Useful Links on Tailoring Your Clothes

After two emotionally heavy posts this week, it’s time to shake things up a bit and turn back to the subjects of clothing and style.  In today’s “useful links” post, I focus on the topic of alterations, as I believe tailoring our clothing can help us cultivate a minimalist wardrobe filled with things we love to wear.

Few Women Tailor Their Clothes

Alterations Tips and Resources

Do you tailor your clothes? Most women don’t!

Alterations have the power to take a ho-hum garment and transform it into something that looks and feels amazing. During my stint as a wardrobe stylist, I learned that very few women tailor their clothes, with the exception of hemming trousers and altering suits and formal wear.   While some of my clients merely needed some education on proper fit principles, others required an attitude adjustment in order to embrace the concept of tailoring.  Fortunately, most of them came around in the end.  In fact, we were often able to salvage many pieces by simple “tweaks” that didn’t break the bank.

“But Alterations are Too Expensive!”

In this time of “fast fashion” and disposable clothing, many women just don’t want to invest the money to ensure their clothing fits them impeccably.  They reason that if they paid $20 for a garment, why should they spend another $10 altering it to fit their body perfectly.

As many of us are working towards shopping more ethically and sustainably (see last Friday’s links post for resources to help you in that endeavor), alterations can be a way of extending our wardrobes to make what we have work for us rather than running out to buy more.  Of course, it’s an easier “sell” if we’re focusing on quality over quantity when shopping.  However, those of us who enjoy thrift and consignment shopping know that quality doesn’t always have to come with a large price tag (see my tips for successful resale shopping).

Modernizing Your Clothes through Tailoring

I definitely recommend taking the time and spending the money to tailor your clothes so they fit you like a glove.  Although proper fit is the primary reason for tailoring, alterations can also help to modernize your clothes or update them to line up with your evolving sense of style.  As one example, as my preferred trouser silhouette changed, I narrowed many of my wide-legged pants to create a straight-legged look.  I also shortened some of my skirts to knee-length after I realized that length is what’s most flattering for my figure.

Some Useful Links on Alterations

While I could definitely go on and on about this topic, let’s now move to the links and let the words of others (as well as one article by yours truly) illustrate my points.  If you’re not yet a believer in the power of alterations, perhaps you will be after you read the articles below.

I wrote this article on my styling business blog last year.  In it, I list just some of the many tailoring possibilities to give shirts, jackets, pants, skirts, and dresses a new lease on life.  In all, I list 34 ways in which a gifted tailor can work magic on your clothing (most of which have been done on my own clothes!), and I’m sure there are as many options I didn’t mention.

Image consultant Imogen Lamport highlights the types of alterations that are easy and relatively inexpensive to perform on our clothes.  In addition to listing a plethora of possibilities, Imogen also illustrates a few simple shirt and pant alterations that can be done to improve the fit of our clothing.

Audrey of Putting Me Together (also from San Diego though we’ve never met!) shares her alteration guidelines and tips in Part 3b of her “Wardrobe from Scratch” series.  In this post, she helps you decide which garments to alter and she shows a few personal examples of pieces she’s tailored (complete with before and after photos!).  I highly recommend checking out Audrey’s entire “Wardrobe from Scratch” series, which helps readers with style definition, color, fit, and more.  It’s definitely worth a read!

The actual title of this article is “No shit,” but the gist of it is what I referenced above.  The author quotes Clinton Kelly of “What Not to Wear,” who basically stated that celebrity’s clothes fit them so well because they tailor everything.  We often think our bodies are somehow “wrong” when we can’t find clothing off the rack to fit us (I’ve frequently thought this about pants!), but everyone has fit issues, even the beautiful, rich, and famous.

Petite Kelly started her blog “Alterations Needed” in 2008 to help other women her size learn how to shop and tailor their wardrobes.  Along the way, she’s written a number of excellent alteration and fit tips to help women of all sizes.  The link above goes to an archive page that lists all the alteration, style, and fit tips Kelly has written over the years.   Some of these tips are “do-it-yourself” suggestions for the more crafty among us, while others require assistance from a tailor (unless you’re a talented seamstress yourself!), but all are useful, well-written, and nicely illustrated with descriptive photos.

Now it’s Your Turn – Your Alterations Feedback and Tips!

I hope you find the links above helpful.  Now I’d love to get your feedback.

  • Do you tailor your clothes (either yourself or via a tailor)?
  • If so, what types of alterations do you do?
  • How do you feel about the cost of tailoring?  Do you only tailor more expensive garments or do you factor alterations into the price of your clothing?
  • Do you have any other alteration tips to share?

