The Tailor Effect: Before & After Alterations

February 18th, 2013

The most important thing about any garment, without a doubt, is how well it fits your body.

A man looks much better in a cheaply-made garment that is properly tailored, than an expensive garment that doesn’t fit correctly. In many cases, in fact, the Articles of Style crew and I spend more on alterations than on the garment itself (especially when vintage/thrift shopping).

To illustrate this point, we took some ill-fitting pieces to our highly recommended friends at The Tailoring Room and documented their transformations.

Untitled-1

As you can see here, a good tailor can make a dramatic difference. Special thanks to Franklin (above) for always taking care of us.

1. Vintage Shirt & Jeans

wes

As you may already know, Wes is an expert in the art of thrifting.

His secret? His relationship with our tailor Franklin, who was able to completely re-engineer the fit of this vintage flannel shirt and these old boot-cut Levis.

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Some useful tailoring advice:

– It’s easier, and safer, to slim-down a garment that is a little too big. Letting-out a garment that is too small or tight is much more difficult.

– As a general rule, garments can only be taken-in (made smaller) on seams. Similarly, garments can only be let-out (made bigger) on seams as well, but only if there is additional fabric (known as “seam allowance”) left under the seams during manufacturing. Shirts, jeans and the majority of mass-produced “tailored” garments are made with very little, or no, seam allowance (because the cost of this “extra fabric” adds up and is seen as a “waste” for a company pumping out thousands of units).

– Denim jeans are usually made with a chain stitch machine, not a regular sewing machine. Therefore, in order to properly match the original stitching, the shop needs one of these machines. Not all tailors have them. Luckily for us, Franklin does.

– A good tailor, like Franklin, can also do wonders repairing old denim. They won’t look brand new, but they’ll have minimal scarring (which looks pretty awesome).

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2. Cheap Off-The-Rack Suit

alex

Alex picked up this suit from the clearance rack at Macy’s a few years ago (before working at Articles of Style), but never felt comfortable or confident wearing it.

The suit was about $80 on discount. In this case, the alterations were about the same.

Look at it this way: $160 for a well-tailored suit in your rotation is much better than $80 for a suit that sits in the back of your closet collecting dust.

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Some useful tailoring advice:

– Make sure the fit is pretty close before buying. Alteration charges can add up quickly, and there’s always a limit to how much can be done. In many cases, a tailoring tweak can bring new life to an old garment. In other cases, buying a new piece is actually cheaper and more effective.

– Bring a picture of the fit you are looking for. Nothing you say to your tailor will help him understand better than a photo. This is especially important in smaller towns, where the only available tailors are older men who have been delivering loose, full-cut garments their whole lives. Rather than fighting with him about the proper length and width of your trousers, show him a picture and say “I want them exactly like this”.

– Don’t let a non-tailor chalk you up, unless you trust that they know what they’re doing. This is the problem with most large department stores that offer in-house alterations with your purchase. They typically don’t have an experienced tailor on staff full-time, so they “train” the salesperson to pin and chalk the garments for the tailor to work on later. This is a red flag that you’re probably in for something you won’t love.

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3. Old Stretched-Out Sweater

towni

Knitwear tends to stretch-out and lose shape/elasticity over time.

Franklin worked some magic on Towni’s five year old pull-over here.

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Some useful tailoring advice:

– Knits are tricky. In most cases, cut & sew garments can be worked on, but not hand-knit sweaters (you might need to find a specialist for that). Your best bet is to bring the garment to your tailor and show him the issue(s). If he can’t help you, he might be able to recommend someone who can.

– Sometimes it’s better to buy a new one. In full disclosure, it probably would have been cheaper to buy a new sweater from JCrew (now on sale) in this case, but we wanted to show how dramatic a few tweaks can be.

– When testing out a new tailor, always try-on the garments when you pick them up. If something isn’t the way you expected, have them take a look and get it right. Also, consider how you will wear the garment when showing up for a fitting. For example, if you’re fitting a suit, bring a shirt, tie and dress shoes.

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 4. Dad’s Old Coat

dan

As the old saying goes: “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure”.

You never know what you might find in the back of an old closet. If it’s just collecting dust, you might be able to take it to your tailor and give it a new life.

