What are the most helpful alterations a tailor can make for professional women? What tailoring alterations really make an impact in looking polished? Reader L wrote in with this question, and I thought it might make an interesting open thread:
I’m 99% sure you did something on this years ago but could be worth reviving a post on what tailors / shoemakers can to do help fit or fix your clothes (i.e. Adding extra belt or shoe strap holes, protective soles, sewing in those bra strap holders, etc).
Great point! We have talked about the most common suiting alterations, as well as the most common tailoring alterations, but not in a while.
I know some people get every single thing tailored; personally I’m probably on the lower end of the spectrum, where it has to be a pretty special item for me to take it to the tailor. I’ve had pants and jeans shortened, a waist or two taken in, the bustline of an empire dress moved down so it laid better, and added extra strap holes to belts or shoes (although if memory serves a friend just had one of those hole-punchers). (But I’ll fully admit that a lot of my pants were hemmed by my mother, especially in my younger years!)
Reader L’s note about bra strap holders is a brilliant idea — and I probably should get the sleeves on most of my blazers (and possibly a good winter coat or two) shortened — although in more recent years I’ve been buying petite blazers, for just that reason. Ah yes, and I’ve also tried to replace the lining of a winter coat, many moons ago, although that was more of a DIY effort and turned into a huge PITA. Another DIY alteration I’ve done a few times is to sew pockets closed. (If I buy them sewn closed I often keep them closed!)
As we’ve noted in the past, a big tip for any tailoring is to make sure that you’ve washed the item BEFORE you’ve had it tailored, as certain types of cotton and other washable fabrics can shrink.
What about you, ladies — what are the things you ask your tailor to do most often? Do you have any a-ha moments to share regarding tailoring alterations — things that once you heard about you thought were brilliant ideas (like Reader L’s idea for bra strap holders), or “not worth the time and energy” lessons, like me with the coat lining? If anyone has any favorite tailors in your city, please feel free to shout them out in the comments also.
(Ooh, and here’s another question — what tailoring alterations for women (or men) have you learned to do yourselves? Anyone have any favorite tutorials to share?)
I have slim arms (and particularly forearms/wrists) compared to my bust/waist size, so a common one for me is having sleeves tapered. It’s about $20 but goes a really long way in customizing the fit!
I’m 5’4″ which is average height for a woman, but somehow I still need all my pants, skirts, and sleeves shortened. At least if it’s something nice like a suit. I also had the waist on several suit pants and skirts taken in after I lost some weight, and they sit much better now. I had two dresses taken in for the same reason, and they are some of my favorites now because they’re actually made for me.
On a few of my suits, I’ve asked my tailor to put hidden snaps in the pant hems so I can snap them up to commute in flats and then unsnap to wear with heels. It works! I get the snaps on each side and in the back. No snap in the front because you can see the stitch, especially on lighter colors.
You can buy a leather punch on Amazon for under $10. Great for adding holes to make belts or Mary Janes tighter. I also just used ours to add extra holes to my husband’s messenger bag strap so it isn’t so long on him.
The snaps on your pants are BRILLIANT!
I’m tall and hippy, so the alterations I’ve had done most frequently are letting pants hems down and taking in the waist. Taking in the waist at the back is not expensive and really makes a difference in how the pants sit on the body. It’s worth it.
One pitfall I’ve run into more than once is buying a skirt that I wanted longer, but convincing myself the hem could be let down because there was lots of fabric in the hem (like 1.5 to 2 inches.) This is a fool’s errand. Inevitably, the tailor takes out the hem and finds that the fabric has been cut at the bottom of the back slit or walking vent, so the hem can’t be let out at all.
I had several Brooks Brothers suiting skirts let down with good results, so perhaps this varies by retailer?
Maybe, but unfortunately you just can’t tell when you’re buying the skirt (I’m sure they’d look askance at you taking the hem out to check!)
I’m tall also and I’m just starting to build a work wardrobe after school. I’ve thought about getting hems in a couple of dresses and pants let out for length, but I’ve never been to a tailor and have no idea what I’m doing. How difficult is an alteration like that and how much does it cost?
Our NYC tailor lets down pants for my husband, who is 6’5”, for ten bucks. Limiting factor is the fabric left behind by the manufacturer. This is one of the best and most reasonably priced alterations you can have done.
