With today’s post, I’m kicking off a new series for the blog. I have often written about alterations in my various posts, but only once have I dedicated an entire article to that topic. While that post was fairly comprehensive, it was also published almost two years ago, so it’s high time for me to revisit the subject. In addition, I have received a few questions from readers that I would like to address more fully than I can in the comments section of the blog.
In the coming weeks, I will share some of my personal alterations successes and failures with you (including before and after pictures wherever possible) and I will respond to the reader questions I mentioned above. But before I delve into those matters, I decided to ask my private Facebook group how they feel about tailoring their clothes and how they approach alterations – or even if they do!
The Questions I Posed to the Group
Here’s what I asked the group:
- Do you get your clothes tailored (or do you do it yourself)?
- What types of alterations do you do / have done?
- Which types would you never do?
- Have you had alterations failures?
As usual, the group members gave excellent input! Since what they had to say is so informative and helpful, I’m including all of the group’s responses here. The group was quite divided in terms of being pro or anti tailoring, so I have separated the responses out accordingly. I’m also including sections on doing one’s own tailoring, alterations failures, and some additional thoughts and considerations regarding this important topic.
Pro-Alterations and Alteration Successes
- I can barely sew on a button, so I often use a tailor. I’ve had multiple pairs of pants hemmed and some more tricky alterations as well. Recently, I had about six dresses shortened and taken in on the sides. I also had her change the shape of two of the dresses from A-line to more of a straight or pencil shape. I’m super happy with all of them! It took a long time to find a good tailor and now I hope she never moves away.
- I’ve had a few things altered and have always been pleased with the result.
- I started having clothes altered to fit better a few years ago. I had lost a few pounds and was always pulling my sit-below-the-waist pants up. I had them taken in a bit in the waistband and I loved it! I have had several other pants taken in andone beautiful wool blazer shortened. The $60 that I paid for the blazer alteration was a great investment. It was much better fabric and construction than anything that I could buy for $60 today.
- For complicated work, I go to a local tailor. She has turned clothes I merely liked into clothes that feel great on me and I wore for years as a result. Never underestimate the gift of a good seamstress. I should mention that I only invest in alterations for high quality clothes that I know will last a long time. Otherwise, the cost of the alterations isn’t really worth it.
- I only started having serious alterations done after reading on the Alterations Needed blog about the amazing difference it can make. I’ve had extreme makeovers done (long tailored jacket, vintage winter coat) and regular stuff like skirt/pant hems, removing pockets, slimming pant legs, etc. Recently, I had a beautiful scarf (one-sided) turned into an infinity scarf.
- I can do simple treatments such as seams and hems. If an item is already fitted (suit dress or has a lining), I then decide if it is worth having tailored. I did have one dress I loved “let out” since I could not find one I liked as well in thestores, but then eventually had to let it go too. I have enjoyed everything I have had altered except for once ahem was not done well (it kept unraveling). But I do judge based on the value of the item and then the alteration gets added to my cost of the garment for cost-per-wear (CPW).
- I had to use a tailor for years to alter my bras. Before I had a breast reduction, I was a 34L. That isn’t a typo. I had to buy a 38H or I and then alter the back and straps to get the bra to fit. I had an amazing tailor who did great work. She also altered fitted jackets and dresses to fit my chest. I had to go up several sizes and have them taken back down I areas besides the chest. This tailor went out of business or closed and moved. I’ve not found anyone else remotely as good. I’ve had uneven pant hems and stitching come unraveled since. I keep looking for another good tailor, but moved to wearing mostly knits when my job went casual. Those don’t need the kind of tailoring I needed five years ago when it mattered much more.
- I do get some of my tops taken in under the arms (not enough “boobage” for the size I wear), but that’s usually on sleeveless blouses and only on occasion. I also get some simple mending done since I can’t just run it to my mother (even though I could probably do it myself). And my tailor is my local dry cleaner.
- I get my clothes tailored by a fantastic tailor who charges fair prices, does excellent work, and is very honest about what he thinks is worth it and not worth it. I mostly get buttons replaced/resewn on, hemming (sleeves and pant hems), and darts added to pants/shirts. I’ve also had a silk wrap blouse turned into a scarf (using the fabric from the long ties).
- I do get things altered now, but didn’t for the longest time. I think I have about a dozen items in my closet that have been altered. Oh, and none of them are knits; everything woven. I recently got a waistband taken in on my work jeans (it cost $17) so I don’t have to wear a belt or yank them up all day. I often get pants hemmed or the sleeves or seams on a jacket taken in to fit closer. Oh, and I get straps on dresses or tank tops shortened to fit just that much better. Everything could be worn before, but is so much better after a little nip or tuck. I’m lucky to be very close to off-the-rack fit in clothes, so I have lots of clothes I never alter at all. I have a sewing machine, but can’t figure out how to thread it, so I spend the $15 or so bucks to get it done for me.