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Some useful tailoring advice:

– There can be a vast difference in skill level, and attention to detail, from one tailor to another. Some are master garment-makers with decades of experience, others may have only taken a few sewing classes at the local community college. To find a trustworthy tailor in your area, check out user-review sites like Yelp and Citysearch to hear from people who have experienced the level of service first-hand.

– Once you find a tailor that does good work, build a relationship with him. Get to know him, so he can get to know you and how you like your clothes to fit. Bring him a coffee every once in a while and, more importantly, send him some business by recommending him to your friends.

– Like anything else, tailoring is not a perfect science, so manage your expectations. If you’re thinking a tailor can make a suit from H&M look like a suit from Tom Ford, you’re in for a disappointment. He’s a tailor, not a magician.

– Lastly, are you supposed to tip your tailor? I’ve always wondered about this, so I asked a few tailors. The common response was: “No, you don’t tip a professional”. You tip your delivery guy and doorman, but not your surgeon. A thoughtful birthday or christmas gift is a tasteful touch, though.

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It’s a popular topic, tailoring, and we certainly can’t cover it all in one post. If you have any specific questions, or any advice from your experience with tailoring, feel free to share in the comments below and we’ll do our best to reply.

FYI – we purposely left pricing out of this post, since it can vary from one location to another.

 

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier

 

Photography by Alex Crawford

 

  • http://undefined Dick Lickerson

    The clothes and tailoring look fantastic, but seriously Alex, you need to “get to know your barber”. You have a wiffle cut like a 5 year old boy. I recommend Supercuts.

  • http://undefined Jeanscuffed

    Is Franklin a TAILOR ONLY profession? I ask because most (if not all) cleaners offer tailoring as an added service to their business. Ive taken my clothes to get tailored at cleaners before and I’ve gotten great work back, but I was wondering if going to a shop that is strictly geared towards tailoring and nothing else would yeild better results….Great post btw, I like before/after tailoring posts.

  • Jordan

    I know this post is a little stale by now, but wondering if anybody had any recommendations for a tailor on the Upper East Side. Would love to go to Franklin, that’s a 1/2 hour trip. Would prefer to find tailor right around the corner. Thanks

    • Mark

      Gotta say for true tailoring, I would go to Demitrios on 85 street btwn 2nd and 3rd, closer to 2nd ave. He did my wedding tux. For smaller stuff like buttons, hems, taking in shirts, I would go a couple doors down (still on 85 btwn 2 and 3) to the Hungarian woman. Not the quickest, but cheap, good work.

  • Mistahkelly

    Great post. I decided to take a pair of chinos and a pair of jeans to The Tailoring Room today. Altering clothes is a learning process. Both pants were intially shortened to my preferred length, but when you have that done, the pants have to be reproportioned because I ended up with boot cut pants. Im hoping Franklin is a keeper

  • Andrew

    What advice do you have for someone living in the rural midwest? I constantly see how a tailor can improve your ho-hum clothing already in your closet. However, I don’t know where’s the best place to start looking for a tailor. The best I can do is some old lady who knows how to use a sewing machine..

  • http://www.chicthestyle.com Dustin

    Tailoring is so important. I don’t know how many times I’ve thrifted a $15 blazer and spend 5 times that on tailoring. Tailoring makes inexpensive clothes look expensive. Great article!

  • Ima Mfon

    The “before” and “after” pics don’t match up. i think the bad fit is exaggerated (why are the guys posing awkwardly, and then suddenly pose so well when their clothes fit better?).

    Great article, but might be better to have similar before and after photos so we can truly appreciate the intricacies of the new fit.

    • Shawn

      Agreed. Jackets are buttoned vs unbuttoned, etc.. Worthless article.

  • psos

    Echoing a lot of the previous comments, fantastic post, one I will refer to often. This – and your TSB daily example of shirt darts – go a long way. I’ve tried to find a good tailor and cultivate a relationship in both cities I’ve lived in as a grown up (Baltimore and Kuala Lumpur – natural combo), but it is somewhat of a dying art. It is very helpful to be able to show a tailor exactly what we mean and to be able to describe it in a language that they understand.

