A Guide to Suiting Alterations

We’ve talked a bit about tailoring, but what are the top alterations you should be thinking about with a suit?  Today’s guest poster, Jean from ExtraPetite, was nice enough to write up her guide to suiting alterations at the tailor, including fit tips, estimated cost, difficulty level, and more.  Enjoy! – Kat

For many professional women, suit shopping can be a daunting task. Our bodies are unique and varied, so it’s tough to find a perfect fit right off the racks of mainstream retailers. A good tailor can take that store-bought suit to the next level – from a decent suit, to a power suit that will help you exude confidence and class.

Whether it’s a tiny tweak or a major overhaul – I’ve done it all. I’m here to share my alterations guide with fellow women who are walking around in a less-than perfectly fitting suit.

Blazers
Taking-in Shoulders
Fit tips: Your blazer should be fitted across your shoulders, but not stretched taught. There should be ample room to lift/move your arms around without pulling on the jacket. The shoulder seam of the blazer should also not jut out past your own shoulders. Taking in the shoulders of a jacket is best done by a skilled tailor, preferably one that has worked with custom suiting.
Alteration Cost: $40+
Difficulty level: High

Altering the Sides
Fit tips: If you are curvy, shop for jackets that accommodate your widest point –whether it’s your shoulders or chest—and then have areas like the waist tailored down to fit. When fully buttoned and worn over a long sleeve shirt, a blazer should graze your torso. It should not be snug, and the front buttons should show no signs of pulling. Jackets typically should not be taken-in or let out more than 1 dress size (if there is even enough fabric at the seams), as the garment proportions can be thrown off.
Alteration Cost: $25+
Difficulty level: Medium.

Altering Blazer Length
Fit tips: This is a difficult alteration that I try to avoid while shopping for blazers. Anything longer than the hipbones may risk truncating your legs. Shorter-legged women can benefit from cropped length blazers. Longer-length “boyfriend” blazers that hit in the upper thigh area are chic over jeans and dresses, but less appropriate for professional environments.
Alteration Cost: $40+, depends on lining and complexity.
Difficulty level: High. My tailors flat-out refused to alter the length of my blazers.

Altering Sleeve Length
Fit tips: My personal preference for sleeve length is an inch past the wrist bone when arms are resting naturally. When getting fitted at the tailors, raise your arms to chest level to make sure the new length won’t be too short.
Alteration Cost: ~$25.
Difficulty level: Low, unless there are sleeve vents and/or button details.

Skirts & Pants
Altering the Waist/Hips
Fit tips – Skirts: For women who have equally proportioned torso and legs, skirts tend to look best starting at the natural waist (I use my belly button as a reference). For women with shorter torsos, the skirt can sit lower on the hips to balance out the proportions. For women with longer torsos, a higher-waisted skirt may be more flattering.
Fit tips – Pants: If only tiny tweaks are needed, the tailor can make the alterations from the back center seam. If more than half an inch needs to be altered, then the tailor should work from both sides to preserve the proportions of the pants.
Alteration Cost: ~$25
Difficulty level: Medium, dependent on details such as side pockets, a side zipper, or seams and pleats.

Pants – Tailoring the Legs
Fit tips: Shop for bottoms that accommodate the width of your thighs, and get the waist taken in, if necessary. A common issue I observe on women are pants that are too snug across the crotch and thighs, which causes pulling and creases. If you are petite on the bottom and tend to swim in your pants, have a tailor slim the legs and taper them to your curves.
Alteration Cost: $25
Difficulty level: Medium, dependent on details such as side pockets, a side zipper, or seams and pleats.

Hem
Fit tips – Skirts: If your thighs are longer than your calves, above-the-knee may be more flattering. If you are long-calved, then you can probably pull off at or below-the-knee skirts.
Fit tips – Pants: Bring your favorite heels to the tailors. With shoes on, pant length should be approximately an inch from the ground. Too long will drag, and too short will break the lengthening effect of long pants.
Alteration Cost: $10+, more if there’s lining.
Difficulty level: Easy

Check out more of Jean’s thoughts on alterations on her blog, ExtraPetite!

