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.
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.