  • Andy

    I would have liked to see the before and after photos be more similar in pose and with the same other clothing! I can tell that it fits better, but your point would have been stronger if the photos were more similar in every way except the fit of the tailored items.

  • Peter

    Greetings from the UK

    Brilliant post, I have just got back from my tailor’s and this was on today’s page.

    The best lesson I have learned from this site was “save at the store, splurge at the tailor”

    I used to wear badly fitting clothes, but my tailor(s) are now my new best friends. I am now confident to buy garments, new or second hand, in the knoweldge that they can be altered to fit me perfect.

    I now have a suit which at first glance could be bespoke, and my casual image has really sharpened up.

    I am also lucky that my City (Liverpool) is full of good quality tailors.

    So thanks again Dan, my image has mainly improved due to this site.

    • Dan

      Hi Peter, could I ask which tailor you use ? I’m not far from Liverpool and it would be great to know of a tailor that I can trust without having to try loads out first !

      Cheers

  • jose

    greetings,

    i agree with the various comments of a great post on tailoring. off of your strong co-sign, i visited franklin to get a varsity jacket fixed and it came out fantastic. my situation is that as much as i would love to continue going to The Tailoring Room, i’m traveling from yonkers and would much rather find a quality tailor uptown. how can i go about finding one? any suggestions?

    salute to TSB

  • Gazman

    Great post. One of your best! Since I’ve been reading your blog I’ve taken a ton of stuff to my local tailor. She’s from China originally and knows her stuff. Being personable also helps. She totally restructured an old leather jacket one time; did a fantastic job. Alterations can be expensive though. It all adds up. A bargain picked up at the end year sales ends up being full price by the time all the alterations are carried out. The most expensive alteration I’ve found is to sport/suit jacket sleeves that have working buttons. In most cases these have to be altered from the sleeve head and can cost at least a $100. I think you guys refer to this cost as the tailor tax.

  • Tom

    Anyone happen to know any good tailors in the DC area?

    • DP

      I Second that

    • NWard

      I would definitely recommend Christopher Kims on M St., NW. Probably one of the best in the DC, MD, VA area.

  • http://undefined TimL

    I like the way everyone comes out looking like schleps….. and then -surprise the tailoring is done and your wearing something nicer with the new fitted duds…. <:/

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Thanks for your support Tim

  • http://www.undersoundmusic.net Ian

    One of your best, most useful posts, IMO.

  • Don Pierre

    The most brilliant tailoring online editorial of all time. Most men desire better fitting clothing but do not know how to properly articulate the alterations to their tailor. This will serve as a guide for men for years to come. #Greatness #Tsbmen

  • Joel

    I always make it a point to visit this site everyday. Great job, guys!

    Regarding sweaters and half zip sweaters, I hand wash them with Woolite. I don’t wring the sweaters but squeeze out the water. If the sweaters and half zip sweaters are loose, I’d put them in the dryer and check every five minutes. The sweaters would shrink to a size that I like. I’ve been doing this since 2004. Back then, I hated the slouchy look of sweaters and prefer them cropped – shorter hem and closer to body. I have two cashmere sweaters with shorter sleeves – sleeve length ends just before the wrist watch. I wear these ‘cropped’ sweaters with Uniqlo’s heat tech short sleeve shirts.

  • http://acollectedgentleman.com Isaiah Johnson

    Hey Dan,

    I wanted to know if I could interview you and feature you on my blog.

    • tony

      Why don`t you try sending him a professional private message with some information.

  • Stephen

    Your advice on tailoring costs is SO helpful. Recently I ran up a sizable bill custom tailoring 5 new dress shirts and feeling guilty about it. But I have one arm longer than the other. So without it the shirt sleeve length would not have been right. Your comment gave me the right perspective and have made me feel good about the tailoring investment I’ve made. Thanks.

  • Brandon

    What exactly do you guys mean when you say, “Take up shoulders”?

    • Brandon

      Never mind…

  • http://www.lamhonkit.com KIt

    how much does the last alteration(Green Jacket) usually cost?

