The Ins and Outs of Custom-Made Clothing

The following is a guest post from Maharani, a regular reader of this blog, who is sharing her experience with having her clothing custom made.  Awhile back, Maharani had suggested this option for me in response to my pants shopping difficulties.  Since I was intrigued by the custom clothing possibility but knew so little about it, I figured others would also be interested in learning more. So I asked Maharani to share her experiences in a guest post, and the rest is history!  Read on to learn lots of useful information about custom-made clothing and how it might be an option to consider for your wardrobe.

Custom Clothing

Have you ever had your clothing custom made?

Early Experiences

Here are my experiences with custom clothing.  I am 58 and grew up in the UK.   My first personal experience with dressmaking was in Junior School in the mid-‘60s (I left when I was 11 years old).   One year we made shift dresses for summer in school uniform fabrics and colors, and wore them to school! I recall that I also made a pantsuit (narrow pants with a belted tunic top – rather unusual), and at the end of the term, we staged a ramp show where we modeled the items we had made.   I was 11 when we did this.  I had always been familiar with home sewing, as my mother at one time did piecework and I helped sew on buttons.  She made all our clothes, too, for many years, and still knits me sweaters!

At university in 1976, I filmed an episode of “Mastermind.”  I wore a suit I had made myself – a straight skirt with a center pleat, matching “pussy bow” blouse, and lined waistcoat.  We knitted many of our own sweaters as well.

After coming to the US, I made a fair number of outfits.  I shopped for Liberty fabrics in London.  As a postdoc, I no longer had time, but I had a stash of beautiful fabric, so I found a dressmaker locally and had a number of things made.  All these clothes fit beautifully, were well made and lasted for years.  They weren’t cheap, but they were not like anyone else’s clothes.

Circling Back to Custom Clothing

I have recently returned to custom clothing route, in particular for pants, which are a real problem for me as far as fit is concerned.  Here is my experience…  I started out by going online to find a personal shopper.  I found one who is also a tailor and creates custom clothing.  She is an experienced pattern cutter and her website indicates that she has a large custom clothing clientele.  She does a lot of bridal work and her custom clients are mostly professional women like myself.

We worked together for a couple of years upgrading my wardrobe with ready-to-wear items and taking care of any necessary alterations.  We discovered that all of my pants need significant alterations in order to fit well. Consequently, pants shopping is both exhausting and frustrating.

The Problem with Pants Fit…

Here’s an example… In late 2012, my seamstress/personal shopper and I spent 3-4 hours at the mall shopping for pants, trying on dozens of pairs. I still found only two pairs of flappy, bell-bottom, Ponte pants that needed alterations at the waistband, crotch, and narrowing the leg.  This is not efficient.

I have the following fit issues with pants:

  • My crotch depth is greater than is typical for ready-to-wear pants so they all have “camel toe” when I put them on.  This is an easy fix.
  • Pants rarely fit flat at the front.
  • Back seam adjustments often needed.
  • Hems are also required.
  • My waistline is lower in the front than in the back, necessitating alterations at the waistline.

Custom Clothing – The Steps

I won’t be returning to the mall for pants, with the exception of jeans.  So I committed to having my pants custom made.  The basic steps are outlined below.

Step 1 – Pattern Creation

My seamstress started out by creating a basic custom pants pattern in an inexpensive cotton fabric.  She charges a set amount for the creation of the pattern with 50% paid upfront and the remainder due upon completion.  This pattern can be adjusted in terms of waistband, leg length, width, anything you like.

The pattern required 2-3 fittings in its cotton avatar, which took 2-3 weeks, and was tweaked until it was perfect.  Even in cheap cotton, it was obvious that the pattern fit better than anything else I owned at the time!  My seamstress then transferred the pattern to paper.  It can now be used for anything from silk palazzo pants to cotton shorts.

Step 2 – Deciding What to Make

After a wardrobe review, I decided that I needed at least one and maybe two pairs of versatile lined dress pants for work (I had only one pair, black wool, and they were nearly 7 years old!).  We discussed everything from the position of the waistband to the width of the leg, color, fabric weight, and all aspects of the final finished garment.  This is the creative part of the process.

Step 3 – Fabric Selection

The next step was to choose the fabric.  We went fabric shopping at B. Black & Sons in Los Angeles, which carries a wide range of good quality wool suiting in a large range of colors and patterns.  I love fabric shopping!

