I once borrowed a dress for a formal occasion and then realized the skirt didn’t fit me! I couldn’t permanently alter a borrowed dress, so I had to rig up a temporary hem. Fortunately, you can easily learn how to shorten a dress, whether you want a permanent or temporary fix!
The best way to shorten a dress is to measure a new length and stitch a replacement hem either by hand or on a sewing machine. Using hem tape or fabric glue will also create a permanently shortened dress. For a temporarily shorter dress, applying safety pins, a belt, or a knotting technique will do the trick.
In this article, you’ll find seven easy methods for shortening a dress or skirt. You will also find tips for measuring skirt lengths. Finally, you’ll find specific advice on how to alter a curved hem, a high-low dress, and a dress with a ruffle.
What Length Skirt Do You Want?
Before you shorten your dress, take a moment to consider what length of skirt you want.
If you have a friend or family member handy, measuring for skirt length goes more smoothly with a little help! That said, measuring yourself to find out what length of the skirt will look good on you is an easy process.
Start by finding your natural waist (the most narrow part of your torso). Relax your shoulders and plant your feet flat on the floor in a casual stance. Then place the top of a measuring tape at your waist, and let the remainder of the tape fall to the floor.
Look in a mirror to decide what length of skirt you want. For example, mini skirts usually end mid-thigh, midi skirts hang to your knees, and tea-length skirts fall to a few inches above your ankle.
Ask your friend to measure that length while you stand very still. This way, you will know how many inches long your skirt needs to hang properly on your particular body type!
Of course, you also want to consider what style of the skirt looks best with your body type. If you have a petite figure and you look great in miniskirts, focus on wearing shorter dresses! You can find even very formal dresses in shorter lengths to accentuate your figure.
If you’re tall, on the other hand, long maxi dresses and floor-length formal gowns will work great for you! Pencil skirts look great on curvy bodies, and a high-waist midi skirt will set off an apple-shaped body.
Finally, get out the dress you want to shorten. Follow these basic steps to measure the skirt to your desired length:
- Get back into your natural stance and ask your friend to help again.
- Hold the tape measure at your waist.
- Ask your friend to mark the desired length with chalk on the skirt. For example, if you decided that a midi skirt should be twenty inches long to fall just above your knee, ask your friend to mark the twenty-inch point on the skirt.
- Repeat this process around the circumference of the skirt.
- Remove the skirt and draw a neat chalk line connecting the chalk dots.
Alternatively, if you need to measure the skirt by yourself, follow these steps:
- Determine the desired length of the skirt, as described earlier.
- Measure the current length of the skirt.
- Subtract your desired length from the current length. For example, if the skirt is now twenty-five inches long, but you need it at twenty inches, subtract twenty from twenty-five. This means you need to remove five inches from the bottom of the skirt.
- Use a ruler, measuring tape, or sewing gauge to measure five inches from the bottom of the skirt. Mark this point with chalk.
- Continue around the circumference of the skirt.
Now that you have your desired length sorted out and measured the skirt to that length, you can get started on one of these easy methods to shorten a dress!
How to Shorten a Dress: 7 Easy Methods
You can shorten a dress by cutting it and sewing it into a shorter length permanently or folding up the extra length and fastening it in several different ways.
These methods work best if you take a little time to perform the measuring steps described earlier. Otherwise, you may end up with a lopsided hem that veers up and down around you!
1. Hem by Hand
If you want a truly classy hem, you have to put it in by hand. Tailors and even couture fashion designers use this method! Hemstitching by hand creates a neat hem on the inside of the dress and almost invisible stitches on the outside.
- Before you do any sewing, make sure you measure your skirt as described earlier.
- Measure another line two inches below your desired length. Cut off any excess fabric beyond the two inches.
- Next, iron half an inch of fabric toward the wrong side of the skirt. If you’re working with heat-sensitive fabric, you can also hold this fold in place with pins or sewing clips instead of ironing.
- Next, use a tape measure or sewing gauge to measure one and a half inches up from this new fold.
- Fold the fabric up toward the wrong side again. This time, you will have a one-and-a-half-inch deep fold with a neat, folded-over edge on the inside from the first half-inch fold.
