Why Shirts Bunch In Back & An Easy Way To Fix It

Why shirts bunch in back and an easy way to fix it

As someone with an intense love affair with dress shirts, there is one fit issue I find over and over again. Women’s dress shirts are generally cut and/or seamed to follow the natural curves of the body, i.e. full at the bust and hip, whittled down at the waist. Where the dress shirt has been slimmed for a waist is dependent on the brand’s fit model, and the proportions of the brand’s average customer. So, if you are shorter than average, and/or have a short torso or waist, the pre-cut waist of dress shirts may not rest where your natural waist is. Instead, the slimmest part of the shirt (where the waist has been cut into it) may hit lower than your natural waist, perhaps even finding itself pulled across your upper hip. The slimmest part of the shirt will naturally want to rest at your slimmest part (your waist), so it will quickly shimmy it’s way up as you move.

If you find yourself often pulling your dress shirts down, only to have them ride back up on you a short time later, then you know what I’m talking about. On me, this little tug & shimmy dance I do with my shirts results in a poof of fabric at my back, around my shoulder blades. I am both short and short torso’d, so I am all too familiar with this phenomena.

This bothers me mostly because I feel the bulk around my shoulders can make me appear to be slouching or hunched.


Through discussions with my tailors over the years, I’ve been told about 3 ways to solve this:

1) Custom shirts – this is the pricey option, but your shirts will fit you to perfection.

– The perfect fit. – $$$


2) Size up & tailor down – sizing up to a size that is roomier in the torso, your tailor can slim the shirt down to your natural curves with the waist in the proper spot.

– No extra seams are made & slimming a shirt is easy to do. – Sizing up means other proportions may no longer fit you well, such as shoulders, sleeve lengths, or overall length.


3) Add or extend darts – if your shirts already have shaping seams or darts at the back, a tailor can extend them upward to alleviate bulk. If your shirts don’t have seams or darts at the back, a tailor can add them.

– Easy fix and no need to size up. -Extending or adding seams can look obviously altered on some styles of shirts or prints/patterns.


I care greatly about shoulder width, so opt not to size up, and instead usually take the back darting route. It’s an easy and relatively cheap alteration that makes me feel much more comfortable in my shirts. I sometimes worry that the extended seams will look intentionally altered, but once it’s done and I pick it up from the tailor, I forget the seams are even there.

Pro tip – if your shirt is striped or geometrically pattered, ask your tailor to match the pattern in the two darts. I forgot to do this the last time I had this done and had to take my shirt back to have one dart taken in a little more to better match the other one.

Below is an example of a recent shirt that just had its darts extended. Please note that this is a regular (non-petite) shirt, on very petite, 4’11” me, so the waist of the shirt was much lower than my natural waist, resulting in the “back poof”. Also, the fit of this shirt was intentionally left oversized. In this case, my tailor simply extended the dart that was already present upward to the back yoke. This alteration usually costs between $12 – $16 with my local tailor, but if you are handy with a sewing machine, this is a pretty easy alteration to do yourself.




I hope this is helpful for others who have ever caught a glance of themselves in the mirror and thought, “what is that poof doing back there?!”. =)

Join the Conversation


    1. says: Jasmin

      Thank you for this post! I am also petite (although taller than you at 5.2″) and I have exactly the same problem, even with petite shirts. Looks like we are in the same boat with regard to our short-torso/long legs body types. Also, like you, I cannot size up in shirts because of my very narrow shoulders. Typically, petite clothing will be too long for me in the torso, while the sleeves of petite shirts and petite pants tend too be too short for me. Crazy….

      1. Hi Jasmin! Yup, it sounds like we have similar proportions. Having a short torso is a pain when it comes to shopping, especially if you’re already short. But at least it tends to make us look visually taller than we really are. ;)

        You should try Banana Republic’s new “premium” skinny jeans. I feel like they are made for taller petites (the distressing positions and length seem a little tall for petite sizes), so they may work really well on your longer legs.

        1. says: Jasmin

          Thanks for your reply, Kelly. I agree with you that shopping as a petite short-torso person is particularly hard. Thanks also for the tip with the BR jeans, I will definitely check them out!

      2. says: Kim

        Brilliant! This is a problem for me all the time as another petite long legs/ short torso person. Thank you so much. I’ve already pinned a pair of darts into the back of one dress ready to sew!