  • Michael

    What Franklin has accomplished here is a work of art, and you all have items that are terrific additions to your respective wardrobes. I’m assuming the items here were tailored mainly as a demonstration in tailoring for this post, but given the sizes of each your wardrobes and on a strict need basis, would these items really have been ones you’d choose to tailor? Like in Townsend’s case, if i were him and given all the sweaters I’m assuming he still has, I’d have just given that sweater away.

  • Anonymous

    Dan and the crew,
    Another great post with lots of practical applications! You guys really illustrated the importance of developing a professional relationship with one’s tailor. Just a quick question, what have you guys been doing for tailoring selvedge denim? Thanks and keep up the good work fellas!

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Hopefully finding a fit that doesn’t need alterations (which means they are very tight at first, but break-in/stretch-out to the proper fit).

      If they end up stretching too much, make sure they are fully broken-in/stretched-out before tailoring them to the perfect fit.

      Assuming you’re not washing them, they shouldn’t shrink. If they get nasty, have them dry-cleaned to avoid fading or shrinking (unless you’re into more extreme denimhead measures like leaving them in the freezer or wearing them in the ocean to kill bacteria…).

  • Chad

    Hey guys, love the site. But quick question about something I’ve never been able to figure out. For an untucked button down shirt like in the first look, what is a proper length to go for? Should the back cover my pockets, just touch the top, somewhere in between? Should the front hang over the zipper halfway? And how about the sides, cover the belt but no more? I’ve never been able to figure that one out.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Great question Chad. Personally, I have two different shirt lengths. 1) dress shirts that are very long (hit around the bottom of the seat/zipper) so they never come untucked. 2) Casual shirts that only hit about halfway down the seat in the back and a few inches below the waistband in the front.

      I try to avoid the “hybrid” length, since it’s not ideal tucked or untucked.

      Cheers.

  • Brian

    Great post TSBmen. I have a question regarding tailoring a button-up shirt (Similar to the one Wes is wearing).

    Is it possible to take-in the area close the the armhole in the chest arm? I imagine the garment looking weird if you take in the body and arms, but still have a wide chest and shoulder area. Also, I’m not familiar with the term taking-up the shoulder. What does that entail?

    You guys are awesome, keep up the great posts!

  • Victor

    Great post, I am off to tailor my purple label sweaters that fit loose.

    Question, I have a few suits that have a dip in the shoulders, can shoulders be taken in on a suit?

    • Sosa

      Known as divots.. sometimes its about less shoulder padding but a lot of times its more about the size of the armhole in relation to your shoulder blades and the pitch of your arms.. in order to address the issues it requires usually removing the sleeves, re-cutting the armhole and the shoulder pads to match your arm pitch then re-attaching the sleeves.. on a cheap suit not worth it because it will cost more than what you purchased the suit for on a more expensive suit might be worth it..Better to get a suit that fits perfectly in the chest and shoulders and go from there or go custom.. just my two cents

  • SC

    What’s the word on tailoring leather jackets? Impossible? Expensive? I bought one recently that looks decent a little big, but it wouldn’t hurt if the sleeves and body were just a tad slimmer.

  • LouCaves

    This post is right on time as I put on a 3/4 length raincoat that I bought in ’01. The look now is not exactly slimming since it shapes me like an upside down V. Look #4 shows what I can look forward to with the help of a tailor. Hopefully the yelp reviews I read about a cat near Whitesox Park are on the money. Thanks, TSB!

  • David

    I do a decent amount of thrift shopping. I’m curious–what do you consider the break even point. If I drop $5-10 on a pair of jeans, like the first photo example, then spend an additional $35-50 in tailoring costs, I feel like it’s not quite worth the total expense. Perhaps, I’m wrong here. Thoughts?

    Also curious on how much each of the examples cost.

    Thanks and great site. I’m a frequent reader.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      I don’t look at it as having a “break even” point.

      I’ll purchase a jacket for $20 at a vintage store and spend $60 on alts. At the end of the day, I have an awesome one-of-kind jacket that fits like a glove for $80.

      Cheers,
      Dan

  • cuponoodles

    Franklin is a good dude, and tt helps that he’s always the guy ‘on call’ and pinning people up. Makes it easier for you as a customer to explain yourself and have clarity in terms of what to expect.