- If you can, iron the second fold.
- Pin the folded edge with sewing pins, or clip into place using sewing clips.
- Cut about eighteen inches of sewing thread that matches the color of your dress. Thread a needle and tie a knot at the end of the thread.
- You can use several different hemming stitches. A slip stitch looks great and is easy to make! To form this stitch, start from the inside of the fabric and slide your needle into the top of your folded-over hem.
- Pull the needle all the way through so the knot catches on the back of the hem.
- Then poke the tip of the needle through to see it from the front of the fabric. Very carefully edge the tip of the needle over two or three threads in the fabric’s surface. Push the needle tip back down, so it returns to the inside of the skirt, leaving a tiny stitch on the outside of the fabric.
- Make a half-inch stitch along the top of the fold inside the skirt.
- Poke the tip of the needle back to the surface of the dress and ease it over two or three threads for another tiny stitch on the outside of the hem.
- Repeat this process around the hem a half-inch intervals, finishing by knotting off the thread at the end!
You might want to practice the hemstitch on a scrap of fabric to get the hang of it before you try this method. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, hand-hemming does take a while! You really will love the way it looks, though.
2. Hem with Sewing Machine
You can use a sewing machine to stitch a hem in many ways, but the easiest is to create a double fold and stitch it into place. This works on most types of fabric except for sheers.
- Measure the desired length of your dress as described earlier. Add one inch to this measurement, and then cut off any excess fabric.
- Use the sewing guidelines on the needle plate of your sewing machine to quickly sew a line of stitches around the skirt one inch from the bottom edge.
- Fold the bottom of the fabric up inside the skirt so that it touches the line of stitches. You will now have a half-inch fold inside the skirt.
- Press the fold, or pin it into place.
- Turn under the half-inch fold once more toward the inside of the dress. You will still have a half-inch fold, but now you have an enclosed edge on both the top and bottom of the fold.
- Once again, press or pin the double fold into place.
- You will want to sew along the hem on the outside of the dress. Follow the guides on your machine to sew a straight stitch a quarter inch from the folded bottom edge of the hem.
Depending on your comfort level, you can also employ advanced sewing machine techniques like a blind hemming foot or a rolled hem foot. With practice, these tools can make the hemming process much, much quicker!
3. Hem tape
To get an easier but still professional-looking hem, you can also use fusible hem tape. All you need is a roll of fusible tape, a tape measure, and an iron!
Hem tape is a thin, almost transparent length of webbing loaded with heat-activated adhesive. You can find it at most sewing and quilting stores or on Amazon or Etsy quite cheaply.
Though this method takes a lot less time and effort, it will permanently shorten the hem. Once you iron the adhesive tape between two layers of fabric, it will not come out even after multiple launderings.
- Measure and mark your new hem. Depending on how much excess fabric you have left below the desired hem length, you can either just fold under the excess or simply cut it off. For example, if you’re only shortening the hem by an inch, you can easily fold under that inch instead of cutting it off.
- Next, iron the folded edge. Check to make sure the fabric of your dress can handle the heat first.
- Unfold the pressed hem again.
- Unroll a length of hem tape. Line it up parallel to the crease in your pressed hem.
- Fold the excess fabric back over the tape.
- Iron over the folded edge one more time to activate the adhesive and set your hem!
This method saves you a lot of time, it doesn’t cost a lot, and it looks super professional!
The only downside is that you can’t use it on fabric easily damaged by heat. Check the manufacturer’s label inside your dress to find out if you can expose it to iron or not.
4. Fabric Glue
If the thought of hand-sewing a hem makes you cringe, you can also try fabric glue. This method does offer you an easier alternative to sewing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always look as neat as you might like because sometimes the glue seeps through to the fabric’s surface in stiff patches.
That said, the biggest benefit to this method is that you can use it on heat-sensitive materials like polyester!
- First, measure and mark the desired length of your skirt. If you’re shortening by an inch or less, simply fold under the excess to make a new hem. If you need to remove more than that, cut off the extra length.
- Next, either iron the folded edge to get a nice crease or use your fingers to gently crease the new fold into place.
- Smooth a light, thin line of fabric glue along the very bottom of the dress.
