Moving into Menswear with a Colorful Button-Up Shirt

Back side of green shirt with blue sleeves, showing the contrast sleeve placket detail.

One thing I admire about my son is his fearless approach to color. When he asks me to sew for him, his choices can seem wacky, but they always work.

Still, I was dubious when he pulled out two quilting cottons at the end of a long afternoon of fabric and souvenir shopping in Paris. One is emerald green with gold filigree, the other is a marbled navy and black. He envisioned a button-up shirt with a green body, blue arms, and contrasting cuffs. Inspiration, or souvenir FOMO? Either way, we popped over to another store to find the perfect blue buttons.

A pre-teen child holds up two pieces of fabric, one blue and one green, in a busy fabric store.

The last time my son requested a button-up shirt was six years ago. I sewed up several test versions of Burda 9/2008, 142/143, to varying degrees of success. He’s since outgrown kid sizes and I’ve forgotten everything I learned about dress shirt construction. With an impending deadline, his 13th birthday, I didn’t have time or energy to trace and muslin a Burda pattern. I needed a pattern I could cut instead of trace, with detailed instructions, and that would look passable even without a muslin.

Cue Freesewing.org. If you read The Sewcialists Interview with Joost De Cock, you’ll know he offers a treasure trove of custom-sized menswear patterns that can be sewn up for anyone. Each pattern is uniquely drafted based on your person’s measurements and your selected options (cuffs, darts, seam allowances, etc.). Most of the patterns have thorough instructions and some include videos as well as text and illustrations.

I chose the Simon shirt in one of the simplest versions possible: grown on button and buttonhole plackets, straight hem, standard cuffs. The instructions were first rate, but I brought in some additional help: Sewing Secrets from the Fashion Industry to advise on seam allowances and Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing for constructing the sleeve placket and attaching the collar.

A chart from Sewing Secrets from the Fashion Industry illustrates recommended seam allowances for button-up shirts.
Suggested seam allowances from Sewing Secrets from the Fashion Industry

Though I was under deadline, I took my time cutting, marking, and sewing. I carefully worked through the inevitable challenges: unpicking seams, changing construction techniques when things got hairy, improvising when pattern markings were missing. On birthday eve, all that was left were the buttons. It wasn’t until this point, a dozen or more hours into the project, that I realized I had reversed the front pieces. The button side, usually on the right in menswear, was on the left. After a quick consult with my son, who doesn’t mind how shirts button, I finished it up just in time.

A button-up shirt hangs on a hanger. The shirt has a green body, blue arms, green cuffs, and a blue collar.

My son’s fabric choices work beautifully together. The overall effect is opulent without being fussy, and the contrasting sleeve plackets are especially pleasing. As my son grew out of kidswear and into menswear, I wondered if his style (like ready to wear options) would become more subdued. I’m delighted he still wants wild and wonderful color combinations in his wardrobe.

Two pictures of a young teen wearing a button-up shirt. On the left, the back view. On the right, the front view.

Note: The Sewcialists is a hyper-inclusive editorial site. We recognize that “Menswear” as we use it in our theme month is a very loaded term, and we use any gendered reference in these discussions to denote the most broadly accepted “traditional” categories only, without wishing to prescribe or proscribe what any person can wear. We recognize all gender identities and the choice to dress how one pleases.


Vanessa has loved fabric and fashion for as long as she can remember and sewn her own wardrobe since the early 2000s. She sews in Ann Arbor, Michigan (USA), and shares her work on Instagram (@passfailsewing) and the pass/fail sewing blog.


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