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Should You Get Your Clothes Tailored?

Woman tailoring a blouse
Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock.com

In the back of your closet, you might have a secret stash: a pile of clothes you love, but that don’t quite fit. Or maybe you tried on something gorgeous at the thrift store, but it was just a little too tight or too loose in some spots. Should you get those things tailored, or leave them behind?

Tailoring can’t fix everything, but it helps with many common fit issues, so your clothes will look and feel better. If you don’t take things to the tailor, you’re missing out on an excellent opportunity to expand your wardrobe without buying new stuff.

Wondering what to take to the tailor, and what to expect when you do? Let’s take a closer look at how tailoring can upgrade your closet.

How Much Does Tailoring Cost?

Cost is the top reason people avoid using a tailor. But tailoring can help you save money in the long run, making it a worthwhile investment.

The exact price depends on the item, the fix, and where you get it altered, but most alterations range from $15 to $75. On the low end, you’ll find simple repairs like hemming a dress or pants and shortening sleeves. On the high end are more elaborate fixes, like adjusting the shoulders of a blouse or coat.

Tailoring is worth the money because it saves you from needing to replace items. Some things, like basic jeans, are cheap and easy to replace. Others, like a beloved jacket, are worth the cost of a tailor. Getting some critical items tailored can be less pricey than buying new ones.

Also, tailoring allows you to buy more high-quality secondhand items since you know you can get the fit altered. It’s often hard to find the perfect fit in a thrift store, but knowing what tailoring can do will open up the possibilities.

Tailoring is also excellent for those times you find great clothes on sale that just need a little tweaking. Don’t leave a pair of really great (and really discounted) dress pants on the rack just because they’re too long. A simple hem job is one of the most inexpensive alterations you can get.

Perhaps most importantly, though, tailoring helps your clothes look better no matter where you bought them. It’s amazing what a slight change in fit can do for your look. Outside of bespoke garments, clothing is sized in a “good enough” fashion designed to fit most people well enough. Tailoring is the difference between a shirt or skirt that fits good enough and one that fits perfectly.

What to Get Tailored

With that in mind, you don’t need to run out and take everything you own to the tailor. Since the service can get expensive, you’ll want to be selective about what you get altered.

Start with these items:

  • Your favorite basics
  • Too-long pants and skirts
  • High-quality classics and designer items
  • Formal and professional clothes
  • Special occasion items

If it’s important to you (or gets worn at important times) and high quality, you should get it tailored. If it’s a low-quality item or something you wear rarely (and never to any important events), the cost of tailoring may not be worth it.

For example, if you wear suits to work, or have a vintage designer dress that you save for special nights out, those would be the things to tailor. But the trendy shirts you got at your favorite fast-fashion outlet probably aren’t valuable enough for alterations.

Tailor hemming a pair of blue jeans
Savanevich Viktar/Shutterstock.com

Let’s take a closer look at the ways you might want to get your best clothes altered. There’s lots more a tailor can do, but these are some of the most common basic fixes.

Simple Hemming

You can get skirts, pants, jeans, and even too-long shirts hemmed. This is one of the least expensive things a tailor can do, and it can make a bigger difference in fit than you might think.

When you get rid of the excess fabric at the base, you get clean lines for a put-together look. Take everything from work slacks to your best everyday jeans in for hemming. Just make sure to wash new jeans before you take them in since they might shrink in the wash.

Shortening Shoulder Straps

If the shoulder straps on a shirt or dress won’t stay up, you can get them shortened. This also can fix too-low blouses and dresses.

The way the shoulders fit is crucial to making an item look nice overall. If you have something that covers the shoulders, like a jacket, getting it tailored will be more costly (but worth it sometimes). However, anything sleeveless is usually easy to alter.

Replacing Zippers

If you have a zipper that always gets stuck, or just looks ugly, you can have a tailor add a new one. You might need to find the new zipper yourself, though, since the tailor probably doesn’t have one in the right size or color. You can find them at fabric stores.

Shrinking Loose Items

A tailor can also make a too-big sleeve, pants leg, or shirt “shrink” by taking it in.

Alterations typically can’t add more fabric to something too small. But if you have an item that’s a bit too big, chances are good your tailor can help.

The straight seams that run down the sides of shirts and dresses are easy to take in. If you have something you love that’s a bit loose in the body, get this inexpensive fix—especially if it’s sleeveless. It’s a little more complex (and pricey) to do this alteration on something with sleeves, but it’s still doable. A common alteration to blouses and dress shirts is darting, a process where extra seams are placed in the back or sides of a shirt to remove baggy fabric. If you find that you frequently have to size up a blouse to fit your chest properly—leaving extra fabric around your waist—darting is an inexpensive way to reshape the garment.

Sleeves also tend to have straight seams running down their lengths, which a tailor can easily take in. The same works for pants that are a little too baggy in the leg area. Although a tailor can’t fix something that’s several sizes too big, they can work with clothes a size or two larger than what you need.

How to Get the Most out of Tailoring

Since even small alterations can add up fast, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. These tips will help you get the best results.

Shop Smart

When you shop for clothes, pay attention to what a tailor can and can’t do. Since you can’t alter most items to make them bigger, only buy clothes that fit the biggest or widest part of your body.

For example, you might buy a shirt that fits your shoulders but is too big in the waist, since you know a tailor can take it in quickly. But avoid one that fits your waist but not your shoulders, since that’s a pricey (if not impossible) fix.

And don’t even worry about the size tags. Clothing sizing (especially for women) is relatively arbitrary, so the numbers often won’t tell you if something will fit or not.

Ask for Recommendations

Some tailors are better than others. To be sure you get the best for your clothes, ask for recommendations—or at least read some online reviews.

If you know someone with excellent fashion sense, chances are good they have a tailor. You can also ask a high-end clothing store which local tailors they recommend for customers.

Know What You Want

Once you’ve chosen your tailor, make you know how to communicate precisely what you want. You can even bring in pictures or other clothes to help demonstrate your ideal fit.

Keep in mind that they might make some professional recommendations, too. For example, the fit you had in mind might not be the most flattering way to wear that item.

Your tailor will have you try the piece on so they can see how to adjust it properly. Then, they’ll pin it into place or mark it so that they know where to make the alterations. If you’re getting something hemmed, make sure to bring the shoes you plan to wear with it, since that will affect the hemline.

The tailor should communicate that they understand what you want, and explain how they’ll make it happen. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Once they change the garment, they can’t take it back, so make sure you feel confident about moving forward. The right alterations can make a world of difference for your wardrobe, though, so don’t wait to get started.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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