- Fold over your new hem and smooth both layers of fabric together with glue between them.
- Allow the glue to set for twenty-four hours.
Fabric glue sets pretty permanently. You can safely wash your dress after the twenty-four-hour resting period.
5. Safety pins
Strategically placed safety pins offer you the easiest possible way to temporarily shorten a dress. Now, you should probably save this method for true emergencies, as it isn’t the sturdiest or most professional-looking solution!
In a pinch, though, you can work small miracles with safety pins!
- First, measure and fold up the extra length toward the inside of your dress.
- If possible, iron the folded-over edge to get a nice crease at the bottom of the new hem. (Make sure the manufacturer’s label states that the garment can handle an iron first).
- Next, find the side seams inside the dress.
- Pin the folded-over hem to the side seams. This will hold the hem up at both sides of the dress.
- Finally, pin the front and back of the new hem as well. If your dress has super thick fabric, you can slide a safety pin without making it visible from the outside of the fabric. If your dress is thin, you may see a tiny fraction of the safety pin no matter how carefully you slide it into the hem.
That’s it! As a pro tip, it’s always a good idea to keep a few safety pins in your purse, backpack, or bag for emergency situations.
If you’re in a serious hurry, you can often shorten a dress just by wearing a belt! This method works best on loose dresses like a maxi dress or flowing sundress. It will not work well on a dress with a tightly fitted bodice.
- Fasten the belt just a hair more loosely than usual.
- Gently tug on the dress above the belt. This should ease some of the fabric up past the belt so that it poofs out and drapes over the top of the belt.
- Repeat this action around your waist so that material hangs out over the top of the belt just a bit all the way around.
- Look in a mirror to make sure you have pulled the dress through the belt evenly all the way around and that the hem hangs evenly as well.
- Your dress will hang a couple of inches shorter now!
Another fashionable way to shorten a loose, flowing dress is to tie a knot to take up some of the excess fabric. Think of this as similar to the cool teen style of tying a knot at the hem of a t-shirt to shorten the shirt.
You can place this knot in several areas of the skirt, like the side of the hem, at either thigh or near your waist.
To make the knot:
- Select where you want to place the knot.
- Gather up a tube-shaped handful of fabric at this location.
- Wrap the tube over and under itself to form a simple knot
- Tug the loose end of the knot to make it firmer.
- Finally, either pin the loose end up inside the dress or let it hang loose for a casual look!
How to Shorten a Dress From the Waist
If you really want to claim the title of a clothing “refashionista,” you can also shorten a dress from the waist. You can do this temporarily by tying a knot or using a belt, as you saw earlier.
To permanently alter the dress at the waist, you will need to get comfortable slicing and sewing!
You want to cut out the middle of the dress and then reconnect the bodice of the dress to the skirt without that middle slice. This alteration works well on an elastic-waist dress but less well on a fitted dress or a maxi dress.
On most dresses, you can take three to four inches in this manner.
You will also need to either replace the elastic in the waistband or insert pintucks, gathers, darts, or pleats to make the wider opening of the skirt fit the smaller shape of the bodice.
As a point of interest, many sewing patterns offer directions for how to shorten a dress at the waist before you even create the dress.
Can You Cut a Dress to Make it Shorter?
You can cut the hem off a dress to make it shorter, but you will need to make careful measurements first to make a smooth cut around the bottom of the skirt. You will also need some way to finish the raw edge for most kinds of fabric to make it look nice and prevent fraying.
You can finish a raw edge in many ways, but here are a few ideas to consider:
- You can use a serger or overlock stitch to finish the edge of a lightweight fabric, such as a light satin or sheer material.
- You can fold over a double hem and use a sewing machine to stitch it in place for most fabrics except sheers and knits.
- You can use pinking shears to create a unique, slightly ragged look on cotton and knits.
- Use a single fold and a zigzag stitch on knits to quickly whip a hem into place.
- Sew a ribbon, piece of lace, or ruffle onto the bottom edge of the skirt. This way, you can sew one easy seam instead of a hem, and you also get the added decorative touch at the bottom of your dress!