Readers, what alterations do you have your tailors make? Any fun stories (of success or disaster) to share?

(L-0)

Interested in writing something similar for Corporette? Check out our guest posting guidelines.

Comments

  1. This is really helpful. My only disagreement is on the length of the pants — it really depends on the cut of the leg. My preference is that wide, trouser and flared legs should be lower to the ground (I do 1/2″ only); I think you have more leeway with straight legs. I recommend the blog “You Look Fab” for more advice on this, do a search for “perfect pant length.”

    • Diana Barry says:

      Ditto – I prefer lower to the ground pant length – otherwise they look high-watery. In addition, pants tend to shrink UP with dry cleaning as well as regular washing, so I like to get them a little long knowing that they will shrink when cleaned.

    • agree, but wonder if height makes a difference (e.g. extra petite vs. taller)

  2. conbrio says:

    This is SO helpful! Thank you!

  3. Love this guide. And I love Jean; her blog is amazing, especially for us petite women. I do wish there were more retailers who made petite lines, there’s just very little diversity to choose from.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I really love the ExtraPetite blog – excellent content, photos, advice and style.
    Except… I’m 5’10, and desperate to find a similar blog devoted to professional clothing/style for tall women. Does anyone know of such a blog?

  5. Looking for Law School says:

    Threadjack! Does anyone know anything about University of Baltimore Law School, or University of Maryland LS? If you went there, know someone who did/does, etc.
    TIA!

    • The Bad Wife says:

      Best thing to do (as that’s a little specific) is to post exactly what information it is you are looking for in relation to those schools. Someone here might be able to answer them, despite not being alums.

    • kaydee says:

      I can direct you to a few people, but I’d need to know what info you’re looking for.

    • Looking for Law School says:

      Thanks! I’m looking for information about reputations, entering LSAT grades, scholarships, really any info you can give.

      • Herbie says:

        … isn’t this all information you can find out through US News & World Report and/or the Google machine?

      • The school’s website is probably the best place for factual information (LSAT grades and scholarships) …. corporettes can probably weigh in on reputation and hiring, if that’s what you’re after.

      • ANON for this says:

        I know one person who went to Baltimore Law. She is not a stupid person, but unfortunately, she is not a great test taker — I don’t know exactly what her LSAT score was, but I know that it was not good (as in, she was not sure if she would get in to ANY law school). And then, to make matters way, way, way worse, she failed the bar exam on her first attempt.

        A sample of one is hardly what you should base your decision on… but…. well, you certainly need to take a good, hard look at the numbers.

        Anyway, you should be able to find tons of information on the schools websites/US News/etc.

    • In this legal economy, I wouldn’t go to law school if you aren’t going to a top 25 school. Others may disagree, but there are too many out of work lawyers who have no real chance at a legal career.

      • Anony says:

        I kind of agree with this, sadly. I also wouldn’t go unless I could get a sizeable amount paid for through scholarships or prior savings so I wouldn’t have to take on much debt. And I say this as a top 10 school graduate with a big law salary and still wishing I didn’t have that debt burden over my head!

        • Herbie says:

          This. Top 20 law school former biglaw current in-house. I love my current job but not sure I would make the same choices if I had it to do all over again. Most likely not if I knew how slim the odds are that I would in fact end up where I am and how profoundly sizeable debt would impact my life choices.

        • ANON for this says:

          Agree 100%. I would not consider law school unless you (a) can do so without incurring a great deal of debt OR (b) you can go to a top school (and are sure that you can handle BigLaw at least long enough to pay back any debt). Ideally, both.

          • Mackie says:

            This! I wouldn’t go to law school if you have to take it all out on loans. I’m lucky and my parents are helping me. Honestly, if they weren’t I would not be in law school. It can be financial suicide! I know some people who will likely have over $160K in debt, and they are not on the biglaw track.

          • Herbie says:

            @Mackie – I talked to some Georgetown 2Ls this summer. They’re taking out $75k/year in student loans. It just took my breath away. A quarter mil in student loan debt, and interest rates are worse now than when I was in law school. Unconscionable.