    As noted, I liked how you mention it’s always best when tailors are up front in terms of what they can and can’t do. I brought him some ties to slim up, and he was clear that it would be expensive and potentially imperfect job (no worries, as Tiecrafters did them up just fine).

    Great post!

  • http://N/A Harrison

    TSB Team –

    Thank you for this post. I am 5’3 so S#$% off the rack is most always difficult, which usually leads to frustration.

    When purchasing shirts usually I make sure the shirt fits in the shoulders and chest, but usually the neck is tight or doesn’t fit. What can I do to get the collar to button?

    Also, is the collar something that I can have tailored/replaced? I have a shirt that I really like, but the collar is too long and bows out when buttoned.

    Thanks,
    Harrison

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Hey Harrison! I hope all is well brother.

      A shirt collar cannot be made larger, other than cheating out the button (maybe +3/8″). Some of my hard-to-fit friends sometimes leave the top button unfastened, and use their tie knot to close everything together in a way that is not very noticeable.

      In theory, a collar can be replaced, but it’s tricky business creating a new collar and fitting it onto an existing neckhole. Also, it would have to be a contrast fabric (like a white banker collar), unless somehow you have some of the exact same shirt fabric laying around.

      Best,
      Dan

  • Joe

    Great idea for a post. Very practical for just about everyone. Although, I think it would have been more illustrative to have the “after” photo buttoned up if the “before” photo was buttoned (perhaps even the same hands at your sides pose in “before” and “after” would have been nice, even if not as dynamic as the photos here)

  • Anonymous

    Dan,

    I just wanted to thank you for everything you have accomplished with this website. Aesthetically, you are obviously extraordinarily well dressed, but what I appreciate most is the courteous, respectful, and kind manner in which you handle comments and articles on the website. If you think no one notices, we do. It is strikingly refreshing to find someone so articulate and well-mannered, especially in the menswear style blog business. Thank you again, I truly appreciate courtesy.

    Best.

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Well thanks Anonymous, that was a very nice comment.

      Part of the reason I started this website was to create a community where real guys, of all walks of life and levels of interest, could come to speak intelligently and inclusively about style. The #menswear landscape online can be a harsh and intimating one, especially for newcomers who aren’t “part of the club”.

      We want anyone interested to feel included here. We all have to wear clothes, let’s talk about it like men.

      Thx for reading.

    • Jordan

      Just wanted to echo this comment, it’s really pleasant finding a men’s style site that’s well-written and clearly done with the aim of being actually helpful to the average guy, rather than yet another blog where half the content is reposts of other peoples’ content with some half-assed snarky comments. Cheers to not staffing TSB with the cast of Mean Girls.

      • http://tsbmen.com Townsend

        Thanks Jordan, we make a real effort over here to provide approachable content in an unbiased and straight-forward manner. Thanks for reading!

  • John

    Does Franklin use scissors or a magic wand!? Amazing what he can do.

  • John

    Love to see more posts on tailoring! Also, that green coat is awesome. I’m getting jealous!

    Would a quilted lining (not down filled) make taking in really difficult? I have a duffle coat that could be a bit slimmer, but I don’t want to ruin it!

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Hey John, good news.

      The green coat has a quilted lining and it will be available in our online store, which were working on now…

  • Acronymic

    Wes, how tall are you?!

    • http://www.tsbmen.com Westley Dimagiba

      5’11

  • Khalid

    Great work, Franklin. And outstanding feature, guys! Hope to see more before/after photos like these — they give a sense of what’s possible, and the geeky aspect is intriguing in itself.

    By the way, what do you mean by ‘take up shoulders’? Does doing so affect the armhole? Thanks!

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Shorten the shoulder point-to-point.

      It doesn’t necessarily affect the shape of the armholes, but the sleeves have to come off, and there’s a good chance the armholes will have to be tweaked a little when they are re-sewn.

  • Garrett

    Hey Dan, simple question for you. When tapering trousers is it better to taper from one seam or from both seams?

    • http://tsbmen.com Dan Trepanier

      Hi Garrett.

      Really depends on the shape of the legs and trousers (ie. bow-legs vs. knock-knees), but most tailors find it easier to work off the inseam.

      Best,
      Dan

      • Garrett

        Ah, makes a lot of sense. Thanks!