How to Make a Japanese Sailor Suit from a Plain White Shirt

Written by elizabeth reuter
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How to Make a Japanese Sailor Suit from a Plain White Shirt
Japanese sailor suits were designed after Navy uniforms. (sailor 13 image by Paul Moore from

Sailor suits are worn by many middle and high school girls in Japan, both as school uniforms and as popular fashion statements. In schools, standard white shirts, knee-length skirts and navy collars are the norm. As the sailor suit diffused into pop culture, wild variations, such as brightly coloured miniskirts and decorated collars, became part of young ladies' after-school wardrobes as well. With a white shirt and collar pattern, you can make a sailor suit to fit your aesthetic sense as well.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • White shirt, sleeve length determined below
  • Sewing machine or sewing kit
  • Ribbon or neckerchief
  • Butcher paper
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape

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  1. 1

    Choose a fabric colour for your sailor collar. The standard is navy blue, but if you're making a costume or a sailor-suit inspired fashion outfit, you can be creative.

  2. 2

    Buy or make a pattern for a sailor collar. To make the pattern, trace the collar of your white shirt onto butcher paper. Fold the butcher paper in half lengthwise at the centre of the shirt collar. Measure from your neck to the end of your shoulder blades for the width of the sailor collar's bottom line. Next, measure along your spine from the back of the white shirt collar to the bottom line you measured. Draw half the sailor collar with these measurements. Cut out the half collar. Unfold the paper for the entire collar pattern.

  3. 3

    Buy enough fabric to cut the collar pattern out twice, plus a seam allowance of half an inch. Cut the fabric.

  4. 4

    Decorate the sailor collar's edge if you want. White ribbons are commonly sewn about an inch from the edge, sometimes more than one.

  5. 5

    Sew the collar pieces together with the ribbon decoration inside. Leave the neckline unsewn. Turn the collar inside-out to hide the seam allowance and reveal the ribbon. Iron the finished collar flat.

  1. 1

    Baste or pin your sailor collar to the wrong side of the neckline of your white shirt.

  2. 2

    Understitch the sailor collar to the white shirt. Once it's sewn on, iron the collar front to get a sharp V fold.

  3. 3

    Add a neckerchief or bow to the front V. Red is common, but again, if this is a costume or fashion piece, play with colours.

  1. 1

    Acquire or make a skirt that matches your collar colour.

  2. 2

    Choose clothes that suit either an actual school uniform, or a fashionable look. For a look allowed in Japanese schools, wear a skirt that falls to your knees, low-heeled brown or black shoes, white or navy socks, and minimal make-up and jewellery.

  3. 3

    For a fashionable look, wear a shorter skirt (or roll up a longer one) and whatever make-up and jewellery you want. Low heels are still common.

Tips and warnings

  • Choose the sleeve length of your white shirt by date. Japanese schools use short sleeved summer uniforms from June 1st and long sleeved winter uniforms from October 1st.
  • Some uniform sleeves end in blue cuffs with white stripes. Add them if you want, again experimenting with colour if making a costume.
  • Different Japanese schools will make variations on the standard sailor top, such as using gold ribbon in place of white on the collar, or using two parallel ribbons instead of one. Go to high school homepages or shops selling fashion sailor suits to research what you like.

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