          • Mackie says:

            @Herbie, WOW! At first I thought it was $75K total! I wonder how this will affect the availability of student loans in the future since there are very few jobs out there, and I doubt everyone will be able to pay them back. Possibly another problem like the mortgage crisis.

          • Also agree. I want to add a (c) though — that you really want to be a lawyer and aren’t doing this as a stopgap because you can’t think of what else to do. It’s a huge investment on uncertainty.

            I also want to point out that hiring is down everywhere. Even T14 schools are having trouble placing their grads. So if you decide to go (hopefully following the above advice and only going if you want to be a lawyer and you’re either going to a T14 or going for next to nothing), make sure you work your butt off and get the best grades possible so as to have a chance at Big Law. Other than working for the government (which is really hard to do in this economy), Big Law is the only way to really pay down your huge debt. And Big Law just isn’t hiring like they used to.

      • Agreed, except if you have some specialized niche area that you are qualified to practice and would want to practice in that area (e.g., technical degree/patent law; tax certification/tax law, etc.)

        • Looking for Law School says:

          OK, so what do you think if:
          a: my GPA is 3.56
          b: I get a 170 on my LSATs (very likely)
          and c: I want to go into elder law?

          • Herbie says:

            No unless you’ve got scholarships / won’t take out loans.

          • Anony says:

            Agree with Herbie

          • Mondette says:

            At the risk of putting words in JC’s mouth, I believe she was referring to higher-paying/higher-demand niche markets (as the ones she listed are). While it is admirable that you have a specific area you’d prefer to practice, I wouldn’t call that a niche market in this sense. Almost any law grad can hang a shingle (or join a firm) as do elder law work, while patent law requires a specific degree and a specialized bar, and tax law is also very competitive and skews toward the (small amoung lawyers) segment of the population that is good with accounting.

          • Also agree with Herbie. As a side note, elder law doesn’t really pay a lot, so if you have to take out loans, I wouldn’t do it. The best bet if you really want to practice elder law (you may change your mind when you get in there!) is to go to the best school you get into on a full scholarship, as most elder law is practiced in small firms, and you won’t have to worry about loans. Beware though – a lot of scholarships are contingent on you ending up in the top third of the class — which is a LOT harder than it sounds. If you dip below after your first year, you could lose your scholarship.

          • Your GPA and LSATs only matter to the law school. If those get you into a great law school with scholarships, no harm. If those don’t, no one after you apply to law school cares about either of those things. GPA, without a school attached, is also irrelevant. At some schools, that is a very good GPA. At others, it isn’t. It also matters what your major is.
            I went to a top 30 law school, had a scholarship that covered a good portion of tuition, and graduated long before the economy tanked. I am lucky. I don’t think I could be successful if I graduated in today’s market.

          • Anon Alum for This says:

            Those will get you into UB, and maybe UMD, which has gotten much more competitive. The scores are definitely in range for UMD admission, but because of the price, more people are applying because it is one of the schools where you can still get out and your loan amount less than your first year salary if you get in BigLaw or one of the big regionals …

          • Why in the hell would you go to the University of Baltimore with those stats? Are you crazy or a troll?

    • I mean this in the nicest way possible, but if you have to ask these kind of questions on a random blog, and weren’t resourceful enough to figure them out with a quick google search, law school is probably not for you.

      • Looking for Law School says:

        Ouch! Ok, point taken. But I really want to know what intelligent females think about UB/UM, and finding that sort of info is harder.

        • Herbie says:

          I wouldn’t unless you get a full or close to full scholarship/funding.

        • Anony says:

          Well, I’ll be blunt, then – until reading your post, I didn’t know that they had law schools. Granted, I’ve never lived in Maryland or the DC area, and if I had, that could certainly change my response. But do they have a national reputation (in my opinion, based on my experience)? No. So, consider that.

        • Those are not good schools. Big name employers do not hire out of those schools unless you are in the top handful (probably 3) of students, and maybe not even then. Can you work in elder care afterwards though? Sure, probably. But take a long hard look at the math – how much does it cost? How much will you be making? Is there a job you could be doing in the meantime (perhaps even working with the elderly) that would earn you nearly as much without the explicit cost of law schoolhttp://corporette.com/2010/03/23/our-commenting-policy/ and without delaying your wage earning by three years?

