I have long been a strong advocate of alterations. I’ve had my own clothing tailored for years, and back when I worked as a wardrobe consultant, I always suggested alterations to help take my clients’ garments from good to fabulous. It’s difficult for many of us to achieve a perfect fit “off the rack,” so tailoring can help fill in the gaps so our garments fit us like a glove.
When I first started having my clothes tailored, I pretty much stuck to standard types of alterations, things like pants hems and minor nips and tucks. However, at some point, I lost my way and started using alterations as a means of completely overhauling my clothes. I slipped into what I now term the “dark side” of alterations.
In today’s post, I will share my insights on both the bright and dark sides of altering our clothes. I’ll fill you in on the types of tailoring that has served me well over the years. I’ll also highlight some of my alteration failures and offer tips on tailoring that is best avoided. I hope to save some of you from making the types of mistakes I’ve made so you won’t throw “good money after bad” the way I have. I can’t bring back my lost dollars, but perhaps I can prevent some of you from losing your precious money through tailoring nightmares.
The “Bright Side” – Successful Alterations
Let’s start on a high note. While I’ve made a lot of mistakes in tailoring my clothes, I’ve also experienced quite a few alterations victories. Fortunately, the successes have far outweighed the failures and I’m very grateful to have discovered the power of alterations to help me achieve better fitting clothing. Some of the alterations that I’ve successfully had done over and over again include:
- Hemming pants – This is a clothing adjustment that most of us have done. In my case, I’m usually lengthening my pants (to the max, no less!) rather than shortening them. This is pretty much an alterations “no brainer” and many people even handle this adjustment themselves.
- Hemming Skirts and Dresses – As hemline trends have changed (or my preferences simply shifted), I’ve been able to adjust my skirts and dresses accordingly. As long as a skirt or dress is a straighter shape, this is an easy alteration to make. I’ve even successfully shortened a maxi dress to knee length.
- Shortening Straps on Tank Tops and Dresses – Even though I’m tall, straps on tank tops and dresses are often too long on me. For just a few dollars, I’ve been able to have these straps adjusted to the optimal length for me. No more having to yank up necklines or pull fallen straps back up on my shoulders!
- Taking in Waistlines on Pants and Skirts – Since my waist is fairly small in comparison to my hips, I often have to take in the waistlines of my pants and jeans at least an inch or more. I sometimes have to do the same with my skirts as well. This alteration has always been successful for me and usually only costs me only ten dollars or so.
- Taking in Sides of Tops, Jackets, and Dresses – This is another common alteration for me, as I have broad shoulders and a narrow torso. I often need to size up in order to get a good fit in the shoulders, so the body of many of my garments is a bit too large as a result. As long as one is only taking the sides of a garment in an inch or two on each side, this is a fairly easy alteration that has virtually always been successful for me.
- Shortening Tops – Since I have a relatively short torso, many of the tops I buy are too long, particularly in the case of those I want to wear with skirts (and not tuck in). I’ve frequently had my knit tops with straight hems shortened, which is an easy and inexpensive alteration.
- Tapering Pants – As pants are so difficult for me to find, I opted to narrow some of my wide-leg pants and jeans to the straight-leg silhouette that’s more in line with my newly preferred pants style. Since the tapering started at the knee of the garment and wasn’t a severe modification, the alteration was successful for me in all instances. I now have pants that I feel are more modern and flattering as a result.
As I looked through all of my clothes, I noticed that at least half or more had been altered in some way since they were purchased. The alterations mentioned above constitute the bulk of what I had done. I also had sleeve hems taken down, wrap-style garments sewn shut or snaps added for modesty’s sake, skirt waistbands altered, and pants pockets removed and sewn shut. I have been happy with all such alterations and feel that they took good garments and made them even better.
Here are a few garments that I’ve successfully had altered during 2013 (click for a larger view):
And Then There’s the “Dark Side”
So that’s the good news of my alterations journey, which is fortunately a much larger part of the equation. But unfortunately, there’s also a darker side to my tailoring experiences, a side that has grown larger as I’ve become increasingly cavalier about the power of alterations.
As I shopped, I began to envision how my tailor could re-work various garments that I tried on. I mistakenly viewed many of these potential transformations as “easy;” thus I brought home a number of garments which should have remained in the store. If an item in question was purchased at a second-hand store, I was unable to return it, so I often proceeded with ill-advised alterations even against the good judgment of my talented and knowledgeable seamstress.
While the alterations I mentioned above are fairly straightforward and generally result in a favorable outcome, many other nips and tucks are “tricky” and may not always produce desirable results. Such alterations include but are not limited to:
- Shoulder Modifications – Anytime the shoulder area of a garment needs to be altered, we’re talking a lot of money and questionable results. Taking in or letting out a garment in the shoulder area is risky and is usually not advisable.
- Pants Rise Changes – Sometimes the rise on a pair of pants may be too tight or perhaps a bit droopy. While one might think it would be easy for a tailor to take this area in or let it out a tad, this is not an easy modification to make. In such instances, it’s better to keep looking for a pant that fits you better in this critical area.
- Tapering a Flared Skirt or Dress – While it’s usually quite simple to narrow a straight skirt, it’s much trickier to do this with an A-line or flared garment. It’s difficult to get the slope of the line just right, so the result may end up being a bit “off.”
- Shortening a Flared Skirt or Dress – It’s easy to shorten a straight skirt, but the same can’t be said for a more flared silhouette. If you shorten such a skirt or dress more than a couple of inches, you may significantly change the line of the garment such that it doesn’t hang or look right at all.