We bought a tropical wool in navy blue and a black and white herringbone pattern wool.  I paid for the fabric at that time and was also charged a deposit for the pants.  The two pairs of pants we opted to eventually make would have different leg widths.  They will “go” with many items and can be worn two to three seasons out of the year.

Step 4 – Cutting and Fitting

The next step was to cut and fit the first pair of pants.  My seamstress buys linings and notions, which are included in the final bill.

  • I had one fitting (unlined), during which time she looked the pants over and adjusted the fit.  This entailed a lot of pinning.
  • The next and final fitting was of the lined pants (black silk lining) and here the hem was pinned.  While the lining was in the pants, the waistband was still only pinned and fastenings were still to be sewn on, although the zipper was sewn in. I took the right shoes to the last fitting so the hem could be set at the right place.  The pants felt luxurious and fit perfectly!  Creases will be pressed when everything else has been completed.

The Finished Product!

Once the pants were done, I paid for them when I picked them up (I opted to only have one pair of pants made initially).  They have my seamstress’s label sewn in the center back.

The total cost for my first pair of custom pants was $329.45 (see below for a cost breakdown).  I would estimate an average price of roughly $350 for custom pants from my seamstress, but prices may vary for other seamstresses in other parts of the country/world.

Frequently Asked Questions

The following section includes some questions I posed to Maharani in response to the information she outlined above. As these questions came up for me, I thought that others might be curious about the same things.  Maharani has graciously replied to all of my questions below.

Finding a Seamstress

You mentioned that you looked online for a personal shopper.  Did you also look for someone to make clothes for you, or was it just by luck that the person you found also did that?  What tips do you have for those who want to find a custom tailor?

I started out looking for a personal shopper.  It turns out that the person I found also tailors, but that was not the first of her services that I used.   Initially, I needed someone to help me review/shop for a better-adapted wardrobe.

I would suggest that anyone interested in finding a tailor/seamstress go online, see what is available in their area, and call to discuss clients, expertise, and prices.  Yelp may have reviews to peruse.  A personal referral can also be helpful.  I did my own research.  I have had hems done at the dry cleaner, but the work was perfunctory.  I would rather pay more and get the job done properly.

Cost for Custom Garments

Approximately how much does it cost to have a custom pair of pants made? What about other types of garments?  

As a general guideline, suits cost the most, then dresses, which are more expensive than pants and tops.   Of course, prices will vary depending upon the seamstress, the fabric selected, and the area in which you live.  I live in the Los Angeles ,California, area, which is likely more expensive than many other areas in the United States.  I would suggest that you ask the seamstress for cost range for particular types of custom garments.

Here is how the cost worked out for my custom pants:

  • Pattern Cutting:  $336.75 (the pattern can be re-used for many types of pants, shorts, etc.)
  • Fabric:  I paid about $200 total for enough fabric to make 2 pairs of pants and 2 skirts.  I bought good quality wool suiting.  One piece, red wool for a skirt, was deeply discounted so I estimate that my fabric outlay was approximately $75 per item.  This doesn’t include the cost of linings and notions.
  • Sewing Cost:   $254.45 (includes notions)
  • TOTAL COST:  $329.45 (includes sewing + fabric for one pair of pants; does not include the pattern cutting cost, but the pattern can be re-used for many types of pants, as I mentioned above).

How Long Does It Take?

How long does it take to have a custom garment made from start to finish?  You mentioned two weeks, but I think that was from the fitting to the finish.  How much time in total to have the garment made?

It depends on the garment, the tailor’s workload, and what they work on.  Suits take longer than dresses, then pants and tops.  For my tailor, fall/winter is the best season, as she has a lot of deadline-driven wedding work in the spring/summer which tends to take precedence. She also does a lot of alterations.  My stuff just goes into her pipeline.

I would say, allow at least a month for a custom garment, if not longer.  My sari blouse tailor (a different person from my seamstress) requires about a month of lead-time and he has busy seasons that can lengthen lead-time by 2-3 weeks, i.e. Christmas and/or Diwali.

Client Involvement in the Process

I know you were very involved in the process for picking out fabric, etc., but I would imagine that it doesn’t always work like that.  I would think that sometimes a customer would bring the fabric to the tailor and then the tailor would take it from there. Does your seamstress sometimes work like that?  