    • anon for this says:

      Also, I’d look at Above the Law. There was recently some scandal involving the dean of UBL (I think) related to tuition that Above the Law covered extensively.

    • My legal writing professor from my law school now teaches at the University of Baltimore (crim law, I think). I thought he was a good prof, but that’s all I know about it.

      • oh, was this a you’re thinking about going there question? I wouldn’t unless you’re getting heavy financial aid. Job market is still terrible even for top 10 (or 15 or whatever your arbitrary cut off is) schools.

    • Anon Alum for This says:

      Alum, so anon for this. Do not go to Baltimore unless you have no other options. Most of the big firms won’t say it out loud, but they will not consider non-Order of the Coif from UB. Actually they will say it out loud, as my former managing partner did just that, and it was commonly known. The thought is that UB focuses on the more practical lawyering skills, whereas UMD teaches more theoretical. There is value in both, to be sure, but the common thought is you can teach someone to draft, but you can teach them to think…. Probably not fair, but that is the reality….

      UMD is a good school, steadily climbing up the charts with a new Dean who is doing a really good job securing dollars, which translate into better experience. The new building (opened in 2003ish) is state of the art, and UMD has some very highly ranked programs and their clinic is outstanding. If your intention is to stay in Baltimore, UMD is the way to go as every firm, big and small, has at least 1 UMD Alum. The DC and NY markets are also opening up, and the last decade of mergers and growth have exposed UMD lawyers to those markets and it has been a positive experience. UMD doesn’t have the portability of say, a Georgetown, but its 1/3 the cost. As for the local law schools in the MD/DC/NoVa area, besides Georgetown, you will get the best bang for your buck at UMD if you are in-state. I had a great law school experience at UMD, so if you insist on going to law school (there are certainly other considerations to be made on entering the profession now) you can’t go wrong at UMD.

    • Another Sarah says:

      I graduated from law school May 2010, and I took the LSAT a full year before I even applied to law school, so I’m a bit behind on the law-school-admissions-world…but if you are looking at a 170LSAT and 3.56 UGPA and seriously thinking about UBaltimore? For real? Is there any specific reason why? Or have I just been out of the game for that long that things have changed THAT much?

      LSAC had a handy-dandy tool where you could put in your UGPA and LSAT and it would calculate your chances of getting in a each law school. I would recommend you do that if you don’t have a specific, personal, non-business reason to go to one school over another.

  6. Lawlala says:

    Great timing, I am currently trying to find a place to get my blazers taken in. It’s good to get a little inside.

  7. Good tips. Two comments, though:

    Short-waisted women who are pear-shaped benefit from wearing a skirt at the natural waist. A lower waistline makes their butts and hips look bigger.

    Women who are pear-shaped generally do not look good in cropped jackets. A longer jacket is better, whether or not it conforms with with the then-conventional professional style.

    • Nonny says:

      I disagree about cropped jackets, based on personal experience. I am most definitely pear-shaped, and look best in jackets that have a defined waist and that end around my hipbone, or even shorter. Longer jackets tend to look boxy on me and really don’t do anything for my figure.

      • anonymous says:

        This. I am a clear pear shaped woman and short cropped jackets ALWAYS look better on me than longer jackets. The defined waist of a short cropped jackets helps establish my slender waist. Longer jackets are generally not flattering on me–they are manageable from the front but make me look big/chubby from the back.

  8. Timely says:

    This post is very timely. I just bought four pieces of the Talbots seasonless wool suit (dress, skirt, pants and jacket). The first three items were in the store, but the jacket had to be ordered and shipped to me. So I did what I always do, left the other three items in the trunk of the car until the jacket arrived. Once it did, I grabbed it, my shoes, hose and blouse and headed to the seamstress for an assessment. If the jacket isn’t right, the whole thing goes back. She proclaimed the shoulders fit properly and only the bust needed to be taken in. Ditto for the dress (plus hem, I am very short). The pants needed the waist taken in and the length hemmed. The skirt was fine. All in: $56 of alterations and a custom-fit four piece suit. But there have been many suits I loved that didn’t pass the seamstress “it fits” test and that I have returned.

