Why You Should Befriend Your Tailor

Fact: Clothes off the rack may not fit you.

Like ever.

Retailers aim right for the middle, and they don’t give a flying rat’s ankle about outliers. If you are larger but not plus sized or shorter but not petite, you probably loathe shopping as much as I loathe trips to the dentist. If you are a pronounced pear or and extreme apple you may think that clothes do not exist that will fit you properly … not everywhere on your bod all at once. If your hips are waaaaaaay bigger than your waist, or your legs are waaaaaaaay shorter than your torso, or your shoulders are waaaaaaaay broader than your ribcage, you might not be able to buy pants at the Gap or dresses from Anthropologie.

AT LEAST not without tailoring them.

People generally think of tailoring when it comes to suits, wedding dresses, and clothing that needs to be altered after a large weight loss or gain. But if you struggle to find everyday clothes that work for your bod – and have searched for years, fruitlessly and frustratedly – consider having your more durable garments and wardrobe staples altered. You might even consider it as you shop for those durable garments and wardrobe staples, because it will open up a whole new world of possibilities to you.

Yes, tailoring is an investment. It is also a risk, especially if you haven’t found a skilled local tailor that you trust with your garments. But the bald fact is that clothes often fit us 75% perfectly and 25% crappily. And while searching hither and yon, in person and online, night and day for jeans/blazers/dresses/coats that fit and flatter our exact measurements is a REALLY, REALLY RELAXING AND FUN USE OF OUR FREE TIME, sometimes we are better served to just buy that 75% garment and pay a tailor to handle the remaining 25%.

And that’s the ratio I’d use as a guideline. You can certainly take any garment that fits you loosely everywhere on your figure and have it shaped … but then you might as well have it made from scratch. So settle for garments that fit 75% awesome. Jeans that work with your height, thighs, and lower hips, but are too loose in the waist. Blazers that fit through the shoulders, bust, and waist but are too long in the arms. Make sure you’re starting from a place of near-fitting and building from it. And, of course, focus on well-made garments crafted from quality fabrics.

Think about the staple garments that stymie women the most: Jeans, dresses, and button-front shirts. Jeans can be taken in at the waist, slimmed through the thigh, shortened in the hem, let out in the hips. Dresses can be taken in at the shoulders, shortened in the sleeves, nipped in at the waist, loosened up in the bodice. Button-front shirts! Oh, how we hate them! But they can be shaped to your very own fabulous curves. Simply buy a version that fits your bust (or your largest torso part), and let the tailor do the rest. (Or if you need extensive tailoring on all of them try a company like Tom James.)

But this tacks on additional money every time you shop, I hear you wailing! Yeah, but if it’s down to shelling out to create custom-fitted gorgeous clothes that flatter your every contour OR hating all clothes because they simply never work for you, which would you rather?

Is it expensive? Possibly. Worth it? Yes. Especially if off-the-rack items just never fit and you’re on the brink of joining a nudist colony out of sheer frustration.

Originally posted 2009-11-11 06:59:00.

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40 Responses to “Why You Should Befriend Your Tailor”

  1. La Historiadora de Moda

    I just urged a friend to take her clothes to a tailor last night! She was bemoaning that everything was simultaneously too big and too small. I would also add that befriending your local cobbler is a great idea, too!

  2. Couture Allure Vintage Fashion

    Here's something interesting. I watch "What Not To Wear" faithfully. I recently found out you can go to their website and find a complete shopping list with prices paid for every episode. About $500 of the $5000 the show gives away goes to tailoring costs…every single episode. If fashion experts Stacey and Clinton can't make a woman look good off the rack without tailoring, why should we expect that we can?