    2. says: Kristin

      I just discovered your blog and I am so thankful I did! Although I’m not petite, I have a long torso and sizing up to get the length I like always leaves me with extra fabric! I have so many shirts I love but never end up wearing because they look too bulky. So, the search for a tailor begins….

  1. says: krishna

    I’m curious…who do you use for alterations in the bay area? I’m in the city and haven’t had any luck finding anyone!

    1. Hi Krishna!

      I’m on The Peninsula and found someone in San Carlos who has been doing a great job on my stuff (she took in this shirt dress for me… http://www.alterationsneeded.com/2015/06/adventures-in-alterations-theory-shirt-dress.html). She’s at Nancy’s Tailoring (http://www.yelp.com/biz/nancys-tailoring-and-boutique-san-carlos).

      The Peninsula might be a little far you in the city, so I’d suggest you check out the recommendations from other petites on this page: http://www.alterationsneeded.com/tailors

      Also, I found this when I was searching and was super curious to try one or two of them: http://www.sfgate.com/style/article/Alter-egos-12-master-tailors-to-trust-4738814.php

      I hope that helps! Good luck!

      1. says: Jenny

        I have a sway- back, so look out for shirts that have a yoke at the back. I open the seam at the yoke shoulder to zhoulder- but not all the way to the sleeve seam. I then take up the excess in a sort of sliver, widest at center back, tapering away to the side seam. Cut away the extra fabric before the final stitching to close the seam. Works well for me, improving the fit without being too tight over my generous hips.

  2. says: Anu

    Thank you for this post and your good advice, Kelly :) I have a short torso and it’s awful when dresses and shirts don’t fit. A shirt is not made to be a sail :D . I have done these alterations myself, too, because for example Marimekko Finland shirts in XS are a bit too big. What a beautiful shirt you have in that picture :) Hugs –Anu

  3. says: Annette

    I also use Nancy in San Carlos – she definitely knows what she is doing! I brought in an XSP trench rain jacket that I needed to take in and she proceeded to take apart the jacket and cut it smaller so it could fit me perfectly.

  4. says: olyvia

    Glad to know there’s a fix to the hunchback issue with dress shirts! Been avoiding wearing dress shirts without a jacket/sweater covering the back because if that annoying bunching! thanks for the insightful tailoring tips!

  5. says: Carole Anderson

    Thank you for sharing this! I am short waisted and struggle with this problem plus too much fabric length in the chest to shoulder area.

  6. says: Cat

    So useful – I got a sewing machine for Christmas and was looking for information on how to do alterations as I have lost 20 lbs. I have always suffered from shirts riding up and “back pouffes”. Now I was able to take the shirts in a bit and adjust them to fit properly up the back at the same time! I’ve just done 6 shirts for work in no time! And I think they will show off my new slimmer figure too! Thanks for sharing this useful tip – wish I’d known it years ago.

  7. says: M B Paz

    I just can’t get comfortable with the idea of dart going up over the shoulder blades. You don’t feel uncomfortable in that alt? I don’t worry about it too much as I am long waisted, but I do sometimes have to add darts where there are none.

    1. Hi M B. No it doesn’t bother me, especially since the alternatives for me are much more bothersome (going up a size to slim down properly leaves the shoulder too large, or simply leaving the shirt alone to poof away all it wants). Being so short AND short torso’d means my best bet is really to go the custom shirting route, but I haven’t found someone I trust enough for that at this point. In the end, everyone’s personal preferences and comfort levels are different, so it’s best to alter or not alter according to what works best for you. =)

  8. says: Samina

    Great post. I find that many women who CAN sew just do not like alterations! There is so much to learn from altering a ready-to-wear item — in my opinion. So, I’m always glad to see positive thoughts about altering an ill fitting garment. Found you in Pinterest :) — 3 years later.

  9. I’m one of those ‘women who sew’ and this is a reason I make my own garments. Your ‘after’ photo is much better than the ‘before’, but there’s still a little poof. It can’t be avoided with a shirt already made.

    People who sew know that what is needed is when the shirt is made. It is a ‘swayback’ alteration. Google those 2 words and it will show an explanation much better than I can do here. It is done by changing how the shirt is cut out, before any sewing.

    I think the reason you are experiencing sewers not willing to do this is because on an already made shirt, the results are ok, but not a cure for the shirt’s abundance of fabric across the back waist.

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