Oxfords to Heirlooms: Little Grey Line Turns Button-Downs into Kids Clothes

Jessica Johnson Moore has made a business out of repurposing men’s shirts into dresses for their daughters
by Simmons Andrews / photography by S.P. Murray

About 10 years ago, Jessica Johnson Moore had a stack of her husband’s old dress shirts to take to the thrift shop. They no longer fit, but they were in great shape. The fabrics were beautiful — plus, they smelled like him and held lovely memories. From the pile of discarded shirts came an idea: Johnson Moore would turn the shirts into dresses for their then 2-year-old daughter, Adeline Grey.

A trained architect and former professor at North Carolina State University, Johnson Moore had some sewing know-how from past projects. And with her design mentality, she soon started creating her own patterns.

She transformed her husband’s beloved shirts into sweet dresses for Adeline — cuffs made into button-detail sleeves, the yoke sized down for a much smaller back, extra fabric made into ruffled collars and oversize bows. Friends and family loved them so much she started taking orders, too, and within two years, she had enough for a business: Little Grey Line. “It didn’t dawn on me how precious this could be for other people at first,” says Johnson Moore. “It took a good number of clients for me to realize how special this idea was.” Ten years in, Little Grey Line’s simple, sentimental business is growing. Customers send in a loved button-down shirt, and Johnson Moore alters it into a one-of-a-kind dress, jumper, pillow, or burp cloth.

“The beauty of it is that each piece is a way to preserve the memory of the person who wore it before,” she says. There are different designs customers can choose from on her website, each named after the children modeling them: like the Molly, with a high-low skirt and generous back bow; Grace, an A-line with a ruffle down the front; cap-sleeved Birdie; and Brant, a jumper with a sporty front pocket. But these are only prototypes, the designer stresses — each piece is personalized, unique to the shirt it originated from.

When she’s designing, Johnson Moore begins by picking the shirt’s most interesting characteristic — like an unusual button, a fun pocket, or exquisite stitching — and comes up with a way to showcase that detail in the new piece. No two products are the same.  “It’s a much more intimate process than I imagined,” says Johnson Moore.

“Jessica is immensely talented, she’s always finding ways to honor and incorporate details of the original item into her pieces,” says Mary Margaret Ross, one of her Raleigh customers. “She has provided my family with special gifts we will keep forever.”

What started out as a hobby for friends and acquaintances in the Raleigh area is now a business that reaches customers nationwide through word of mouth and social media. “Recently, my daughter wore a dress from Little Grey Line for our family portrait,” says Ross. “It was made from my late grandfather’s favorite plaid shirt, so it was meaningful to me to represent him this way.” And that’s exactly what Johnson Moore loves about her work: “Each piece offers a unique design challenge, but the real joy is witnessing how happy customers are when they are holding it.”