Dress Code: Getting Stuff Altered


Altering clothes not only makes you feel pleasantly adult and responsible and “because I’m worth it” — it makes your clothes fit. Seriously, what’s not to love, Dress Coders?!

Tailoring can transform your clothes. Even if you’re a straight off-the-rack size, a few judicious tucks can make your clothes look like a million bucks. If you’re short, have lost weight, or want to knock new life into old stuff, it’s also great. I have a friend who buys everything in random sizes at clearance sales and then has them adjusted; she looks great, and super-professional. But it doesn’t come cheap. Even less-expensive places will charge prices that add up, so be prepared to spend anywhere from $10 to $40 for services like hemming, taking in, and basic adjustments.

Finding a Tailor: If you buy something — say, a suit — at a high-end store, many will have in-house tailors, in which case you’re set. Here in New York, we’re spoiled for affordable, competent tailors and it’s a case where I really find Yelp useful: you can usually get a good sense of a tailor’s ability and turnaround time. Most dry-cleaners can perform these services, but again, ask around. And when in doubt, ask at a store: most have go-to people who do their repairs, and they’re invested in finding someone good.

Do your research and if you’re not sure about a tailor or dry-cleaner, start off with something simple or not too expensive — it’s a really crummy feeling to have those expensive jeans hemmed just that little bit too short.

When you get things altered, wear the stuff you’d wear with the clothes: shoes obviously, but also undies and bra or, if it’s a coat, maybe a sweater so you know how much room you need. And try the garment on so a tailor can pin them for you.

Be vocal. You want gold “jeans” thread on the hem? Most places do it, but be sure to ask. A tailor can only work with what you give them. And if you want your skirt or pants a certain length and the tailor’s incredulous, don’t waver: you know what you want.

If you’re a real fit zealot, go so far as to buy your clothes a size larger so’s they can be tailored right to your body.

Keep in mind that not every shape is as easily altered as others — and trickier ones will cost you more.

Here are some of the basic services a tailor can provide:

  • Shorten sleeves
  • Hem pants, skirts, dresses and coats. Non-negotiable for the short amongst us.
  • Take in the body of a jacket or shirt or dress
  • Taking in the waistbands of jeans — super for those of us whose waists are a smaller size.
  • Adjust the shoulders of a coat or jacket (nb, probably the most expensive of these services.)
  • Replace zippers or buttons (which can do wonders for a cheap coat, btw — good buttons are practically a dime a dozen at flea markets or on eBay.)
  • Add a hidden snap for gaping blouses — this can be life-changing.
  • Add a little snap and strap for bra straps — standard on a lot of vintage dresses and quite genius.

Sure, one can do a lot of this at home, but if you lack the skill or the time, don’t feel bad: there’s a reason these folks are in business.

I have had clothes sitting in my closet for years, taken them to the tailor, lopped off maybe 3 inches, and fallen newly in love. Sometimes things you think are dowdy are just slightly too long. I know they say to go through your wardrobe and toss everything you haven’t worn in x months, but I say go through with fresh eyes and see what can be altered to fit better first. Tell me, have you found Happiness Through Alteration? Do tell!

For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.

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