in the Back

The best way to cinch a dress at the back is to use the safety pin method described earlier in this article. You can also use the grommet method for a more permanent and decorative way to cinch a dress.

If you have a loose dress, you can grab a handful of fabric at the center back and tie it into a knot. This will cinch up lots of extra material at the back!

If you want to get professional about it, you can sew two “fish-eye” darts close to the center back that will scoop in a little bit of extra fabric from the back of the bodice.

How to Fix a Dress That is Too Big / Wide

The best way to fix a dress that is too big or too wide at the sides is to take in the side seams using a sewing machine. This will permanently resize it to fit your body. You can usually make a dress one or two sizes smaller using this technique.

But honestly, you can also fix a too-wide dress just by wearing a belt! The best type of belt for making a dress look smaller is a wide belt with an elastic back.

If you need to cinch the waist of a dress without a belt, you could also use a wide ribbon tied into a decorative bow around your waist. You could even try a flowy scarf tied in a cute knot at your hip!

Can a Tailor Make a Dress Tighter?

A tailor or seamstress can easily make most dresses at least two sizes smaller. Tailors usually charge based on the kind of task required, but these alterations can range in price from $5 to about $60 depending on the complexity of the sewing.

A professional can make many simple alterations, such as adding darts or tucks to give the garment more of a shape that fits the contours of your body.

A tailor can also shorten or tighten the hem of a dress, take in the side seams, or move the shoulder seam farther in toward your neck if the shoulders hang down your arms.

How to Make a Bodycon Dress Tighter

How to Make a Bodycon Dress Tighter

You can make a bodycon dress tighter by taking in the side seams with a sewing machine or by cinching the waist with a wide belt.

Bodycon dresses are form-hugging, short, and usually in a sleeveless style. They often contain a stretchy knit material that clings to every curve.

This type of dress should fit you tightly. If it does not, either exchange it for one in a smaller size or sew-in new sideseams to make the dress work for you!

How Can I Make My Loose Clothes Tighter?

You can make loose clothes tighter using many simple strategies like wearing a belt.

  • Wear a belt around the center of a baggy dress. Pull up some of the fabric above the top of the belt to create a nice pouf and then highlight your waist with the cinched belt.
  • Tie a sweater or jacket around your waist in place of a belt.
  • Use the safety pin, grommet, or elastic tie methods described earlier in this article to cinch up the waist of a too-loose dress.
  • Wear a blazer or cardigan to hide the too-big sides of a broad dress.
  • If you want a more original look, try wearing a decorative corset or bodice over the outside of the dress.


You can make a dress tighter permanently using several sewing techniques, such as using darts to contour the garment or taking in the side seams to make the garment more narrow. You can also use lots of quick hacks like lacing a ribbon between two rows of safety pins to cinch up the back. If you want a defined waist on a too-big dress, try sewing a strip of elastic into the waist to create a gathered waistline.

Other tips for creating a more defined shape in a baggy dress include wearing a wide belt to highlight your figure. You can also wear decorative items like flowy scarves or a fun corset over a dress to outline its shape and make it look tighter.