Yes she does, but I think it is best to consult with the seamstress and go fabric shopping with her.  If you don’t sew and understand how fabric behaves when sewn, taking an odd piece of fabric in (old curtains come to mind) and expecting miracles can result in some horrible garments.

Discussing the fabric with the tailor can help you decide what garment can best be made from it.  Something may look like it would make a great dress, but it might not work as it may be the wrong weight, too stiff, or there isn’t enough yardage to match a print.

For example, we bought a wool/silk blend for a houndstooth check pencil skirt.  We needed extra yardage to match the checks at the seams.  We also picked up a gorgeous cherry red wool remnant for another skirt on sale for half price!  Then again, I took my Liberty wool challis collection to my previous tailor and she made lovely things, but I did sew and had bought the fabric for those items.

To Learn More

If you’d like to learn more about the topic of custom clothing, check out this article from the Los Angeles Times:

The article offers some tips for finding the right specialist, making sure the seamstress has the proper equipment and environment (my dressmaker has professional quality sewing machines, irons, dressmaker’s dummy, a 3 way mirror, and good lighting), and how to properly navigate the process for the best results.

Your Thoughts / Experiences?

A big thank you to Maharani for sharing her knowledge and experience with all of us!  Now I’d love to hear from you…

  • If you’ve had clothing custom made, what was your experience?
  • Was it similar to Maharani’s or are there differences you can share?
  • What recommendations do you have for those of us who may want to dip our toes into the pool of custom clothing?

Also, if you make your own clothing and have wisdom to share with those who might want to learn how to sew, that would also be helpful.  I love all of the excellent tips and suggestions that have been shared as of late, so I look forward to reading your comments on the topic of custom clothing.  If you’re reading this post via email or a feed reader, click here to comment.

56 thoughts on “The Ins and Outs of Custom-Made Clothing

  1. Thank you, this is very informative. I have been considering tailor made as I can’t buy the clothes I want to wear.

  2. About ten years ago I bought a J Crew dress on ebay that everyone compliments me on when I wear it (a wool sheath dress with a tank-style top). I decided to have it copied and asked tailors and did google searches for seamstresses online for years. I finally found a costumer who happened to live near me, to copy the dress. She made one copy that I tried on halfway to completion and I asked her to make two others in different fabrics. I picked up the dresses from a family member’s home near me but the seamstress wasn’t there for the pickup as she was working on a TV show. The dresses fit perfectly in the top but none fit in the skirt and the hem was sagging in all. I complained to her, she didn’t really respond. I took them to a tailor I use often and they would only re-do the main copy. They said the other two dresses were basically losses. In all I spent about $800-$900 for the three dresses including the repairs to one. I love the one copy I kept but it was not a good experience in the end and expensive since I only have one dress left. I live in Southern California too and I don’t think it’s easy to find seamstresses and I would love any recommendations you have. I would love to have more copies of the dress made. I think custom is a great option if you can find a reliable seamstress.

    • Sorry to hear about your negative experience with custom clothing, Leah. I’m glad you were able to salvage one of the dresses, but it seems like the seamstress you used was not someone of high integrity. Perhaps Maharani would be willing to share the name/website for her seamstress for those who are also in the Los Angeles area. I might even be willing to make the drive, but I’m going to see if I can find someone in San Diego. A personal recommendation is always best, but Yelp reviews can also be useful, as Maharani mentioned. If I do end up getting clothing custom made, I will be sure to share my experiences on the blog. I like the idea of copying existing and beloved garments. Thanks for providing this food for thought!

      • Thank you both. I took it as a learning experience. There are people on yelp that are described as seamstresses who offer custom work. Then you read the comments and the commenters say that there is no custom work, only tailoring. I looked through yelp again and I did find another name and bookmarked it for later. I live in Ventura county but feet from the LA county line so it would be great to find someone in the valley. I’m sure there are great people near downtown, Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, but that drive is too long. I would love recommendations from Maharani! Thank you to Debbie for continuing your great community of women, resources, and help!