    I learned the importance of proper tailoring in my early 20s from my then sister-in-law who was a banking executive and about 12 years my senior. Very important lesson for which I am still grateful.

    PSA re the seasonless suiting: yes, the pants are unlined. The other items are fully lined.

    PSA re Talbots: 20% off in-store every day if you can produce ID that shows you are a teacher/professor.

  9. Little Lurker says:

    This is awesome!

    Thanks so much for your tips, Jean and thank YOU, Kat, for featuring such an amazingly diverse crowd of talented fashion bloggers!

  10. CPA to be says:

    Threadjack…

    I am finishing up my 150 hours this semester, and need some advice if there are any accountants out there.

    I am going through the on-campus recruiting process, with my first interviews next week. For those of you who went through this process, what should I expect? I am starting to have anxiety dreams about the kinds of questions they will ask me, and I’m wondering what I need to be focused on preparing– technical knowlegde, typical “behavioral” questions, random factoids about the firms, etc.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Mountain Girl says:

      Good for you! Great accomplishment to finish your hours!

      I am a CPA but its been nearly 20 years since I finished school and took the exam so I’m not sure I have any useful advice for you. I will say that just this weekend I was telling my DH that I thought that if I had to go back 20 years and start over again in college I would choose the same career path. Keep us posted.

    • Missy says:

      I’m a CPA, graduated w BS in 2008 and MBA in 2010. Went through the recruiting process during my junior year (for a winter internship) and senior year (FT position). I interviewed with big 4, large regional, local CPA firm, and fortune 500′s. The interview all depends on what type of firm you’re interviewing with.

      Big 4 and regional – They want to know about your schooling, make sure you’re willing to work until 2am 6 days a week, and ability to work as a team. They don’t care about what you want to do b/c they will just put you in whatever practive area they want. You have to be able to “bs” the partner, if it gets that far. They are looking at your social skills and mannerisms.

      Local CPA firm – want to know about all aspects of your life, what area you are interested in (tax vs. audit vs. consulting) and your commitment to the area (many jump ship within a year).

      Fortune 500 – You will be sweating! I had to do a financial analysis on the spot and then had to work on a team “project” with recruiters watching every move. Very intimidating!

      If you have an internship focus on what you learned and how you grew. You can talk about mistakes you made and how you fixed them. If you didn’t have any internships – good luck and be ready to have a good reason for why you didn’t. Also, bring your transcript. I found that having a copy for the recruiter put me above everyone who didn’t. Lastly research the firms and partners – firm websites are great sources. Visit goingconcern dot com and another71 dot com for more info!

      I ended up getting offers from all types of firms, but went with the regional firm.

  11. Mackie says:

    Threadjack..

    Sending out those 100+ clerkship applications this weekend really paid off! I received two e-mails today regarding setting up interviews! Does anyone have any advice or tips for interviewing for state level judicial clerkships? TIA

    • Lyssa says:

      I did it, and my best advice would be to make sure that you’re being someone that they would really want to work with. Be really nice and friendly to the secretaries/other staff , be friendly and outgoing and confident. One thing about working with judges is that they’re somewhat limited on how they can interact with people, so it’s really important to them to have people in their office who all get along and are easy to talk to. Also, at least in the office in which I clerked, grades carry a lot of weight, so if yours are less then stellar, be ready to explain and try to make up for it in other experiences.

      Good luck! I clerked at the state trial court level and it was a fantastic experience. I know that federal carries more “prestige”, but I think that I got a much better experience, both in terms of enjoying it and in terms of just what I learned, working for that court.

    • NewClerk says:

      Congrats! Be sure to know your resume very well. And know your writing sample backwards and forwards. Practice briefing it extremely succinctly. And good luck.