  3. Erin

    absolutely! When I find a good tailor I basically marry him or her, I just found a great one in NYC (Thank god. I was afraid I wouldn't find The One 🙂 )
    Because I always need things taken in, and a lot of times when I buy things for super cheap on ebay, they show up on my doorstep needing to a) be taken in or b) to be shortened.
    I figure I'm getting a great [insert item here] for usually 80% off, I might as well pay $15 to have it fit beautifully and so I'll actually wear it.
    although it blew my mind, did you know that cobblers can also take in and let out shoes too? (to a point anyway)

  4. Kelly

    I'm so torn on the tailoring thing. I need it, I know, because I'm pretty hourglassy and most things that fit my boobs/butt are going to bag and sag around my waist. But the tailors I've gone to are always much more expensive than people seem to say (Stacy & Clinton always say "what's an extra $10 to hem pants?" but I've never found anyone so cheap) or kind of crappy, or both (I paid $40 to get the waist taken in on a dress and after the first super duper gentle wash, all the new stitching busted out). Sigh. Maybe it's just my bad luck, though!

  5. Cupcakes and Cashmere

    i've heard time and time again how i need to visit a tailor and for whatever reason, i feel like it's such an imposition. you've now convinced me otherwise.

  6. aurelia.donka

    As a sewist, friends want me to do their alterations. I will occasionally shorten a hem, but that's it. I don't want alterations to come between friendships.

    I always tell them to find a tailor or a dressmaker. There are still some women who take in alterations in their homes, you just have to look for them.

    Ask at your drycleaner. Higher end shops that do on premises alterations may have a dressmaker who also takes in outside work.

    As to finding a good tailor, you need to do some interviews and shop a little.

    I have told friends to go to a tailor shop and ask for prices for their most commonly needed alteration.

    Ask the tailor which is the most important measurement, where it should fit the best, for the alteration to be most successful.

    Rely on your gut. Do you get a good vibe from this person? Is s/he willing to answer your questions? How long has s/he been doing this? How did s/he learn? Will s/he show you some works in progress so you can gauge the quality of the workmanship and how cleanly the finish work is? What's the usual turn-around time?

    Then take a test drive. Take in one garment and have it altered.

    Evaluate the workmanship, the fit and the working relationship when you come in again. Rejoice at finding your dream tailor or move on.

    I noticed that Courture Allure's comment shows that 10% of the What Not to Wear allowance goes to alterations. Less expensive clothes will have a higher percentage relationship, but you will wear them way longer than the unaltered clothes so the cost per wearing should go down.

  7. Kym

    Although proportionate, I am very short. Luckily, my mom taught me to sew when I was even shorter. I always alter things like hems on pants, skirts or dresses, and the occasional sleeve (if on an unlined item).

    However, I will leave more complicated things to my tailor. Last year I found at a resale shop a georgous long wool coat from Banana Republic. Fit was perfect except for the sleeve. So after paying $35for the coat (which was originally $250 new) and $30 for the alteration, I got a great deal!

  8. Bridget

    Yelp is a very good source for finding a good tailor in your area – it was pretty clear by searching in my area that there was one and one only that everyone trusted, and to him I'll be going!

  9. Anonymous

    I'm wondering if you have a specific recommendation for a Twin Cities tailor(s)? I'm having a hard time finding someone.

  10. Tina Z.

    I had very good luck finding a local tailor who specializes in making custom dresses, mostly for wedding parties, proms, and socialite events. Turns out this experience makes her a kick ass tailor for everything! Getting stuff done on time during wedding season is a bitch, but she's incredible and not too expensive for my southern CT town ($15-20 hem, $25-40 for major dress changes). I suggest you look for custom clothing stores and dress makers if you can't find a tailor you love. And better to pay $5-20 more and be happy with the results than to waste your money on a crappy tailor, right?

  11. Diana

    This is so true. I do sew, and I will handle minor alterations myself (hems, etc). But when it comes to my staple garments, which are generally more expensive, I will take them to a professional tailor. They will have a better idea of how to get the garment to look the way I want it to, and I've found that my knowledge of sewing lingo can be helpful here. But I don't trust my skills to handle difficult jobs, like lined garments. It costs more, but I wear the items that I've had tailored more than my non-tailored garments, so I think it's worth it.

  12. Andrea

    I am a seamstress, previously a professional, now just for hobby. I don't alter for friends and I generally prefer not to alter my own garments unless it's a simple unlined hem length. Generally speaking, it takes just as much time to take a suit jacket or lined pants apart to alter them as it does to sew it from scratch and sewn from scratch will be better made, better fitting and higher quality. I always try to encourage very unusually figured friends to learn how to sew for themselves, with offers to teach. If that isn't possible, I do recommend a tailor.