      • Sorry for posting so many times 🙂 but this is a subject that I’m sort of obsessed about. I fit things off-the-rack very well too. That’s why it’s easy for me to buy designer consignment and items off of ebay and spend too much money. But I am very, very picky about a perfect fit. I have designer dresses tailored until they are perfect. It is almost like custom. The reason I am interested in finding a seamstress is that I do have a perfect dress. The dress that everyone stops me to compliment. All different types of people (the school custodian, my rockabilly hairdresser, women in department stores) rave about this dress. If I could copy this dress in different fabrics, I could wear this dress for the rest of my life. I have read about women doing that and I love the idea. My favorite contestant on “Project Runway” was Laura Bennett. She had six kids and looked amazing everyday because she sewed many versions of the same dress. I have tried to learn how to sew but I have a pretty physically and emotionally intense job where I’m always having to learn how to build or construct something. I just want someone else to do “something” for me! Thanks again to Debbie for the forum to discuss these topics.

      • No problem at all about commenting multiple times, Leah. I love that you have a lot to say and share with us. I hope that Maharani will chime in with the name of her seamstress, as that might be an option for you. But hopefully the name you found on Yelp will work out… I get what you said about being picky about fit, as I am the same way. I value my tailor greatly and would be very sad if either she or I moved. I never really thought about custom garments until Maharani raised the issue, but now I can see the value. I love your idea of duplicating the dress you love. I hope you are able to do that very soon! If you do, please let us know how it goes.

    • There are seamstresses out there in So CA-you do have to do research and ask around, but they do exist.

    • Were you present when the final fitting/hems were done? This is a critical step and could have saved the dresses. It sounds as if you were not, and in that case is a detail you should ask any prospective tailor. Mine does 2-3 fittings, the last one specifically to do the hem, with me wearing the right foundation garments and shoes.

  3. Thank you Maharani for sharing your experiences and practical information!

    I live in a fashion-conscious city in Europe and have learned that the secret of dressing well is having core wardrobe items either custom made or altered. My husband gets all his shirts custom made and he is very happy with them.

    I used to sew my own clothes and loved the perfect fit and quality materials. My background in sewing has made me quality conscious. I’ve also considered having a few core items – perhaps basic button-down shirts – custom made, but I have a ‘clothes hanger body’ that is super easy to dress. I think I am an overshopper because so many clothes fit me off the peg. Right now, it’s all about limiting the excesses and pruning my wardrobe, but perhaps somewhere down the road the few new items I will be allowed to purchase should be custom made…

    • It seems that more men have garments custom made than women. I remember that my dad used to get his shirts custom made back in the day. He’s tall with long arms (that’s who I get it from…), so he had trouble finding shirts to fit him off the rack. I have never had custom garments made, but am interested in giving it a try. I can find some clothes (mostly tops, coats, jackets) off the rack easily, but struggle with pants as of late (it used to be easier when the styles were different). I look at some of the style bloggers out there who are clearly shopaholics and I think that part of it is because they have easy to fit bodies like yours. I bought too much but also spent a fortune on alterations for lower quality garments. I think I’d be better off having higher quality items made if I can’t find them in the stores. Or learning how to sew…

      • I have tried the learning how to sew route… Still haven’t made anything I would actually wear. There can be a steep learning curve depending on what you like. I’ve thought about going to seamstress route too…. Especially as I found some fabric in a hard to find color/fabric that I’m afraid to ruin. I’ll update if/when I go through with it.

      • I learned to sew as a teen but it took several years and I had really expert teachers. I think it’s one of those things that you learn best from someone who has already mastered all the tips and tricks and shortcuts. Finding the right fabrics was the most difficult part, and these days, also finding enough time. I haven’t made anything special in the past 20 years….

      • I can imagine that learning how to sew could take quite a while, as there seems to be a lot involved. I agree with FrugalFashionista that it’s probably best learned from a “master.” I think it takes a lot of patience and dedication, too. I’m not sure if I’m up for that, but I would be open to having some custom garments made.

