Knowing how to add panels to a dress is a very handy DIY skill for any racing fashion enthusiast because it allows you to modify that (almost) perfect race dress.

In this post we take a look at when and how to panel. And for those non-sewers, fear not, there are options for you too!

Why Add a Panel to your Dress?

Reason #1 – Your Dress is Too Short

The most obvious reason to add a panel is because your dress or skirt is too short.

Race day dresses should be knee length or longer. A lot of dresses purchased online can be above the knee or knee length, for racing fashion the midi length works best.

Adding the interest of a new fabric can make the dress look even better, and sheers and laces work beautifully, or even a subtle print clash.

Adding a panel to make dress longer

sew a panel to short dress to make midi length

Image credit: Anna Dutton Couture

Anna always does a fabulous job altering her dresses to make them longer. She has a selection of fabrics at home, collected over the years.

She uses them to make her race wear designs unique by co-ordinating colours, fabrics and textures that people would not normally match.

Click here to learn how to add length to your dress.

Reason #2 – Your Dress is Too Small

If your dress or skirt is too small, you can add a panel to make it fit better.

You’ve eaten too many Christmas puddings, your dress is a little snug, forget the diet and just add in a panel at the sides to allow for extra room!

Some ladies find dresses they love on sale or second hand, but, unfortunately, they are a size or two too small- but adding in panels means you can still nab the bargain and alter it to fit.

Add a side panel to make race dress bigger

Image credit: Kat Clarke

Kat used a panel at the waist and at the sides to make her dress a bigger size- they also broke up the pattern of the dress, which (I think) looks better. She used the same blue from the dress print and also tied it in with her millinery.

And a random personal anecdote regarding panels…

I was in year 8 at school and not very trendy back then. I had nothing to wear to the school disco, so I decided to revamp and old pair of jeans I had outgrown.

I cut off the legs, turning them into denim shorts and then hand sewed an old red belt down each of the side seams, just like a racing stripe (lol!).

adding side panels to denim shorts

They turned out surprisingly well and I even scored a few compliments by some of the cool girls at the disco. I think I wore that pair of shorts non stop for the next year!

Click here to learn how to make your dress bigger.

Reason #3 – To Spice up your Dress

Add a panel to create more interest in your outfit. You can include a new fabric, print or pattern, or even make the added panel pleated or ruffled.

Say you have a plain white dress and you think it’s a little boring; you can add in a new colour by sewing in a panel. You can even add multiple panels.

If you have a pencil dress, adding in a ruffled panel at the bottom creates a unique look.

If you have a store bought dress and are worried someone else might be wearing the same- add in a panel to make it your own.

add dress panels to add interest

Image credit: Jen Marsh

In the photo above on the left, Jen had panels in a contrasting purple print fabric added to this racing fashion ensemble. On the right, Jen added a heavy white lace fabric to the bottom of this dress.

The three examples below are also a fun way to change up your dress- a gathered, flared or pleated panel.

gathered flared pleated panel on dress

Not a Sewer ?… What else can you do?

Alternative #1 – Add a Slip Instead

You can also add a slip under a dress to make it longer, without having to sew a panel.

Say you have a full skirt dress- you can add in another longer full skirt underneath to add a contrasting colour and increase the length. You can do this with pencil skirts too.

To stop it from moving about, you sew the slip and skirt together.

slip under short race dress

Image credit: Myer Pinterest

Even if you aren’t an avid sewer or don’t own a sewing machine this is a great option for you! Wearing a slip underneath also means you can still wear the original version of the dress for another occasion.

Alternative #2 – Wear a Skirt over a Dress

If your dress is a little short but you love the style of it- you can always wear a longer skirt over the dress.

Make sure you test it out first though- if you are wearing a dress under a pencil skirt and it’s quite tight- you want to still be able to walk and get upstairs on stage!!

I once had a dress that had a little extra fabric and when I wore a pencil skirt over it, it looked bunchy underneath. I ended up wearing a tight stretch pencil skirt over the dress to make it sit smooth, then wore my skirt over.

I loved the top of this teal silk dress I purchased. It was, however, much too short for FOTF.

teal silk race dress too short

One year I arrived at Flemington race course wearing the dress, but I hadn’t yet put my longer skirt over it because it was too snug for the long taxi ride.

I decided I would just carry my longer skirt and change in the bathrooms.

As I was walking through the precinct, I heard a group of ladies commenting amongst themselves, ‘such a beautiful outfit- such a shame it’s much too short for fashions on the field.’

I was pleased to be able to wave the longer pencil skirt at them as I walked by.

Flemington spring racing carnival fashions on the field

Image credit: Richard Shaw Photography

Here’s that same dress revamped with a longer black lace skirt over it.

black skirt over short dress ekka races


So next time you find that almost perfect race dress, consider adding a panel to make it race appropriate or a little more interesting.

Share a photo of a dress that you’ve modified in the comments below so everyone can see your handy work.

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