Upcycling ideas for old men’s dress shirts

Hannah Nussbaum

Sustainable fashion is a broad umbrella term that covers a wide range of ‘sub-categories’. Sustainable might refer to the agriculture crops that produce the textile, or it can refer to manufacturing practices – broadly speaking, something is sustainable if it’s not going to run out.

Working with that definition, something can be made sustainable if you find smart and innovative ways to avoid throwing it away, even when it seems past its prime. That’s where upcyling comes in.

Upcycling refers to the practice of re-using a discarded object or material in a way that transforms it into something of higher quality. It involves taking things that might end up in landfills and leveling them up,  transforming them, and breathing new life into them. Said another way: one woman’s time to get rid of that is another woman’s where did you get that.

Depending on how innovative and crafty you get, you can turn unsustainable garments with seemingly short shelf lives into super fun pieces. Today we’re spotlighting a quintessential thrift store find: men’s dress shirts. As it turns out, these babies can be upcycled into skirts, off-the-shoulder tops, and flirty strapless numbers.

To repurpose into a skirt:

Image sourced from DIY Fashion Sense

Step 1: Get your hands on an oversized mens dress shirt. A light denim works well for this hack, or a slim off-white dress shirt with concealed buttons. Button it three quarters of the way up

Step 2: Step into the shirt so that the open neck falls around your waist. Button it up more if necessary, in order to make it sit comfortable over your hips. The two arm sleeves should be hanging down on either side of your hips, falling to around your knees.

Step 3: Fold the collar so that a smooth band runs around your lower back.

Step 4: Gather each arm, and tie around your waist, making them into a large bow tie at the front, or alternately letting the arms hang loose from a tight knot.

Step 5: Adjust the waistband so it’s straight and snugly fitting. Voila! Super cute knee length summer skirt has been achieved.

To repurpose into an off-the-shoulder top:

Image sourced from RebeccaLaurey.com

There are basic sewing versions of this hack, but we’ve included the no-sew version to keep things super accessible. Upcycling can simply mean finding a new way to style an old piece – it doesn’t necessarily need to involve any crazy DIY expertise.  

Step 1: Start by selecting a second-hand mens dress shirt and slip it on. Crisp white poplin is absolutely killer here. Button up the bottom three to five buttons, but keep the top half of buttons undone.

Step 2: Working with one sleeve then the other, lightly work each arm of the shirt down, positioning them so they hug halfway down each of your shoulders: think wide, off-the-shoulder boat neck shape.

Step 3: It’s important to fold the fabric and the collar so that the look snugly hugs your shoulders and back. If you need to button up one or two more buttons to get the look to comfortably stay put, go ahead and do that.

Wear this getup with high rise maxi skirt, and tuck tuck tuck!

To repurpose into a flirty strapless number:

Image sourced from Goodwill.org

Depending on just how oversized the dress shirt you’re working with is, and how tall you are, this look will either be a strapless top or a strapless dress.

Step 1: Select a light slim-fitting men’s dress shirt: we like any lightweight linen-cotton, and pastels are a plus for this look.

Step 2: Slip it on, but here’s the catch: don’t put your arms in the sleeves. Keep the sleeves hanging loose beneath your armpits and button the shirt up so that it creates a sort of strapless dress shirt (with an extra pair of empty arms hanging below your pits).

Step 3: Here’s where it gets good: take the arms and tie them in a tight bow at your waist, turning the baggy-four-armed look into a super cinched and fitted strapless top. The collar will be hugging around your back, and it’s up to you to either leave it out, or tuck it in for a smooth finish.