  13. Christine

    I'm somewhat handy with a needle, and I'm one of those people who never finds pants that fit in the waist when they fit my hips & thighs. I've got pretty good at taking off the waistband of pants, taking them in at the waist, and putting the waistband back on. I almost never buy skirts anymore because those are so easy for me to make.

    I've also been working on perfecting my shirt making skills because I have broad shoulders, not a big bust, long arms and I like to show of my waist & curves. Makes finding button up shirts that fit just right difficult. Shirt making is definitely more difficult than taking in the waist or hemming pants, though.

    My favorite dresses are the ones I've sewn myself so I can make them a larger size on the bottom than on the top, like my body needs.

    I regularly thank my mom for teaching me to sew. It's such a useful skill!!

    In summary, I do most alterations on my own, but if I had a more complex alteration, or a really special garment, I wouldn't hesitate finding a tailor to do the alterations for me.

  14. Gertie

    This is exactly why I sew my own clothes! Like many women, my hips are a larger size than my waist. I almost always get the dreaded fabric-pulling around the hips in ready-to-wear. Sewing patterns come multi-sized, so it's easy to customize them to your own body.

    I totally agree with all your points here. Though, I must say, I only buy ready-to-wear that fits me perfectly so I never use a tailor myself. If something isn't a perfect fit in the store, I just figure out how to make it myself.

    I think it makes SO much sense to buy a larger size and have it tailored down than to try to squeeze into a smaller size and be uncomfortable.

  15. Faith J.

    I have many things at the tailor right now. Mostly long-sleeve shirts… they are always an inch longer then they need to be. Also pants… I am 5'3" and they're always too long!

    I'm still looking for a great tailor in St. Louis, so if anyone knows one, please email me!


  16. La Belette Rouge

    I bought two pairs of Gap trouser jeans. One in regular length and one in tall. I thought I would take the long pair in to be altered a smidge so I could wear them with high heels. I washed them first and then tried them on again. It turned out my washer drier has a tailor living in them. They are now the perfect length. So happy I saved the money.


    I used to have a great lady at the dry-cleaners to do the adjustments necessary, sad to find out she's retired now… There goes to show everyone has a different type of figures & we should continue to embrace that…shall we*

  18. Belle de Ville

    Good tailoring is expensive but essential. It is the one thing that can make off the rack clothes flatter your figure.

  19. kathy

    I sew, but I definitely would use a tailor. I also think tailors can teach people a lot about what to look for when they are sewing their own clothes (which wrinkles mean what).

  20. mags

    "they don't give a flying rat's ankle"…hahahahahahaha…oh my, that's funny. I'll have to work that into conversations 🙂

    I'm lucky that I usually don't need to have anything altered. A simple hem I can do myself – and if it's a little more involved my husband knows how to sew so he takes care of it. I know – a husband that sews. His mom was a professional seamstress (she made my wedding dress) and showed him how to sew. His parents were great – he's an amazing cook as well and he knows how to do all the 'guy stuff' too. Not that he sews or cooks too often, but he will if I beg.

    Anyway – if you LOVE the item, having it tailored is soo worth it.

    Great post, as always Sal.

  21. Chelsea

    ;] My mom's my tailor for most of my stuff, she's not proffesional, but she does a great job hemming my pants and taking things in.

    I always forget to factor it in when I shop for jeans, thanks for reminding me!!

  22. Chelsa Bea

    This post is fabulous, I've been waiting for someone to bring up to debate over alterations. I'm totally for it!

    In fact, I swear by alterations. I think they’re worth every penny that you put into them. Almost every pair of jeans and pants in my wardrobe has been lengthened. I’m 5’9”, which means that most regular size pants, which usually come 33” lengths, are too short for me. Actually, they are great if I want to wear ballet flats every day, but if I want to throw on a pair of heels, it’s a no-go. So, I have one of two choices, lengthen my regular pants or order pants in long, which means that the length goes from 33” to 36”. I usually need about a 35” pant to wear with heels. Either way, I have to get my pants altered.

