What Can (and Can't) a Tailor Fix?
Erin Gray (Pronoun: she/her) is a Portland, OR based writer with an affinity for working behind the scenes with companies that offer something unique to their market. When she’s not writing, she likes to roam around mossy hiking trails, wear leather hats, and build stuff. You can find her on instagram @rawhidelaces or email her by clicking on the little envelope below:
Just like a good barber, a good tailor is indispensable.
Anyone who has junk in the trunk and shops in the men’s department knows a simple truth: those clothes don’t always fit right through the waist and hips.
That’s why at Dapper Boi, we put the emphasis on making clothes that give you the style you want, but also the right fit in those crucial areas. Just like the core of your body is the foundation of movement, the fit through the waist and hips is the foundation of your look.
But every human body comes with it’s own unique quirks (and as far as we’re concerned that is a beautiful thing), and no one should ever be nervous about heading to their local tailor to make some of those tiny tweaks around the edges for a completely custom tailored look.
What could be better than looking your best and supporting local small businesses?
That’s why, in this and several upcoming posts, we’re going to dive deep into the world of tailoring. We’ll explore the ins and outs so that you can walk confidently through that door knowing that you are well prepared, and walk out with exactly what you asked for.
But before we get all starry-eyed and stroll into someone’s business holding our favorite shirt and asking them to perform a miracle, let’s face some facts:
Just because they know how to work a sewing machine, doesn’t mean a tailor can make all your wishes come true (unless they are building you a custom suit, of course - then congratulations, wish away).
If you go in with reasonable expectations and know how to ask for what you want, you’ll be happier with the finished product and on your way to favorite customer status in no time.
So if you’d like to stroll in like an alterations boss who knows the lay of the land, read on...
Tailors CAN... Trim Excess Length
This category of fairly simple alterations gets all too often overlooked, but the results are among the most noticeable. One of the best (and most affordable) things a tailor can do for you is to make sure your pant legs, sleeves, and shirt tails are all the right length for your frame.
A simple pants hemming or sleeve length shortening is also a great low-risk way to test out a new tailor and check out their professionalism and the quality of their work before trusting them with more complex alterations.
It’s like that casual date early on in a relationship where you meet for coffee instead of dinner.
That’s right: hemming pants is the coffee date of tailoring.
Here are a few considerations when fixing excess length…
When Shortening Shirt Sleeves: One guideline for sleeve length is to have the end of the shirt cuff meet the little bumpy wrist bone that sits directly below where the base of your thumb meets your wrist. Some people may prefer a little longer or shorter depending on preference (perhaps you like to show a little more cuff under your jacket)... but the above is just a good rule of thumb (*wink*).
When Hemming Jeans: If you want your jeans to look exactly like they did when you bought them (just shorter), make sure to ask your tailor to preserve the “original hem”. This means that they will detach the bottom edge of your jeans (the finished edge that has a distinctly faded and wavy texture), shorten the length, and then re-attach that same edge at the end. If you don’t make this specification, your tailor might discard the original hem and just do a “regular hem”, which will result in a smooth edge that clearly looks like it’s been altered.
Pant Leg Shape: If you are having a pant leg shortened by more than two inches, it can change the leg shape. After the tailor cuffs your pants to mimic the desired length, ask what they think of the leg to see if it needs to be taken in as well.
Don't Forget Shoes: If you are getting pants shortened, be sure to wear or bring along the shoes you most often wear with them. There is a significant difference in how pants break along high top sneakers vs dress oxfords.
Wanna know how to tell if your shirt tails are too long? We’ve got a post for that - click here to read it.
Tailors CAN’T... Fix Garments That Are Too Small
If you’re buying something with the awareness that it will need some alterations, better to get something a bit large than a bit small.
Rule of thumb: for the best fit, buy the item that best fits the widest part of your body, and then get the rest taken in.
In other words, buy tops that fit your shoulders and pants that fit your hips and/or waist (whichever is wider).
If you do it the other way around and then take a too-small piece to be altered, you will most likely leave disappointed. To make it fit, a tailor would need more material that simply isn’t there.
This goes not only for clothing that is too tight but also sleeves or shirt tails that are too short. If you’ve ever taken a spin through through the older boy’s section of the clothing store as an adult, you know what we’re talking about here. It’s a great way to score some nice threads on the cheap, but those too-short sleeves and shirt tails will get you every time if you’re not careful.
Tailors CAN… Fix A Loose Fit in the Middle
Have you ever found a pair of jeans that fit your butt perfectly, but were a bit too loose in the waist, creating that gap in the back that even a belt couldn’t fix?
How about a shirt that fit great across your shoulders and chest, but was too loose and blousey in the middle, looking baggy even when you tucked it in?
We’ve been there. We feel your pain.
The good news is, this is something that can be easily fixed by your tailor. They will have you try the garment on and then use pins to determine where it can best be “taken in” to achieve the look you want.
The key here is that the fit is loose, but not several sizes too big.
Rule of Thumb: Taking a garment in by much more than one full size can create other problems, namely with its shape or other construction details. Taking pants in about 2 inches is a safe bet, and taking in shirts and other tops up to 4 inches will usually be fine as well.
Admittedly, what constitutes the difference between sizes varies between manufacturers. A good tailor will make a judgement call here and let you know what they recommend. All the more reason why it is worthwhile to build a relationship with a skilled tailor whom you trust.
When making any clothing alterations that fall around your torso, pay attention to what you are wearing during the fitting.
The tailor’s job is to help you achieve the right fit, and to do that, they need to fit the clothing to your body under the same conditions that it will actually be worn (this is the same reason you wear or bring along the correct pair of shoes).
For example: If you are getting the waist of a pair of pants taken in, and you normally wear a tucked-in undershirt with those pants, make sure you wear a tucked-in undershirt to that fitting.
If you are getting the sides of a button-up shirt taken in and you’d normally wear a chest binder under that shirt, make sure to wear your binder during the fitting. Will it take a little longer to get it on in the dressing room? Yes, yes it will. But you're there to get your money’s worth - don’t let anyone rush you.
Tailors SHOULDN’T... Fix Bad Shoulder Fit
When it comes to fitting clothes for the upper body, a good fit in the shoulders is KING.
While a tailor can make alterations to the fit in the shoulders, it doesn’t mean they should.
It’s often an ill advised adjustment to make because it can trigger a cascade of other adjustments needed throughout the garment. The amount tailors have to charge for that usually make this alteration not worth it.
You (and your wallet) are much better off starting with a garment that fits in the shoulders and making alterations from there.
How do you tell if you’ve got a good fit in the shoulders?
Glad you asked!
Look for the line at the top of each sleeve where it attaches to the rest of the garment.
If that line sits nicely on the rounded edge of your shoulder, you’re golden. If it’s close (say, the difference is a pinky’s width), you’re also probably fine. But if that line slouches down on to your upper arm, then the garment is too big in the shoulders.
Want an easy way to tell if something is too tight in the shoulders? Flap your arms up and down like a bird. If people stare, let them. A good shoulder fit is worth some silliness. Does that movement feel easy and unencumbered? If so, you’re probably good!
(You can stop flapping your arms now)
There are of course, exceptions (looking at you, intentionally over-sized hoodies and sweaters of the world) but in general, the fit in the shoulders is the foundation of a nice clean look of any top.
Get it right from the start and you won’t have to pay out the nose to have a tailor fix it later.
Got a question about going to the tailor that you’d like answered? We’re here to help!
Leave it in the comments below!