Get thee to a tailor (you'll thank me later, I promise)

10 years ago
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One Smart Cookie to wants the low-down on tailoring:

The recent talk of jeans, and length, and tailoring has made me really pine for an in depth column about tailoring. Frankly, it terrifies me. I don't know how to find a good one, or what the procedure is when I get there (what if I do the WRONG THING), or how to explain what I want, or even what can actually be done with tailoring. However, being a shorty (5'4" if I stretch a little bit) means that my wardrobe and I could probably really benefit from this.

Can you explain some of the details? I'd also love it if you could give some advice on what should (nice jeans, I'm guessing) and should not (cheap yoga pants, I'm guessing) be tailored and a ballpark on what I could expect to pay.

Tailoring can be your wardrobe's greatest asset. Too often, women are willing to settle for the off-the-rack fit, even when that fit doesn't really fit at all. We opt for the ankle length pants, which are really too short, because the regular length is too long, or we assume that if the blouse fits through the bust it will just have to be too big through the waist or shoulders.

No more. It's time to tailor.

Jeans from J. Crew

When you think about tailoring, fight the urge to think only about high-end pieces. More expensive clothes are clearly worth having altered, but less expensive pieces can benefit from a nip or tuck as well. Any piece that you will wear regularly is worth having altered, if the fit isn't perfect. I own a pair of Old Navy chinos that I can't have paid more than $25.00 for; they fit perfectly in the waist and hips but were too long. I had them hemmed, and now I wear them at least twice a week. Completely worth the investment.

Any piece that has some essential structure to it can be tailored. Blouses, skirts, jackets, pants, dresses -- all can be altered to fit you. When you shop, look for pieces that fit the parts of you that are hardest to fit; typically this is either your chest or your hips and thighs. Other parts of a garment -- the shoulders or body, or the waist and hem -- can easily be altered.

How do you find a good tailor? Ask around. Friends and co-workers are always a good source of recommendations, but be sure to ask people whose style you trust. Boutiques will often either have someone on staff or someone they recommend. Department stores usually offer in-house tailoring services, although this can be hit or miss.

When you go to the tailor, take the appropriate shoes and undergarments for the piece you are having tailored. Spend some time with the tailor explaining what you want her to do. Give her specific instructions -- if you want your pants hemmed so that they will hang close to the floor, say so. If you want the hem of your skirt to hit you just above the knee, show her where on YOUR knee. Take the time to look at the pinned garment, on you, in a three-way mirror. And then when you go back to pick things up, try them on again. If you have any concerns -- the hem is too long, the sleeves are too short -- this is the time to bring them up.

What will the tailor charge? It depends on where you live and what she's doing. Hemming pants will probably run you about ten dollars, while smaller nips and tucks (taking in the sides of a blouse, for example) will be less. Resetting the shoulders on a blouse or jacket will cost more. And so on. Feel free to ask the tailor for a quote before you agree to anything, but keep in mind that this is an investment. When your clothes fit properly, you will look and feel better in them.

Tailoring is about getting the proper fit, no matter what the garment. Foodmomiac's Danielle recently spent the day in her sweatpants, but she was quick to tell me that they were Lulumon sweats AND that she had them tailored, which I loved. Danielle is very petite and so the tailor is her friend -- even for her yoga pants. I think this is a terrific strategy; if you're going to invest the money in really great sweats, why not have them fit perfectly?

Want to do your OWN tailoring? Dacia Ray has created a fantastic tutorial that walks you through how to hem a pair of jeans, the RIGHT way. Excellent!

Susan Wagner writes about fashion at Friday Style and The Working Closet and Fashion Find. Send her your style questions at