    I’ve tried a number different tailors this year, and just recently found one that I really love. It was quite the process finding a person that I could entrust my clothes with, but I’ve been so happy with the results.

    I don’t buy a lot of clothes, but when I do, I buy high quality well made pieces, and have them altered so that they fit my body perfectly. Alterations are the key to looking sharp and polished. I really think more people should utilize this great resource more.

  23. Dara Chadwick

    At five feet tall, I've been familiar with tailoring services for years. A great tailor is so worth the money.

    Tailoring also makes less expensive clothes look more high-end.

    Mine is my BFF 🙂

  24. Missy

    My Mother and I both married men with in seams shorter than anything on a rack, so I hem and I grew up watching hemming. I have not used a tailor.

    I wondered if anyone out there who sews knows good resources to learn how to tailor your own clothes?

    I am pretty sure I cannot afford a tailor and I am positive I am not skilled enough to make my own clothes from scratch.

  25. enc

    I love a good tailor. I've even tailored my workout clothes and my karate gi!

  26. Rosie Unknown

    Great post! I will definitely be remembering this next time I need something.

    I sew some, but I find that altering things is way too frustrating. I think I may need to learn how to take dresses in though, because me torso is about a size smaller than my hips and butt.

  27. Hanako66

    I have to get every singe pair of pants altered and a good chunk of my dresses (especially if I find them vintage). The right tailoring totally gives a more flattering look!

  28. K.Line

    Fabulous post! I take all pants to the tailor for hemming – at least I used to before I started sewing 🙂 Note: I actually think that hemming is a huge challenge -esp. given my inexperience with sewing – like more so than a lot of other harder seeming things. Tailors are very reasonable to charge 10 bucks to hem jeans (for example).

  29. myedit

    One day I am going to do a post about alterations…because people always ask me to do them but I don't. Even though I sew, spending Friday night hemming your pants for $5 is not my idea of fun. I have a tailor (he's a much quicker sewer too) who I freaking love. Yes, some things I fix myself (more delicate vinatge stuff etc.) but hemming jeans, taking in jackets and putting hidden patches on areas that are worn down always are done by him. It's not worth the aggravation and finding the right colour thread (:)) for me to do it myself.
    Good post.
    Tailors are good friends to have.

  30. ebinbaby

    I sew but I recommend using a tailor for most alterations if the item is important to you (note I didn't say expensive – you merely have to love it and will get a lot of use out of it!).
    I don't have a dress form so in order for me to view alterations from behind then I have to use 2 mirrors and mayhem ensues. A tailor can see how pieces are falling from the back, front and side thus eliminating costly mistakes.
    I do however mark the length of my own pants before taking them to the tailor as I've yet to find one in my city that doesn't pin to one length and shorten them to another!

  31. Joanne

    Your totally right! I have used a tailor HEAPS this year, and it's mean salvaging a lot of clothes which is pretty fabulous. 😀

  32. Make Do Style

    I always get things altered- either I do it myself or with a dressmaker/tailor.

    if you buy ready made there is always something that needs adjusting.

  33. budget chic

    I definitely believe in having items tailored. I have a sewing machine and try to do my own alterations when time permits. I find I stick things in bags that need alterations and won't wear it until I have the time to fit it which is not good so I need to find an affordable seamstress, which the one I use to use moved.

  34. lisa

    I love my tailors! I go to one for coats and jeans, and another to alter more expensive or delicate items such as my Francis argyle dress.

  35. Peldyn

    I used to do alterations professionally and I try to make sure I alter my own items as soon as I get them home from the store. If I didn't I am sure I would have a huge pile stacked up. LOL! I love vintage and thrift stores and things there always need a little TLC.

  36. neighbourhood.gal

    I haven't read all 40+ comments, but…

    People Who Sew are not always People Who Alter. It's a different set of skills and requires a heavy duty sewing machine in many cases.

    Befriend a tailor. Bring them holiday gifts and as much business as you can afford.

  37. Sal

    Anonymous: Sadly, I am still on the lookout for a great tailor in the Twin Cities, too. I've used 4 or 5, none of which have really impressed me …