Project Upcycle: Boring Men’s Shirts to Pretty Tops

It was like opening the closet to Narnia – I had no idea what I was going to find in there. I looked at the perfectly good men’s shirts gathering dust, trying to remember which one was a wedding gift from whom two years ago. It occurred to me that these have been worn once at the most, before being rendered unwearable by the inevitable post-wedding weight gain. Not having the heart to give them away, I wondered if cutting up a new Arrow shirt into kitchen rags would just be cruel.

Two thoughts crossed my mind. One, why are all these shirts blue?! Do men not wear any other colour? And two, if these were in my size, I would totally wear them all the time. Maybe there’s a way to shrink them to fit me? Pinterest came to my rescue and I found loads of shirt-upcycling ideas. I set to work finding a tailor who could help me with this mammoth task. Shehla, a lovely lady who runs a boutique called Kyra in Kilpauk said she was interested to see what I wanted, but I was met with unsure looks and a lot of head-shaking when I explained my mission.

She agreed, however, and we set about turning these oversized shirts into tops I could pair with jeans, pants or skirts (but mostly jeans cuz I’m boring like that).

1. The Sleeveless Chinese Collar

This Woodlands shirt is my favourite so I’ll start with it. I told Shehla I wanted to turn this into a sleeveless shirt.


The collar was too big to retain, so she cut under it, cut out the arms, sewed up the centre (but retained the buttons and pocket), and made a pretty new Chinese collar with an opening on the top. I LOVE how it turned out!


2. The Long Puffed Sleeve

Since this was a full-sleeved shirt, we decided to try a pattern with long-ish sleeves.


The sleeves are slightly puffed at the shoulder (as much as the fabric would allow). The shirt was cut under the collar, a round collar neck stitched in, with the buttons sewed shut.

AFTER:4 (2)

4 (3)

 3. The Square Neck Cap Sleeves

This full sleeved never-been-worn Arrow shirt was converted into a wide square-necked top with cap sleeves.


Here we encountered a problem – the pocket was going to be cut through, to make room for the neckline. So she removed the pocket, and left a stitch to make it look like an intentional design.


Skirt – Marks & Spencer

 4. The Round Neck With Piping

I really did not like the buttons on this half-sleeved shirt, so we decided to get rid of them and add piping to the neck and sleeves. Very pleased with the results!


We cut under the collar, redid the hem at the bottom, got rid of the buttons and the pocket, and shortened the sleeves.


Pants – Brass Tacks

 5. The Plain Jane Blue

This one had to be the most boring of the lot, with no texture or patterns. So I went to Pothys and bought striped fabric for 30 rupees to somehow add to it.


This was actually the first shirt we made, so were able to redo lengths and fits in the next four! Shehla’s skilled tailor folded the stripy fabric to make it a pretty v-pattern, and used it along the collar and down the middle to cover up button holes. The only problem with this one – the stripy fabric is hard to iron!



The tailor created magic with these shirts, cutting, re-stitching and tucking to shape wherever needed, and I got 5 brand new tops! I hope you go digging in your closet to  find shirts to upcycle. You can reach Shehla on her Facebook page.

The black skirt is from M&S, and the khaki pants are from Brass Tacks.

The upcycling effort was featured in the Deccan Chronicle newspaper.Feature in the Deccan Chronicle newspaper