  4. I have been looking forward to Maharani’s post for some time — and it is full of good information. I used to sew a lot of my clothes and studied pattern making so I could alter standard patterns for a better custom fit. I also used to make a muslin pattern before transferring this to the actual clothing fabric — a great way to work out any fit issues. I’ve made”professional” maternity clothes for friends and I always insisted on going with my friends to purchase fabric and the pattern. This was especially critical because neither friend knew anything about sewing or fabrics. Many larger cities (and some smaller ones) have a custom tailor shop or two that also provide custom clothing for women — there’s one about 5 blocks from my house. I used to live in a different Midwestern city and found a wonderful seamstress (originally from Italy) who also did custom work and she was fantastic! I had a friend who owned a specialty fabric store in a very small Midwestern city (about 150,000 people) and she added custom fabrication of clothes to her business model based on customer demand. She found really talented seamstresses who were also pattern makers and could do custom work. Finally, a friend had a costume maker from a local theater make her non-traditional wedding dress — so pretty. So, folks, there are tailors and seamstresses out there who can make custom clothing for women — or do significant alterations. It may take a bit of work to find them but having clothes that really fit and enhance your figure is worth the investment. I’d rather spend $350 on a pair of custom-made pants made of quality material and that really fit — and thus become a staple of my wardrobe that I wear every week ($1 per wear) than 5 pair of inferior quality pants. LOVED this post and all the resources!!!!

    • Glad you liked this post, Dottie! I found it very interesting as well. I think there are more custom seamstresses out there than most of us are aware of, but many people don’t think to look for this type of service. I just Googled “san diego custom women’s clothing” and found a few options in my area. Most seem to focus more on professional and formal wear, but they would likely do other types of garments as well if asked.

      I also found a site that piqued my interest: They seem to have things very “dialed in” for low-cost custom clothing and offer some pants options that may work for me. I’m seriously considering trying a pair of pants via this site. They don’t offer as many options as a brick-and-mortar custom seamstress, but it could be a good introduction to the process of getting clothing custom made. If I decide to give it a go, I will be sure to write about it. I may be able to get a pair of pants in a color other than black, navy, or grey after all! If the lower-cost option doesn’t work out, I would definitely be willing to pay more, as I agree that one $350 pair of pants is better than 5 inferior quality pairs!

      • Debbie, Thank you for the google suggestion but it still turned up only one option -for custom kids sports clothes. I live in a suburb of LA that is well-to-do but very casual and very focused on kid activities like sports. Rich parents wear jeans, Uggs, and drive fancy cars – they don’t get clothing tailored or dress nicely at all. I guess that’s why there are only a few very good tailors but no custom clothing. The search resumes but thank you for the inspiration.

      • I’m glad to see that you posted in another thread above that you found a potential lead, Leah. I hope it works out for you. I doubt many people in my area get custom clothing made, either. I did find a few resources, but they seem to be more focused on men’s suits and maybe formal or business wear for women. But it never hurts to ask if they also do other types of custom work or would be open to doing so. Please let us know if your lead works out. Fingers crossed…

  5. I really enjoyed this post from Maharani. The only similar experience I have is with having tailors/seamstresses to alter pants hems and jacket shoulders/waist. I researched them online (Yelp was very helpful) and asked around at work for recommendations. I was pleased with the quality and price as well. I agree with Dottie in that the cost per wear would be higher with a custom made piece. I recently took an introductory sewing class and while I found it to be quite fun I discovered that I just don’t have the patience for it. I’d rather pay an expert to do quality work.

    • I think I would feel the same way as you about sewing, Kim. I really doubt I’d have the patience for it. I also live in a small apartment and don’t really have space for a sewing machine here. I AM willing to pay an expert to sew for me, though, and I’m grateful to Maharani for sharing her knowledge here with all of us!

      • No problem, Maharani. I get very behind on responses myself sometimes… Better late than never is what I say 🙂 Thanks for responding now!

  6. I cannot really comment on having custom tailoring work done. I am fortunate that my grandmother and mother both sew and I have starting sewing over that last few years. One thought I do have for anyone that is interested in learning how to sew… advertise in the local paper for a retired home economics teacher that would be willing to give private lessons. Also, there are a lot of online tutorials for sewing through sites like Craftsy, but you will soon learn that everyone has a different opinion about how to do things. I find it to be more helpful to have my mother physically there, as she has shown me tricks that the pattern instructions don’t tell you about and she can stop before I make a mistake.