  12. Herbie says:
  13. Party Pooper says:

    Threadjack Rant- I skipped my “optional” department fall blowout (this is during lunchtime) and of course some of the assistants were making snide remarks about me and the other skippers. Do these people not get that it is abnormal to be hitting employees up for monetary contributions for guests of honor gifts and then later on harassing them about what food items they are bringing? Not to mention, who gives gifts to every single person in the department yearly? Why should I have to fund a gift for someone I don’t really know? I finally decided to put my foot down and say no.

    • Herbie says:

      What’s this “blowout” for? I’ve never heard of anything like this. What a hassle.

      • Party Pooper says:

        It’s a seasonal birthday party. I’m not talking a casual potluck either- people spend hours planning and decorating and then harass people an inform them they are bringing X or Y dish. Management has emphasized time and time again that these are optional, but usually only a few people bow out each time.

        • That’s ridiculous IMO. For a 5 yr old, ok….but, adults? Seems like a good intention gone tacky, from your your description.

  14. Does anyone else have issues with “square shoulders” in suit fitting (ie, shoulders that don’t slope very much from the neck to the edge of the shoulder)? I have a lot of issues with fitting suit jackets, but this is one of the more annoying ones for me. It makes the collars of jackets kind of stand up around my neck so that it looks like I have no neck. I wondering if it would be possible to take the shoulder pads out or replace them with smaller ones to make suit jackets fit better…

    • Bonnie says:

      I often take out shoulder pads. I don’t need them and find that designers are just going overboard on them recently.

      • Good point Bonnie. Since square shoulder adjustment is one of the unfortunate things that take more fabric, it pays to buy a jacket with shoulder pads and remove them. Easy, cheap, and works perfectly.

  15. SV in House says:

    Threadjack — I have had a really busy week and would love to stay home this evening BUT tonight is 25% off at Cole Haan, 5-8. Last spring you ladies tipped me off to the green Kendra bag, which I adore. Anything you have your eyes on now that should get me off the couch?

    Also, did anyone else get one of the Kate Spade bags in tangerine? It is BRIGHT. How are you liking it?

  16. North Shore says:

    Great post, thanks. I’m 5’2″, and learned the hard way not to buy these items unless they come in petite sizes: suits, jackets, sweaters, long-sleeved shirts, dresses, coats, pants. The sizes still aren’t always perfect, but it makes any alterations easier and cheaper.

  17. Very helpful, thanks!

    I’ve driven myself batty as of late searching for the perfect fit in suits. About a month ago, I decided that while perfect-fitting suits do exist, I don’t have the time to go hunting through that haystack. I now have a stockpile of 3 new suits and 2 new dresses to take to the tailor. Not looking forward to that bill…

  18. Two thoughts: Re trouser hems, I’ll be the fashion outlaw here and advocate for a higher hem than suggested. Instead of taking my favorite heels to the tailor’s, I’ll bring my favorite loafers — the very Franco Sarto loafers that the narrator in The Devil Wears Prada mocks — and have the pant hems done to about an inch off the floor from there. That way I have flexibility with those trousers: I can wear them to court with the suit jacket, a court-appropriate shirt, and heels; or I can wear them with a more casual top and the loafers on Friday.

    Second thought: I always mentally add $30 to $50 to the cost of a suit because of the alterations I always need. I take a petite size in trousers/skirts; and even though I take a regular size in jackets due to my long torso, I need the sleeves shortened ’cause I’m just proportioned a little oddly. My point, and I have one, is that I love-love-love the TPS suit suggestions, but when the jackets start at like $398 and the trousers are $250, it kills me when I consider that I’m gonna have to add another $50 to the price! :)

  19. I hesitate to take things to the tailor because my weight fluctuates. I’m afraid of getting something taken in on a “skinny” day and then having it too tight on “bloated from too many dinners out” day. Although when I do have pants taken in (at the hips), I’m usually happy with the results and kick myself for not doing it more often.

    Anyone have good websites that show with pictures what fit problems look like and what can be fixed by a seamstress and what cannot? I often try things on and know that they don’t fit right, but am frequently uncertain if it can be fixed.

  20. virginia says:

    As to the article’s suggestions on blazers: “taught” is the past tense of “to teach;” “taut” is an adjective meaning stretched tight–the latter is correct here.

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