- I can sew, but know that if I need to do anything more than sew on a button, I’ll just keep putting off tackling the alteration. As a result, I take clothes to the tailor to have hems and sleeves taken up, pockets sewn up (and if necessary removed), and other simple alterations. I’ve found companies on Etsy and the like who will custom-make clothes based on my measurements, and am figuring out which designers fit well with my shape, so I’ve managed to avoid most complex tailoring.
Anti-Alterations (or “Alterations Light”)
- I’ve only ever had trousers taken up. I’m a fairly average height and weight, so if something doesn’t fit right, it’s easier to look for an alternative than pay for tailoring, which is expensive where I live.
- I get basic tailoring, such as pants shortened and skirts shortened and taken in. That’s about it now. I’m lucky in that I can find lots of things that fit me off the rack. I know a lot of women are not that lucky.
- I will bring clothes to hem pants or sleeves on occasion. That’s about it.
- I’ve never had alterations on clothes done before. I know that on “What Not to Wear,” they used to tell people that it’s a good option if you’re having difficulty finding things that fit. But for me, I think it’s too much added effort.
- I have attempted simple alterations on my own clothes, but it’s never been a result I’ve liked. I would never pay to get something tailored to fit. I’d just get rid of it.
- If it doesn’t fit, I don’t buy it. I have never liked anything enough to buy it and take it home and spend extra on alterations. I feel very strongly about this, I wouldn’t even take up a hem. I’d move on and find something that did fit. I think I’m in the minority! Since I’m not that excited by clothes, I won’t go to the added expense. It’s probably a chicken and egg situation; if it were made to fit me perfectly, I might love it!
- I’ve never been one to pay for tailoring. I can fix a button or small tear and I’ve had one pair of jeans hemmed since I’m short and they were too long. I just can’t justify paying a lot for tailoring when there are plenty of other options out there that fit me correctly right out of the store.
- I’ve actually never paid someone to alter my clothing, although I’ve been considering trying to find someone to replicate some of my favorite shirts that are getting old. I have paid for shoes to be stretched before I bought my own flat and high heel shoe stretchers.
- I won’t buy anything that needs alterations unless it’s so easy I can do it myself in less than an hour.
- I don’t really do alterations. I’d be happy taking up a hem, but since I’m tall, I’m always looking for clothes long enough in arms and legs, so I don’t need to. I can sew on buttons! I have one pair of jeans that are actually too long, but I just wear them as turn-ups. I asked a friend if I should hem them and she said, “No, they look good as turn-ups.”
- I’ve only used a tailor twice: once for my wedding dress and once for jeans, which shrunk a lot after I had them hemmed (I did wash them first). They were then a weird length, so I stopped wearing them. I would do it more often (I’m short with a small waist/big hips), but the tailors I know of keep regular office-type hours and I just can’t go during the day. I would like to learn to do sew myself, but there is no way that would ever happen (too many hobbies already).
Those Who Do Their Own Alterations
- I buy a lot of secondhand items and I like doing little alterations. I sew on buttons, hem jeans/trousers, take in sides, shorten sleeves, and/or repair little holes in cashmere. If it’s too difficult for me (like hemming a faux fur vest, it was just too much fabric for my sewing machine), I ask my mother to do it for me.
- I have a sewing machine and can do basic alterations like hemming pants, taking in clothes at the waist, etc.
- I hem trousers and have also hemmed skirts/dresses. In the past, I have also bought reduced price items and mended seams.
- I do minor repairs like sewing on a button or other closure, or mending sweaters and even socks that I really like. As for alterations, I’ve shortened hems, dropped hems, taken in the waist on shirts, taken in the underarm area of shirts, removed exterior pockets on shirts, narrowed the leg on pants, cinched up the back of gaping pants, sewn up or removed pants pockets, removed collars on button up shirts (I hate them!), added elastic to shoes, and dyed clothes.
- I can take up hems and shift buttons, but nothing more complex. I’d love to find a good online sewing course.