    • Thanks so much for sharing these ideas, Grasshopper. I love the idea of finding a retired home ec teacher to help. This seems like a win-win situation, as I’m sure many retired teachers would enjoy the opportunity to help someone and earn a bit of extra money. My grandmother sewed and made some clothes for me when I was a kid. Sadly, she didn’t pass her knowledge on to my mom and me, so her talent and skill died when she did…

      • I was taught by several home ec teachers (a few in school and one was a family friend) – there is no better way to learn! My mother has always made something at home but she didn’t have a method and her clothes weren’t super well made. The home ec teachers showed how you make patterns, add seam allowances, cut the fabric (they knew nifty tools that helped and explained that you should never use your shears for anything else) and the they showed how to press every seam. The explained what is the best sewing machine out there and showed how to fit sleeves and put on zippers. The results were really professional looking! It’s very sad that all this knowledge is lost – when I look at some garments I own I can see they have not been finished well…

      • Sounds like you learned a lot of valuable information, FrugalFashionista. Since you learned how to sew, you know better what to look for in terms of quality when shopping. Many women have no clue how to discern good quality from poor quality these days. I agree that quality has really taken a nosedive in recent years. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if more women don’t turn (or turn back) to sewing their own clothes as a result!

  7. For those interested in learning to sew I really recommend the Colette Patterns blog, Coletterie. There are a lot of great tutorials for various sewing techniques to really get a professional looking garment. Sarai (the owner) has also just done a detailed series on wardrobe planning for sewists that your readers might be interested in (actually now I’m wondering if you have linked to this series before, Debbie). And they are just about to release a book about sewing with knits that looks great.

    Another learn to sew resource that people rave about are liesl gibson’s patterns, they contain very clear explanations of techniques so you really learn something new (i.e., skills that are transferable) with each pattern you sew.

  8. A true tale:

    I was in the Navy when my husband and I got married. I couldn’t go on my honeymoon for almost a year — and by the time I could, I was pregnant. We went to Hong Kong for two weeks, where my husband spent $1000 having three suits and multiple dress shirts made. I spent $50 on a loose, interesting indigo batik cotton jacket from Indonesia. I figured I shouldn’t spend much on clothing when I had no idea what size I’d ever be again.

    Fast forward two decades. Not one of my husband’s custom-made items still fits — they were donated long, long ago. My Indonesian jacket, however, still garners compliments and I wear it several times/month.

    PS. I would NEVER spend $350 on an item of clothing, even if it was the most perfect thing in the universe.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Bette. My husband had a suit and a sportcoat custom-made in Hong Kong years ago (long before I knew him). We recently got rid of both because they had become very dated (even though my beanpole husband still fit into them). I would imagine the type of batik jacket you have is a classic kind of garment that pretty much stays in style. Sounds like you’ve gotten a great cost-per-wear out of it.

      As for spending $350 on a garment, my main worry would be around not trusting myself enough to know what I will like and wear. I DO spend that kind of money (or close to it) on handbags and shoes, but I worry about clothes. I am still too “fickle,” but as I refine my style and learn to trust myself more, I want to buy higher quality items and fewer of them. I think a year or so from now, I would be willing to spend that much money on a garment. But I know that custom made clothing is certainly not for everyone. It’s good that we have lots of options!

    • On the subject of cost, everyone is different-I happen to like classic clothes and keep them for years. I have not fluctuated more than 1-2 sizes in the past, so can invest in clothes for a longer term. I need clothes suitable for upper management jobs as well. So for me, $350 for a really well made piece of clothing is worth it. It is not “cheap” from my perspective-I budget for it-but if you are spending $2-3K on clothes/year to start with why not buy better quality and less of it?

  9. I am a very easy fit off the rack and really and truly don’t need custom made anything- even though often I don’t find exactly what I want. I do find idea is fascinating! It’s interesting to read about pre-ready to wear times when clothing was ALWAYS custom!

    • You are very fortunate, Meli! I used to fit off the rack better, too (except I’ve always been challenged by lengths), but not so much recently. My body is much the same, so I’m guessing the way garments are made is what has shifted. I fit pants well about 5-6 years ago and many of the pants I still have are from that time frame. They’re getting a bit “tired,” though, so if I don’t find ready-to-wear replacements soon, I will likely go the custom route.

  10. I adore this idea. One reason why I like to shop at Nordstrom’s is because they have tailoring on site. I always end up with a ruined garment when I try a tailor at a dry cleaners. I’m always on the lookout for a good seamstress. I have difficulties finding one which is a shame. A proper fit can make even the cheapest item look expensive, but sewing seems to be turning into a lost art form.

