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How to Create a Shirley Temple Costume

If you want to dress your little girl as Shirley Temple, impress all your friends and neighbors with a homemade version of her iconic red and white polka dot dress. With a little ingenuity, even a novice sewer can recreate a gorgeous version of this costume. Add a curly wig, tap shoes and a lollipop, and your little princess will be ready to dance the night away.

Shirley Temple's Dress

Even beginner sewers can tackle this project because the dress construction is so straight-forward. Begin with a T-shirt for the bodice of the dress, and attach a simple, gathered, double-layer skirt to finish the dress. To keep the color and size of the polka dots consistent on the bodice and skirt, begin with a white tee and white fabric, and paint the red polka dots with fabric paint.

Things You'll Need:

  • White cotton or cotton-blend T-shirt
  • 1 1/2 yards white cotton or cotton blend woven fabric
  • 3 yards red, extra wide, double-fold bias tape, 1/2-inch
  • 1 yard red satin ribbon, 1/2-inch
  • 1 yard red satin ribbon, 2-inch
  • White tutu or petticoat
  • Red fabric paint
  • Bottle cap from a gallon of milk
  • Foam paint brush, 1/2-inch
  • Iron
  • Hot glue gun
  • Tape measure
  • Fabric marking chalk
  • Sewing machine
  • Matching thread


Shirley's original dress was made of a sheer, ivory organza with red polka dots, which appeared bright white in the black-and-white-film. Not only is organza expensive and difficult to work with, but it also will not give you the crisp, white look you want for this costume. Choose a crisp white cotton or cotton blend for the skirt and a bright white cotton T-shirt for the bodice.

Paint the Red Dots

Lay the white T-shirt and the white fabric flat on your work surface. Apply red fabric paint to the top of the bottle cap with the foam brush. Use the bottle cap as a stamp to place red polka dots on the tee and the fabric. Fill in any empty spots on the red dots with the foam paint brush. Set the paint according to the manufacturer's instructions. Allow paint to fully dry before continuing.


The fabric paint may have to be set with an iron to make it permanent.

Adjust Length of the Bodice

With your tape measure, measure the vertical distance from the top of your child's shoulder to her waist just above her belly button. Lay the tee flat on your work surface, and cut off the bottom so the length matches this measurement.

Take Measurements for the Skirt

Measure around your child's waist just above her belly button. Double this measurement to get the width for the bottom layer of the skirt. Measure from her waist to the top of her knee to get the length for the bottom layer of the skirt.

Cut the Fabric for Both Skirt Layers

Cut a rectangle of fabric according to the measurements taken for the bottom layer of the skirt. Cut another rectangle of fabric for the upper layer: Use the same width as the bottom layer, but make the length 2 inches shorter.

Apply Bias Tape

Sew bias tape around one raw edge of each rectangle. This will be the hem of each skirt layer.

Skirt Construction

Fold each layer of the skirt in half, right sides together, and sew the side seam using a 3/8-inch seam allowance. Turn the layers right side out, and insert the bottom layer into the upper layer.

Gather the Skirt

Set your sewing machine to a long stitch length. Sew a straight line through both layers of fabric along the waistline 1/8 inch from the edge. Sew a second line 1/8 inch from the first line. Leave 3/4-inch thread tails, and do not backstitch. Hold the thread tails firmly in one hand, and pull the fabric to create gathers.

Attach the Skirt and Bodice

Turn the skirt inside out. Insert the bodice, right side out, into the skirt, matching the raw edges of the bodice to the raw edges of the skirt. Put the skirt seam in the back. Adjust the gathers of the skirt so they are evenly placed all the way around. Sew the skirt to the bodice, using a 3/4-inch seam allowance.

Apply Trim

Trim the neckline of the dress with the 1/2-inch red satin ribbon. Use the hot glue gun to apply the ribbon around the neckline. Tie the 2-inch red satin ribbon around the waist for the belt.

The Petticoat

If you don't have a full petticoat to put under the dress, use one or two white tutus to make the skirt full and twirly.

Costume Accessories

Shirley Temple was known for her curly locks, so if your little one doesn't have curly hair, you will need a curly wig. You'll also need a red ribbon for her hair. Dress her in white, black or red tap shoes, and have her wear white ankle socks with a lace trim. Since one of Shirley Temple's most well-known songs was "On the Good Ship Lollipop," have her carry a large swirl lollipop.

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