As usual, I welcome your comments!  I also welcome suggestions for future “useful links” posts and posts in general.  Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend!

30 thoughts on “Useful Links on Tailoring Your Clothes

  1. I guess I am one of those lucky people who can easily find things off the rack that fit in a variety of brands, or else I am relentless in the search for fit off the rack. If I try something on and it doesn’t fit, I move on and find something similar that does. I’ve found that certain brands fit my body type (for example the Loft Marisa cut pant) without requiring any alteration. My tailoring has mostly been hemming, which I do myself. I’m very picky about fit.

    This probably sounds weird, but I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have something substantially altered–going to a tailor, through the process of having something fitted–or even starting from scratch–having something custom made! When I was a child, my grandmother was a seamstress and she made all my clothing, so I remember being fitted quite young, but my clothing then was generally sewn on the large side to give me room to grow. It must be a very different sort of experience as an adult. Someday maybe I’ll have a garment that needs alteration that I don’t know how to do myself. As far as pricing, I have no idea how much alterations cost or what is a fair price.

    • It sounds like a combination of having a more standard body type and your relentless search for well-fitting items, Deby. I think lots of women try on a few things and pick something that is “good enough,” but you keep searching until you find garments that fit well and suit your needs. I am also relentless in my search, but my body type is not very standard. It’s mostly the height that makes it hard for me, plus the fact that my shoulders are broad and my torso is narrow (and my waist is a lot smaller than my hips). I thought more women were shaped like me, but the designers don’t seem to design for my type of shape. Embracing tailoring has made a HUGE difference for me and I try to educate people so they will think to get alterations when they are needed.

      Pricing for alterations is a tricky issue with lots of regional variation. I am fortunate in that I’ve been able to find a good local tailor who gives me good rates since I bring her so much business (both my own and the referrals I’ve given her). I think it’s great that you don’t need any tailoring beyond hemming and things you can do on your own. Since I know you struggle with finding the right colors and quality garments without tons of embellishment, it’s good you don’t have to add a bunch of fit issues to the mix as well!

      • I don’t think I have a standard body type, but you are right in that I relentlessly search for the right fit. I’m of average height, but I have a V shape–my shoulders are slightly broader than my hips and I have a larger bust. Pants are not a problem in that I can find ones that fit easily and my length is 30-31″, which is standard.

        My biggest problem fitwise has always been tops. Woven collared shirts are especially problematic. If they fit across the bust, the shoulders are too big, or the midsection is too full. Because my neck is a bit shorter than average, I am not flattered by standup collars, turtlenecks or any style that is close around the throat because it makes my head look like its on a platter! I also have a broad face which further accentuates the disproportion.

        My solution is that I don’t wear collared shirts or any style close around the ncck. Its always scoop or vnecks with long necklaces (or no necklace) and long linear earrings. No neck scarves (unless its purely for function to keep warm). I have found infinity scarves to be flattering though because they have a long line. Infinity scarves are the greatest accessory item I have discovered in the past year! I have 3 now.

        So most of my tops are knits of various types and styles, and I layer them, often with a contrasting cami. I am always careful to put sunscreen on my neck and upper chest in the summer, not just my face. The other great thing is that this layered way of dressing is that it is both cool in summer and warm in winter. We have the full gamut of seasonal weather here–from blistering humid summer heat to freezing winters.

      • I am also relentless in my search, and my body type is not standard. I’m 5’2″ with long slim legs and long arms, with a short torso. Petite pants are too short for me, so I buy in the regular department and often I don’t need to hem them. The sleeve length in petite is also always too short for my arms. But I need petite portions in sizing in the overall fit of a shirt or dress so that it does not overwhelm me. The difficulty in finding things that fit me well, I believe, is what caused me to over shop in previous years. I always felt like always had to be on the look out for clothes that fit me and when I found something perfect I tended to buy it even if I didn’t need the item.

      • I think my difficulty in finding things that fit me well has contributed to my overshopping, too, Terra! I am a perfectionist and keep believing I can find the perfect garments. Like you, if I find something close to perfect, I will buy even without a true need for the item. I’m trying to stop doing that and working to believe that I WILL be able to find the right garments when I DO need them. Old habits die hard, though!

  2. Good post Debbie. Thank you. I’m petite and I have an excellent tailor. But he is expensive. So I try to only have things I absolutely love that need only minor alterations, and the majority of things I have altered I wear on a regular basis. Or maybe it is because the fit is so ideal after being altered it makes me “want” to wear those items on a regular basis.