- I shop almost entirely second hand. I’m also part of a years-long clothing swap, so a number of things are free. I’ve very experimental in the thrift store and even more so with the clothing swap. I’m also five feet tall, so most pants legs and sleeve lengths and skirt lengths need shortening. Quite often, I will want a jacket hem to hit higher, too. If I had to pay for alterations, I wouldn’t. I purposely keep a very small hobbyist budget for clothing. I taught myself to sew in 7th grade. Patterns then, though mostly single-sized unlike now, had full instructions. I rarely sew from a pattern now because of all the myriad choices involved from the get go. My mother couldn’t understand sewing from a pattern, but she draped and made a lot of my more special clothes or could copy a dress a friend would lend me because I liked the style so much. I guess my alterations/restyling are more draping-based these days. I also, because I am doing it myself, can re-do alterations, experiment with various hem lengths (or depths, which affects how things hang) if I wish. I alter sweaters/knit things as well, though I don’t have nor want a serger. I often take a top and make it into a cardigan jacket or vice versa. I often like garments quite a bit more after I’ve restyled them. In some ways, because I know “too much” about garment construction, I can’t imagine how something will fit after resizing. I need to see the actuality of how something fits and moves and hangs. So I can’t make a final decision on some items until after I accomplish the alteration. I have even altered shoes where I needed to undo a strap and make it shorter. I do this by hand with a thimble.
- When I lost weight, I tried to salvage some clothing by altering down – not always very successfully. I now realize you shouldn’t try to reduce by more than one dress size, as proportions just go off.
- My one epic fail was a jacket I had shortened. It just never sat right. Also, one tailor I went to shortened my pants too much. Not too much could be done to fix that except get a new tailor.
- My biggest failures have been trying to dye a leather purse (big mess) and dying polyester clothes. I will only ever dye natural fabrics for now on. The smell from the polyester dye was horrible and wouldn’t wash out of the clothes and on top of that, the dye didn’t really take.
- I’ve only had one alteration “failure,” when I got a dress hemmed into a tunic at the wrong length (too short). This was my fault, though, because I was impatient and did not try on the garment for the tailor. I’m never doing that again.
- My funniest failure happened recently. I have a couple of thick sweaters but have otherwise sworn off them. I nevertheless felt attracted to a heavy knit grey cardigan with a baroque sort of design on each front in cream. It was a disaster. I took off the sleeves and made a vest and I took that in to curve the waist a bit more. The end result was really good but not for me. The arabesque pattern was just too large for me and worn open made me look quite wide. It’s in the pass along pile now.
- One tip I have regarding a near-impossible alteration has to do with a too large and low armscye in a top or jacket. About the only way to get this right is to remake the whole thing by lifting at the shoulders and re-cutting. And who wants to do that?Otherwise, the problem is that the armhole extends too far into the front side chest areas and if you tried to make it and its sleeve narrower/smaller, there’s an actual area that is missing when you take the sleeve back to where you would normally want it. There’s no there there, as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland.
Some Other Thoughts and Considerations
- I would not consider buying pieces if the following alterations were needed: resizing the whole garment (not one specific area of the garment such as taking in the waist, etc.), taking in the shoulder, hemming the coat/jacket length (will likely throw off the balance of the coat/jacket if there are pockets), and changing the shape of the garment.
- While I’ve had success with basic alterations (adjusting hem, taking in suit jacket), my number one problem with alterations has been using them as an excuse not to purge something entirely. Sometimes I really like the print and/or fabric of a piece that’s a little too big (I shop almost exclusively second-hand), but regardless of size, the print doesn’t work on me or the entire style/cut of the garment is wrong for me. Instead of admitting that to myself, I tell myself that if only I had it altered, it would somehow work for me. I think the worst of my mistakes was with a bulky vintage wool coat. After upwards of $50 in alterations, I finally just admitted to myself that no matter how many alterations I had done, it looked dated, period.
- I think I erred on the side of trying too hard with alterations for some period of time, but now have honed my observation skills to understand better where alterations will be effective – and when it’s simply not worth it. But even small changes, like hemming slacks to the right length or taking in a waist, have made me much, much happier with my existing wardrobe – my ultimate goal. I have an alterations professional in my life, and she is always honest with me and is willing to say, “You shouldn’t bother!”
- I’m curious if age is a factor in terms of when you start to do alterations. I know that when I was younger, I didn’t alter anything and would never have dreamed of it. I either sat with something that wasn’t quite right when it could have been or just never reached for it. Now that I’m older (don’t know about wiser), I see what a difference a little alteration can make from clothing being just okay to making a big difference in how I feel in a particular piece.
As you can see, the group had a lot of thoughts on this matter! I hope you got some value out of the above and perhaps gained some new perspectives about alterations that can help you moving forward. Now I’d like to get your input on the topic of tailoring clothing. You can use my questions at the top of this post as a guide or just share whatever thoughts you have.
I will be back later this week with my “Grab Bag of Useful Links” for November (see earlier editions here). For those in the United States, I’d like to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! To all of you, please know that I am grateful for your readership and support. It’s now been almost three years since I started this blog and I have learned and grown a great deal during that time. I’m happy to have been able to share with all of you and inspire many of you, but please know that I’ve also been inspired by those who have commented on my various posts and emailed me. You are a great group of people and I’m grateful to have connected with you!