    • Yes, it CAN be hard to find a good tailor! I have a good one, but she doesn’t really do custom garments. I will have to look elsewhere for that. I totally agree with you about the importance of proper fit! Some people (like Meli and FrugalFashionista) can easily fit clothes off the rack, but I depend upon tailoring to get the right fit. I am grateful to have a good tailor nearby – and I agree with you about Nordstrom and their on-site tailoring. A great perk!

    • Dry cleaners are a mixed bag as I think their tailoring is often an add-on. For reliable results, a full service tailor is the way to go.

      • I agree, Maharani! I have definitely benefited from using a full-service tailor and that’s what I recommend for others. Of course, there probably are some good tailors at dry-cleaners out there, but I’d rather not take my chances…

  11. A few years ago while on vacation in Vietnam, I had three suits made for ~$200. Two of them were gorgeous and I wore them for years; the third was a bad fabric choice that pilled quickly. I lost quite a bit of weight a few years after I bought them and had them altered as much as I could, but eventually I had to give them away.
    It was a really easy process to get these suits made – I went to a shop, flipped through some catalogs, picked out a pants suit I liked from a photo, picked the fabric and got measured. I came back the next day for a fitting, and I picked up the finished suits on day 3.
    I would love to do that again – having custom-made clothes that fit well is such a confidence booster, especially since I was overweight. I wore one to my first interview in my field and got the job, and I’m not at all in doubt that I projected confidence because of that suit.

    • My husband had a similar experience with suits in Hong Kong years ago. I think they really do custom garments well in many parts of Asia, and it’s not surprising that many of the best tailors in the U.S. are from Vietnam and many other Asian countries (my tailor, who I love, is from Vietnam). It sounds like you mostly had a good experience with custom tailoring, Wendy. I would love for the process to be so easy here in the U.S. Maybe that will come if more and more people get fed up with fast fashion and the horrible quality of most store-bought clothes these days…

  12. If you are looking for more information about custom clothing have a look at

    The name came from The Professional Association of Custom Clotheirs but I guess they call themselves The Association of Sewing and Design Professionals now. The organization hopes to educate consumers on what custom clothing is and to foster their market while trying to set reasonable expectations.

    They also help set professional standards for their members as to what constitutes a level of professional construction etc –

    They also have a membership directory to find members. There are plenty of good dressmakers and tailors who are not members of PACC
    and bad dressmakers who are members I’m sure.

    Tailors have their own association. I’m not a member myself but I was years ago.

    • Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful resources, Lisa! I really appreciate it, and I’m sure others do as well. I just searched for custom tailors in my area and the closest one is about an hour away. Not too terrible, but I live in a fairly large metropolitan area and I thought there would be someone closer. You’re right that just because someone is a member of that group doesn’t mean they are a really good dressmaker, but it’s a place to start…

  13. Like Meli, I am an easy fit off the rack. All of my clothing was custom made until I was in the 7th grade. By age 13, I didn’t like wearing custom made clothing because I didn’t fit in sartorially with my classmates. I grew up in an affluent environment where my classmates all shopped at the same stores. Although I went to public school and we weren’t required to wear a uniform, girls would often wear the same outfits, and it gave a sense of belonging. I wanted to look like everyone else at that stage of my life.

    When I was an older teen, this uniform approach was replaced by a hippie look where we all began to strive for individuality. I began to sew for myself; peasant blouses with embroidery, flowing skirts, decorated and reconstructed jeans. I used to make leather bags too.

    As an adult, since I am easy to fit, I’ve chosen to buy off the rack. When I became a mom and worked full time, my sewing days came to an end for lack of time. I also found that I much preferred the sophisticated fabrics that were available in the stores than what I could find in any local fabric stores.

    • Thanks for sharing your custom clothing story and evolution with us, Deby. I’m sure it’s more time-consuming to sew one’s own clothes and can be more expensive, too, depending upon the fabric. I’m sure one can get amazing fabrics in some stores (like Mood, which is featured on “Project Runway”), but local stores likely have a much smaller selection. Since you’re easy to fit off the rack (lucky!), I can see why you opt to buy retail now instead of sew your own clothes.