    • I think it’s very true that we want to wear things that fit us well more often. If I have a garment that I have to re-adjust throughout the day due to a less than ideal fit, that item often stays in my closet and eventually ends up out the door. I am fine with paying for alterations, but I sometimes alter things that should just be donated instead. I am getting better at knowing the different and as I strive to buy quality over quantity, I’m making fewer mistakes!

  3. Love this post!

    Yes, I have my clothes tailored. Generally, I have my pants lengthened (hem let out and seam tape added for that extra two inches) and my sleeves shortened.

    However, lightning bolt, I recently had an ah-hah tailoring moment (only readers of this blog will appreciate it, though ;-)! I have a favorite, very old, Eileen Fisher black stretch crepe dress that’s calf-length and somewhat too full through the hips. It looked a little frumpy, but I wore it for a couple of years thinking, that’s just the way it is. Then, one happy day I saw another on eBay for $20 — I thought, with this price, I can experiment with having it tailored. I took it to my genius tailor and asked, can you work with this fabric? She looked at me like I was crazy and said, of course! I had the hips taken in and the dress shortened to just below my knee — it now fits exactly as I dreamed it might, long and lean and quite a bit sexier, yet still very work-appropriate. The cost of tailoring? $17!

    • Love your story, Elizabeth! Sometimes an inexpensive “tweak” can make all the difference in the world… I am familiar with the seam tape trick for pants, too. I try to eek out all the length possible with pants, as I like to wear them with a bit of a heel and need about 35″ inseam to do that. Luckily, there are more tall pants out there these days, but the choices are still minimal compared to regular sizes 😦

  4. Debbie, THANK YOU for posting this. And please ladies read No Shit. Tailoring is an important part of your wardrobe budget. Everyone is shaped different and your clothes should fit you like they were made for you.

    • Glad you liked the post, Janna! Although there are some lucky or persistent people who don’t need much tailoring, it’s a very useful tool for most of us.

  5. All the women in my family are expert seamstresses. My grandmother did alterations at a cleaners and my mom is a homemaking teacher who learned about formal tailoring in college. I have been fortunate to always have someone close by to tailor my clothing for me and I am now tackling a great deal of it myself. My body shape has always been a little bit difficult to fit but in the last few years, I have found ready wear to fit evenly more poorly than before. Frustrated, I turned to sewing from scratch. In the past year and a half, I have actually sewn more garments for myself instead of buying something and having it tailored. The difference in fit is remarkable.

    • How wonderful that you grew up with seamstresses in your family, Grasshopper, and you’re now learning to sew as well! I’ve thought of it, but I think it would be an uphill curve for me (not very mechanically inclined, etc.). But I am happy to have a great tailor nearby who charges reasonable prices and makes over many of my garments. Congrats on doing so well with your new handmade clothes. What a wonderful talent to have!

  6. My mother was an expert at tailoring (this was her 1950s creative outlet), and I also learned how to sew and modify patterns for my body (making a muslin “dummy” dress, etc.). When I buy something, I take into consideration the cost of alterations, if needed. I generally have the waist taken in on pants and skirts (having a classic pear shape), and sometimes have additional alterations (pants length, darts added, etc.). Finding a good tailor/alterations person is critical — I’ve had clothing ruined by bad alterations. My advice is to start with something that needs adjustments but is not a mainstay of your wardrobe as a “test drive.” Some alterations are too expensive to justify, such as altering shoulders, sleeves, and body on a blouse, etc. It might be more cost effective to have a custom item made instead. This was a good post!!

    • Great advice on the “test drive,” Dottie! I always recommended that to my clients (the ones who weren’t close enough to use my tailor). I agree that some alterations should just not be done. I learned that the hard way. Glad you liked the post!

    • I agree with doing a “test drive” first with a new tailor or seamstress. I found a couple of old pencil skirts that I had owned for at least 10-15 years and decided to use them for the “test drive”. I wouldn’t be too upset if they didn’t turn out the way I wanted, because I had them for such a long time. Fortunately, the seamstress did a wonderful job taking them in and hemming one, making it knee length. I love wearing them now, and have taken many other items to her. At this point, I buy all of my skirts a size too big, and have them taken in. People have noticed how well my clothing fits and have complimented me on it!

      • Welcome, Samara, and thanks for your comment! Your advice to use older items for the test drive is very wise. I’m glad the test garments worked out well and that you found a good seamstress you’ve been able to use for all of your alterations. I’m curious as to why you buy your skirts a size too big. Is it because you don’t like a tight fit? I’m wondering if I should do the same thing, as skirts are often tight for me in the hips even when the waist is too large. A size up may be a good way to go if I’m going to tailor the waist of my skirts anyway. Thanks for giving me this food for thought!

