How to Make a Child's Pageant Shell Dress

Beauty pageants for young girls often require a series of elaborate costumes specific to each event. The pageant shell dress is the most common garment used for child beauty pageants. Sometimes called a cupcake dress, the pageant shell dress is a ruffled, tutu-like attachment to a colorful leotard. Although these dresses often sell for hundreds of dollars in specialty stores and on the Internet, they can be cheaply and easily made using a few supplies from a local fabric store.

Things You'll Need

  • Children's leotard
  • 5 yards organza fabric
  • Ruffle strips
  • Heavy fishing line
  • 1 foot elastic band


    • 1

      Cut five large circles out of each yard of organza fabric. The diameter of each circle should be as follows: two circles at 22 inches, two circles at 28 inches, and one circle at 30 inches.

    • 2

      Cut out another circle with a 10 inch diameter from the center of each fabric circle. Cut a straight line from the outside of each circle to the edge of the inner circles.

    • 3

      Sew ruffle strips onto the fabric with a roll hem around the bias of each circle (in this case, the bias is the outermost edge of each piece of fabric). These five fabric circles are the layers for the shell dress. Create a roll hem by folding the ruffle strips along the edge of the bias, leaving a small, tunnel-like space through which you will pull the fishing line. Apply the ruffle strips to each fabric circle.

    • 4

      Push fishing line through the roll hem of each circle. This creates a ruffle effect in the layers.

    • 5

      Stack the layers as follows: 22 inches, 28 inches, 30 inches, 28 inches, 22 inches. By gradating the layers, the garment will maintain a fuller shape.

    • 6

      Attach elastic to the inner circles; this creates an adjustable waistline for the shell. The shell itself does not have to be sewed to the leotard. It may be tied or pinned to the back of the leotard and embellished with a matching bow.

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  • Photo Credit Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images

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