A Guide On What Can Be Altered
The problem with clothes is that they’re designed to fit both everyone and no one at the same time. Garments are made according to patterns (typically drafted on a computer) made to measurements of some imaginary person of “average” size. So there’s an “average” size small, “average” size medium, so on and so forth. Since nobody perfectly fits that average, clothes always fit a bit off, which is why it’s important to get things tailored post-purchase.
But what aspects can be tailored?
For a suit jacket or sport coat, almost everything except the shoulders, chest, and length. When trying on a jacket, make sure the shoulders of the jacket end near where your natural shoulder terminates, and that the chest doesn’t feel too loose or tight. You can tell if it’s too tight if the lapels start to bow away from your body. The length should also be about right, although you can shorten it just a bit if necessary. If you take too much away, however, you’ll throw off the balance of the jacket, where the buttons begin to look awkward if situated too close to the hem.
On the upside, the waist can easily be let out or taken in by about an inch, to give a slimmer or fuller look. The sleeves can be taken up or down an inch or so as well, though this is sometimes made more complicated if the sleeves have working buttonholes (meaning they’re actually punched through). If the buttonholes are functional, you might have to alter from the sleeves by taking it up from the shoulder, which will be more expensive.
Shirts are similar to jackets in that you want the shoulders and chest to fit well. It’s not that these can’t be altered on a shirt; it’s that altering them can be expensive and not worth the cost. On the upside, the waist can easily and affordably be brought in at the side seams, and if you need to take out fullness in the lower back, a tailor can insert darts (which is a type of seam). Sleeves can be brought up at the cuff or shoulders (though not as easily let out since there’s rarely excess material). You can also make the collar or cuffs tighter or looser by simply moving the buttons about a quarter of inch in either direction.
For pants, you mostly just need to make sure the thighs and rise fit you well. The rise is the measure of your pants from the crotch seam to the waistband – it determines how high the trousers sit on your body. If these fit to your liking, much of the rest can be altered. The legs can be slimmed down or tapered easily from the knee down, either from the inside seam or outseam (or both). The waist can be taken in or let out two or three inches if there’s material inside to allow, and darts can be put in at waistband to make it hug a bit more closely to the body. The legs can also be easily shortened, and pleats can be taken out, though results on the second can get a bit dicey.
Accessories and footwear are perhaps the simplest. Ties can be narrowed or even widened by a tie specialist (I recommend TieCrafters, who’ll take mail orders). Belts can be shortened by just cutting the belt down from the buckle side, so that you don’t need to punch any additional holes. Shoes can be made snugger by inserting insoles, tongue pads, or heel pads, and looser by bringing them to a cobbler, who will expand them (width wise, not length wise) with a shoe stretcher. You can even stretch tight hats a bit so they feel more comfortable.
When purchasing something, don’t forget to set aside a little money for alterations. Few things fit perfectly off-the-rack (though, shoes and accessories are often fine). Doing so will make your clothes look twice as good and three times as expensive.