  7. Awesome article and a must read for any woman who has ever been on the fence about whether to alter or not. As a third generation tailoress, I cannot tell you how many wardrobe horrors that I see walking the streets of the Nations Capital. Skirts rolled down at the top, slacks duct taped at the hem, sleeves to long and just over all poorly fitting garments.

    Yes alterations can be costly but your image is everything. Well fitting clothing can make a huge difference in how you feel about yourself as well as play a role in whether you get the job or not.

    • Thanks for your comment, Cheryl. It’s great to get the perspective of an experienced tailoress! I’m happy I haven’t seen the duct-taped hems and rolled down skirts. Here in San Diego, we see a lot of sweats, pajama bottoms, and flip-flops all year round! Not a pretty sight… You’re right about how much well-fitting clothing can impact how we feel about ourselves and how other people see us. I’m happy to evangelize on behalf of tailors. I hope more people start tailoring their clothes!

    • You’re welcome, Kelly. I’m happy to point people to your wonderful blog, as it’s such an excellent resource!

  8. My body type is pretty standard (in my opinion), 5 feet 6, size 12-14, long legs, equally wide shoulders and hips (neither pear shaped nor an inverted triangle), defined waist. My only figure flaw is a slightly short waist and I am happy with my body, which at nearly 59 is not bad. However, nothing I buy fits and I get everything tailored. I would always recommend it. As a former sewer, obviously I didnt need to, but after my career ate up all my hobbies I found more and more often that clothes I bought fit poorly-this is the main reason I hate clothes shopping. When I started working with my personal shopper in 2010, I finally got it that RTW clothing needs tailoring to fit correctly-what a difference that makes. I have fit issues with pants-the crotch depth is always too short, and skirts-the waistband usually needs lowering in front, but the other fixes have all been tweaks-hems, waistlines, sleeve length, snaps to fix gapping necklines, etc. Tailoring does add to the cost of clothes, but not necessarily always, and boy the clothes look SO MUCH better afterwards-and you become really aware of how badly most folks’ clothes fit. I never see so many badly dressed people as when I shop at the mall….. I am moving towards buying more custom made clothing-being Indian I have to have sari blouses made from scratch anyway-I just dont like today’s clothing world. Indian clothes always fit properly because tailored alterations or custom sewing is standard, even with RTW. I think we would all look and feel better if we moved back a little bit towards tailoring, particularly as regards body image and being a size 0 or whatever. At my age, tailoring is even more necessary as the fashion industry doesn’t cater to my age group even though we have the money to spend on nice things. Another reason I dont shop much-why bother, really? I have a very demanding job where I need to look pulled together and it is really hard finding nice things that fit and aren’t totally inappropriate.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with tailoring, Maharani. As you can see from this post, I am a big fan and advocate of tailoring. It has made a big difference for me in the way my clothes fit and how happy I am with them, so I do my best to nudge others to also take advantage of this great resource. Sadly, in this age of “fast fashion” and garments sometimes costing less than $10, many people just don’t want to spend the money. I think we’d all be better off buying fewer clothes, tailoring them to fit just right, and wearing them to death. That’s what I’m moving toward and I hope others will do the same.

  9. In case anyone is interested, I found my personal shopper/tailor online by searching in my local area. I think she is reasonable price wise. Alterations have ranged from free (a neckline snap), through $5 (inside shoulder seam straps to hold bra straps away from a neckline-essential in my book) to $200 and over-for a substantial redo of suit separates. I probably spend about $2,000 a year on clothes, which seems high, but I suspect weekly shoppers spend more, even with returns-I have never returned an item in my life-no time for this hassle…. The difference in the way I feel is huge though. My costs are coming down as I now have a functional wardrobe and buy less and wear everything I have. She does a wardrobe review every year and takes away anything I don’t wear-rarely more than 1 or 2 items. Some of my things have been altered several times, but I prefer that to buying new-these particular items are good quality wool skirts and pants that with care are not looking worn and can take the alterations.

    • I think it’s great that your personal shopper also offers tailoring services. I don’t believe that is the norm for such services, but it’s a good match of two complementary services. I loved reading about your journey toward a more functional wardrobe. I hope to get to where you are before too long – buying less, making sure everything fits like a glove, and then wearing everything I own. I don’t think spending $2000 per year on clothing is too much, but everyone’s budget will vary. You’re right that weekly shoppers often spend much more, even if they’re buying inexpensive pieces. Far better to buy fewer quality items like you do!

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