- Taking Up a Neckline – While I’ve been able to have the neckline of some of my tops raised successfully, I’ve also ended up with less than ideal results. This type of alteration involves taking a garment up at the shoulder line, which usually involves removing the sleeves and sewing them back on. This can be costly and a good result is nowhere near guaranteed. Far better to either wear a camisole under the top or search for a top with a more suitable neckline.
- Taking Anything In Too Much – A good rule of thumb is that garments can be taken in approximately one size. If you lose a lot of weight, it’s usually better to purchase new clothes than to try to tailor down your existing garments.
- Multiple Nips and Tucks – If a garment needs too many modifications in order to fit you like a glove, it’s probably not the right garment for you. If you need to take something in a bit in one or two places, that’s generally fine. But any more than that and you’re basically reworking a garment, in which case you’d be better off finding something that’s a better fit for your body from the get go.
Personal Examples from the “Dark Side”
Sadly, I have more personal examples of alterations’ dark side than I care to count. I’ve committed the “seven deadly sins” mentioned above and more! The photo below (click for a larger view) shows some of my alterations failures from this year alone!
Here’s a brief overview of where I went wrong, listed from top to bottom and left to right.
- Black long jacket – I bought this jacket at a consignment store and it was way too big for me. I definitely should have left it in the store, but I opted to buy and tailor it instead. My tailor even warned me against making the alterations, as too much needed to be taken in all over. But since I couldn’t return the jacket, I went ahead with the tailoring. Sadly, the end result looked “off” and I ended up re-consigning the jacket after wasting quite a bit of money on alterations!
- Blue zip-front top – This was another consignment store buy. I liked the color and zipper detail, but the top had an uneven hem. Unfortunately, since the fabric was thin and flimsy, it was difficult to get the hem right and the zipper continually weighed down the top, causing me to have to readjust it often. I wore the top twice, but ultimately decided it was far too “fussy” to keep.
- Black and white coat – I bought this coat online at a bargain basement “final sale” price after seeing it on a style blogger. Although the style blogger wore the same size as me, apparently her shoulders are less broad than mine. I had the shoulders of the coat let out as much as possible (not cheap!), but it still wasn’t enough! The coat was never comfortable to wear, so I consigned it without ever having worn it. Note to self – don’t buy final sale items online, and don’t try to “rescue” bad buys through ill-advised alterations!
- Green/grey striped waffle top – This top didn’t look right without the cuffs turned up and the sleeves were too short that way. So I had the sleeves shortened to ¾ length. Unfortunately, however, they were shortened too much and now ride up above my elbows when I bend my arms. In the future, I will measure the sleeves on a ¾ sleeve top that works for me and use that sleeve length as a guide. This top will likely be consigned, though.
- Grey skirt – This alterations failure really makes me sad, as this was a favorite skirt of mine and I have yet to find a suitable replacement. I tried to have the skirt both narrowed and shortened to a more modern length and shape, but the result was unflattering and “off.” I wish I would have left the skirt alone and continued to wear it as it was. Difficult lesson learned – don’t try to completely remake a garment!
- Leopard print coat – This coat was boxier in shape than I liked, but I bought it because I loved the print and “the price was right.” I later tried to have it tailored into a more fitted shape, but it didn’t work out. The result looked unnatural and unflattering. Although I had worn the coat several times prior to the alteration, I think I only wore it once afterwards. I didn’t really like the look either way, so the coat should have remained in the store!
- Leopard print tee – I wore this top a number of times but always felt it was too low-cut on me. I was constantly tugging it up in the front, so I tried to have the shoulders taken up to make the neckline more modest. Although I have had this type of alteration done successfully, this time it didn’t work out. I think the cap sleeves combined with the relatively flimsy fabric made it difficult to alter this particular top. The sleeves had to be removed and sewn back on and they just didn’t hang right afterwards. I was sad to have to let this top go, but it never really worked well on me to begin with.
- Red print skirt – This story is similar to that of the black jacket described above – a consignment store buy that was too big for me (in this case, the length was the main problem). I thought it would be easy to just shorten the skirt, but because it needed to be shortened considerably, the line was off as a result. I then had the skirt narrowed, but it never ended up looking right. I wasted far too much money trying to make a skirt work that I should have never bought in the first place!
Lessons Learned and New Promises Made
As you can see, I’ve learned some very difficult, not to mention expensive, lessons in regards to alterations. I’ve either thrown good money after bad trying to remedy poor purchasing decisions or I simply miscalculated what a tailor can really do to modify a garment. I wish I could turn back the clock and regain the lost money, but as with all mistakes, that isn’t possible. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and try to help others not to follow in my misguided footsteps.
As of today, I vow not to attempt any more “risky” alterations or try to remake garments by means of tailoring. I will only use a tailor for simpler, more straightforward alterations like the ones I mentioned above under “the bright side.” If a garment needs to be modified considerably in order to fit me, I will leave it in the store and search for a more suitable alternative. I won’t allow impatience and my “I want it now!” mentality to push me into making ill-advised buys. Also, if my tailor recommends that an alteration not be done, I will listen to her and heed her advice!
I remain a strong advocate of tailoring and I will continue to have alterations done to my clothes. However, I will only pursue prudent alterations from this point forward. It’s taken me many mistakes and a lot of wasted dollars to know the difference, but now that I know better, I will do better. If my sad tales of alteration failures have saved at least one person from throwing caution to the wind and money down the toilet, I will feel at least somewhat vindicated for my past faux pas.
I know some of you have a lot of experience with alterations, either via an experienced tailor or on your own, so feel free to mention any alteration tips that I might have left out. I definitely don’t want to dissuade anyone from altering their clothes. I just want to help you make better tailoring decisions and maximize your clothing dollars. Any other tips to help people achieve that goal are welcome. No need to flog me any further for my mistakes, though! I’ve already done quite enough self-flagellation and I really do “get it” now!