When you invest in clothing (at any price range), you’re investing in your presentation. How your clothes fit you matters. I learned early on that I absolutely could not live without a tailor — or at least someone nearby with a sewing machine and decent working knowledge of it. Just grazing 5 feet tall, I figured that if I was going to rock out my outfits, then they had to fit my diminutive proportions perfectly. That wasn’t going to happen on its own.
“Clothes are made for an average form, certain generic measurements, and no one really has that ideal average form. We all have something different body-wise, so most likely when you put on clothing it’s not going to fit perfectly,” says designer Rebecca Moses.
We might not all be Naomi Campbell-perfect, but we can at least strive for our very own version of perfection, starting with that really annoying skirt and its seriously hideous granny length. Snip snip.
How Clothes Should Fit
From the first moment you try on a garment in the dressing room, there are a few important things to keep in mind for fit. The garment should never visibly pull across your body (bust, hips, thighs, stomach). It should feel comfortable, giving you a little bit of breathing space. Trousers should never be too tight in the crotch or behind. If you’re trying on a blazer, you should be able to move freely without the top of your arms or your shoulders feeling squeezed. On the flip side, trousers should never sag in your behind or over your thighs.
Ask yourself these questions when you’re trying on clothes in the store: If sleeves are too long in a shirt or jacket, will a basic hem be enough to resolve the long length? Can a too-large waistband be taken in if the hips and body of the bottom fit perfectly? If you’re not sure about getting a great fit on something that’s almost there, have the store seamstress weigh in, and if you trust your salesperson, ask for her advice as well. It’s good to have another opinion: Remember that others often see us very differently than we see ourselves.
When Is It Worth It?
Deciding if an extensive or costly alteration is worth it really depends on how much you love a garment. While paying $100 to alter a $50 dress may give you pause, if you love it enough and know you’ll wear it often, it could be well worth it because you saved on the price in the first place.
Miguel Zabludovsky, CEO of Slate NYC, an expert eco-dry cleaner and tailor in Manhattan, thinks tailoring is almost always worth the cost, particularly if you’re maintaining an item you already own and want to restore it.
“Alterations are the equivalent of performing maintenance on any piece of high-end equipment; you need to do it to ensure it runs properly,” says Zabludovsky. “Remember that the proverbial [phrase] ‘wear and tear’ we use so often, actually comes from clothes wearing and tearing! You can go through your closet and at least 10 percent of the items you don’t use can be altered in a way that makes them fresh and wearable again, for a fraction of the cost of buying new pieces.” How’s that for recycling?
All this pinching and shortening and lengthening doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. We’re probably all familiar with the very basic alterations like taking up a pant or skirt hem; taking in or letting out a waistband; repairing ripped seams; and shortening the sleeves on a shirt or jacket.
Other basic alterations you might not have thought to do include:
- Adding small lingerie-loops inside the shoulder of a blouse that snap over your bra strap to keep the blouse in place. This is great for silk blouses that might slide around and keeps a low neckline from going even lower. This is helpful also if the blouse has beading or embroidery that might weigh it down in front.
- Putting small invisible snaps between the buttons over your bustline on a shirt. If you are busty or have a broad back, snaps can help keep your shirt closed at all times.
- If you’ve got an older or vintage jacket, blouse, coat or dress that needs freshening up, try changing the buttons to something that looks more current.
Costs for basic alterations may vary from region to region in the United States, but on the East Coast, you will find costs to be within this range:
- Shorten or lengthen pant or skirt hem: $20
- Shorten sleeves on shirt: $20 per sleeve
- Take in or let out waistband of pants or skirt: $35
- Nip in fabric around hips on pant, skirt or dress: $30 to $40
- Replacing a zipper: $20
Complex alterations include refitting shoulders or the body on a jacket, coat or shirt; shortening the torso on a dress; and altering a wedding or evening dress in a delicate or beaded fabric. Before you invest in a special occasion or wedding dress, it’s important to have the potential alterations checked out first. Heavily beaded and embroidered garments and delicate laces and other fabrics need an expert seamstress. Otherwise it’s not worth it to make the investment. When altered, these garments must be taken apart and then put back together again, which also means the alterations will be costly and time consuming.
Other complex alterations include:
- Raising the waist on a dress: $60
- Fitting the corset on a wedding gown: $200 and up
- Re-lining a garment: $50 to $150
- Adding buttonholes to a jacket or shirt: $20 per buttonhole
Leathers, fur and even some newer, hi-tech fabrics can be challenging, so finding the right tailor is also important. If you invest in expensive designer clothing, seek out an experienced tailor that works with these kind of garments on a regular basis.
What You Can’t Tailor
Pretty much anything can be altered, with the exception of knitwear, which is best left alone. Sweaters are usually made on machines, and if you cut them, they’ll never end up being smooth and clean. Knits can be repaired however, and if you find an expert in your area that can reweave the knit, then you can fix small holes and pulls.
Apart from knitwear, fabrics that have already begun to disintegrate, like vintage fabrics and delicate fabrics like chiffon and lamé, might be best left alone. Some designer pieces that have very defined silhouettes or details might also be challenging to tailor and should not be altered; trying to change these defining lines is most likely not worth the effort.
How to Find a Tailor
Word of mouth recommendations from friends and family is the best. Also, high end clothing stores and major department stores around the country usually have very skilled tailors and seamstresses. I always try to have my clothing tailored by the store where I bought the garment in the first place. They may have even altered the same garment before, which can be beneficial. The prices are typically much better using store tailors, with some services being completely free like basic hems and waistband nipping. Take advantage when you can.
Reproducing Your Favorites
One service that some good tailors offer is duplicating garments you already own. This is a fantastic way of holding onto your favorite pieces. Usually, you will select a similar fabric, perhaps even with other color options, and the tailor will make it according to your measurements and the existing garment. The cost of this depends on what item of clothing you’d like to be made and what fabric it uses, but a general price range is anywhere from $200, all the way up to $2,000.
If like most women, you have that one favorite pair of pants or the best pencil skirt ever, now you can ensure that it’s always hanging in your closet. Even though she wears her own clothing label, Rebecca Moses has many times in the past had garments copied. “I highly recommend this. It’s a great idea, and it’s usually cheaper the second or third time around. It’s not easy to find things you love, and if you can find a tailor that can also copy clothing, then go for it,” she says.
One Last Word on Fit
It’s really important to know how you like your clothing to fit. Always remember that proportion is the key to fit and the more experience you have with fitting your clothing, the better tuned your eye will become. However, your personal taste will always come into play.
“This is a nuance you discover over time,” Moses says. “I like my clothes to fit a little on the larger side, looser if you will, to drop on my body. But that’s my personal taste. Even if you like to wear your clothes like I do, you still might need something nipped in at the waist or have a hem shortened or extended. The most important thing to remember is that when you get dressed you want your clothes to look great on you. You don’t want to look like your clothes are either drowning on you or are too tight.”