How to Make a Long Dress Shorter Temporarily
The easiest way to make a long dress shorter temporarily is to pin up the hem with safety pins. It isn’t the most elegant fix, but it will keep you from tripping over your too-long skirt!
If you’re desperate, you can also turn under the extra fabric and use small pieces of duct tape to hold it to the inside of the dress. This could leave a sticky residue on the fabric, though.
Depending on the style of your dress, you can sometimes tie a fashionable knot at the waist, your thigh, or at the hem to take up the extra length. If you bought a maxi dress at the beach, this last-minute fix would work great!
Finally, the belt method easily restyles any loose dress a few inches shorter. Simply cinch on your belt and tug a bit of fabric up over the top of the belt. It gives you a nice, casual shape and makes the skirt of the dress a couple of inches short!
How to Shorten a Dress With a Ruffle
To shorten a dress with a ruffle, all you have to do is cut off the ruffle, cut away a few inches of the skirt, and then sew the ruffle back on! Shortening a dress with decorative lace or a ruffle along its bottom edge is the easiest possible kind of alteration.
- First, turn the dress inside out.
- Carefully cut through the side seam of the ruffle or lace.
- Then cut the whole length of lace or ruffle off the bottom of the dress. Try to keep this cut edge neat and even.
- Next, decide how much you want to shorten the dress. Subtract half an inch from this measurement, and cut that length off the bottom of the skirt. For example, if you want to take away three inches, you will need to cut off only two and a half inches of fabric.
- Place the right side of the ruffle on the right side of the skirt so that both cut edges match up.
- Sew half an inch from this cut edge around the skirt, reconnecting the ruffle to the bottom of the dress.
- Zigzag the raw edge of this seam to prevent fraying.
How to Shorten a Dress with a Curved Hem
You can shorten a dress with a curved hem in several different ways. Sewing curved hems can prove challenging because the outer edge of the circle has a greater circumference than the inner part of the circle. This means that when you turn over the hem, the raw edge of the hem will have a greater circumference than the inside of the skirt.
Professionals use easing stitches or facings to make curved hems look fabulous. But this simple method removes all the tricky sewing processes while still looking nice and finished!
To shorten a dress with a curved hem:
- Measure the skirt to your desired length and cut away any excess fabric. You will need to measure and cut carefully to preserve the circular shape of the skirt.
- Find some ribbon that contrasts nicely with the fabric of your dress. Cut a length of ribbon one inch longer than the whole hem of the dress.
- Next, pin the ribbon to the outside of the dress so that the wrong side of the ribbon rests on top of the right side of the dress. Leave half of the width of the ribbon hanging over the bottom edge of the fabric.
- Sew the ribbon to the fabric along the top edge of the ribbon.
- Then, simply turn under the whole ribbon so you can no longer see it from the front of the dress. This will create a nicely finished edge, and the ribbon will look pretty inside the skirt!
- Press and pin the folded edge.
- Sew one more time around the top of the ribbon inside the skirt. This will hold the golden-over ribbon to the inside of the skirt, giving you a lovely hem!
How Do You Shorten a High-Low Dress
The best way to shorten a high-low dress is to use the curved hem method to shorten the hem on the back section of the skirt.
High-low dresses typically feature a shorter, curved hem in the front and a longer curved hem in the back. You may have to raise both curved hems to make the dress fit you correctly, or you might get away with shortening just the longer back curve of the dress.
Using hem tape or safety pins will not work as well on a curving hem. You do need to re-sew a new hem into place to create a nice, finished look to your high-low dress.
If you have access to a serger, you can easily create a rolled hemstitch along the raw edge. This works well on lightweight or sheer fabrics and saves you from all the measuring you need to create a folded-over hem!
You can shorten a dress permanently by machine or hand sewing a new hem, using hem tape, or applying fabric glue. You can also temporarily make a dress shorter by pinning up a hem with safety pins, knotting loose fabric in the skirt, or using a belt to hold up the excess material.
More advanced ways to shorten a dress include cutting out the waist area and then reconnecting the bodice to the skirt or sewing a curved hem. You can also remove a few inches of fabric above a ruffle at the hem of a dress and then reattach the ruffle to shorten the dress.
Have you ever tried shortening a dress? What technique did you use? Leave a comment below to let us know!