    • One problem here is that since people no longer sew, the fabric options in stores have declined. When I came to the US in 1981, the options were MUCH wider. Even then, they were better in Europe, which is why I started buying Liberty fabrics.

  14. I totally agree with Dottie (and Debbie) that it is better to have one amazing pair of pants vs the 5 cheap that don’t flatter. And Maharani- this was an outstanding article for those looking towards building that perfect-for-you wardrobe/you are an excellent writer like Debbie and Dottie.

    Like so many others who commented off the rack works very well for me wrt pants but I do still get items tweaked at the tailor as I like a slight fitted top or (because I’ve a flat bum and slight hips)- sometimes have the bottoms done to fit abit closer through these areas). While I could simply put these items on and they look just fine, the subtle tweaking by the tailor takes them beyond just fine -to perfect for my build and shape( and there are certain brands whose fit models are my measurements exactly so there is no altering needed in anything for those-I was fortunate to stumble across the different brands fit model sizes years ago by fluke and it really did make a difference when I tried those brands (ie: JNY’s size 8 fit models are my size but Talbots are much bigger for the same garment size such as pants or Eddie Bauer cuts their size 8 pants huge and as such these items hang on me in the 8 but fit well at the 6).

    I have had some things custom made as I mentioned in a previous post( a leather jacket copied from the Ralph Lauren collection as well as leather belts) but I found the maker through a word-of-mouth from friends and so didn’t have to search

    Now searching for that custom clothing info- you can run a google search using the words”custom clothing USA , Ca, etc”/also use the word tailoring or tailor( there are actually a few tailors that are traveling companies through the US and Ca -they often list a schedule of where they will be over the course of a year at which time you can contact and set up an appointment in your area for when they are there/other options are or In addition google search for custom clothing by using the word “bespoke”- this should bring many(including the traveling tailor companies I speak of)

    • Thanks for sharing your story and some great resources, Abgurl. I wouldn’t have thought to search by “bespoke,” so I appreciate your sharing that suggestion. I am like you in that I am very picky about fit and often have very subtle “tweaks” done to my clothing. How fortunate that you found the fit model measurements for many brands. I can see how that would be helpful since sizes vary so much. I once applied to be a fit model but lost out on that opportunity because I was too tall! But other than that, I was the perfect size medium 🙂

  15. Wonderful post Maharani, and Debbie.

    While growing up the majority of my clothes were custom made for me by my grandmother. As a teenager we would sit down together and look at Seventeen magazine, and I would describe to her what the other girls at school were wearing that I wanted to copy, and we shopped for patterns, and fabric and she made what ever I wanted, including details that gave me my own style, and a perfect fit. She made my Homecoming and Prom dresses and all of my hippy clothes in the late 1960s and 70s. In college I learned to sew my own hippy clothes – long skirts and tops (and curtains too) made from that fabric from India we all loved to wear back then. Years later when I was in my 30s I sewed simple outfits for myself, but my skill is limited and I don’t love to sew. But I do love custom made clothing. Good post!

    • Sounds like you were very fortunate as a young girl with your grandmother, Terra. How great that she was able to recreate looks for you from Seventeen magazine! It’s also wonderful that you learned how to sew, even if you don’t love it. You still have some useful knowledge that many of us don’t have and I’m sure you are better able to discern good quality clothing. I did have one custom garment made years ago – a leather jacket I got in New Zealand on my honeymoon. I no longer have it because the style was boxy and no longer to my liking after many years, but I remember really liking it for a number of years. It was great to have sleeves that were long enough!

  16. My husband had some shirts made on a trip to India and he loves them, they fit perfectly and account for his slightly stooped shoulders.
    I am capable of doing small alterations to clothing – a hem, a cuff – nothing too major.

    As someone who enjoys shopping I have been successful at finding clothing that fits. Unless I want something I can’t find I wouldn’t spend the money and time with a tailor because I can usually find it ready-to-wear. I feel like custom-made is probably a better option for someone who hates to shop — like my husband.

    • You raised a good point, Ginger. Custom clothing is an excellent option for those who hate to shop or for people who have more money than time. Like you, I’ve always enjoyed shopping and didn’t mind taking the time to find things I liked that fit me well. However, I’m now getting frustrated at NOT being able to find some things I want/need (like pants), so I might be willing to throw my hat into the custom clothing ring. If I do, I will definitely write about it!

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