I have square shoulders and d-cup b**bs, so when I buy tops and dresses that cover my chest without straining buttons or looking too tight, they are too loose at the waist. I have spent money taking in the waist of every top, jacket, and dress that I own, and it has been worth every penny. I look a lot sleeker with this tailoring.
I’m on the shorter side of average, but also short-waisted, so I often need the shoulders taken up on dresses to make the darts line up with my b00bs and the waistline hit at my waist.
This is a rare alteration that I will undertake myself, although only for sleeveless dresses.
Is this a fool’s errand on items with sleeves? I’ve rejected items that otherwise fit well because I assumed a tailor would just laugh at me or charge more than the garment was worth to redo the armscye. (Like Moonstone, I’d probably do it myself on sleeveless things. I know enough about sewing to do some things myself and scare myself off from others.)
As a fellow sewer, I’ve done this with a dress I made myself: I unpicked the sleeve seam, took the sleeve in under the arm, and took the armhole in at the shoulder seam. It looks fine. The armhole is a little smaller than advertised, but still functional enough for me to move in the garment.
This is the exact reason I buy petite tops/dresses/jackets whenever possible: short waisted and busty is a killer combination.
Can you have pant legs tapered? I have a suit set and the pants are more of a straight leg/trouser leg style. I would like them so much more if the were skinny.
My mom is a decent DIY seamstress and she used to do this for our jeans back in the day, so yes.
Yes, I’ve done this a couple times when I’m already hemming the pants, and it’s an extra $10 maybe to have the legs tapered a bit.
Wow, never thought of that. I love skinny pants, but have athletic calves and thighs, and many skinny pants are too tight in the calves. I hate it when I sit down and my pants legs ride up, and then when I stand up, they stay up. I’m constantly bending over and pulling them down. I could just buy straight leg pants and have the legs tailored to fit my muscular legs. Yay!
I am petite and hourglass-curvy. Like many of you I am having sleeves shortened, waists nipped, and sleeveless dresses taken up at the shoulder. I do lots of alterations myself but I take complex ones or slippery fabrics to the tailor.
A lot of these changes are worth it as a wardrobe investment. Instead of grudgingly wearing an ill-fitting garment a few times, I will wear the perfectly-fitting one much more often.
Silicon Valley Engineer
I’m 5’6″ with an hourglass shape. I almost always have to have my pants hemmed. I often have the waist taken in on pants and skirts so that I don’t get that unattractive gap at the back. I almost always have to have the sleeves on blazers shortened.
I hit Nordstrom Level 4 this year, so I’ve been taking advantage of the free unlimited tailoring (on all items, not just those purchased at Nordstrom). I’ve been going through my closet and getting lots of stuff worked on. I had the straps on a dress shortened to bring up the neckline, and now I wear that dress much more frequently because I don’t have to worry about showing too much. I’m working through all of my tops to have sleeves shortened. I can’t tell you how many long-sleeved shirts and sweaters go down past my fingertips. It’s so much nicer to have the right sleeve length!
I am a very curvy hourglass, 5’6″, D cup which goes up to DD every month, waist 11 inches smaller than hips, junior Kardashian booty.
Have worked with several tailors for more than 10 years and generally approach investment pieces from perspective of what it could look like with some or a lot of work. The curves make it hard to buy and wear off of the rack.
I buy dresses to fit my breasts and butt. I go for more of a drape/skim those areas, not form fitting.
All dresses get waists taken in, butt darts. Well done butt darts are friends of a bootylicious woman. Even cheaper/mid price dresses get tailored. I have had some luck putting $20-$40 in tailoring into $15-20 thrifted dresses. I also live in the South and can’t handle pants most of year. I never wear pants at work. I appear to be deeply religious at work, but it’s the humidity not G_D or Jesus.
I have square necklines on dresses carved into semicircles and slightly lowered so they don’t pull across my bust and then can also be worn under jackets. In some cases, I have back zippers removed and replaced. The tailor can do a a lot to reshape the dress when replacing the zipper.
I have pencil skirts thinned/slimmed at the bottom and butt darts added.
I have pants hemmed and waists taken in.
If skirts or dresses have pockets, I have them sewn shut.
My work and dress shoes have sole savers. I get heels reheeled, in some cases giving them a new life with a different thickness heel.
Jackets and blazers have sleeves taken up, work done on waist. You cannot get jacket shoulders done, or if someone is willing to do it, it costs a fortune. I have extra buttons put in on the front of jackets for options to secure the jacket.
I don’t iron or have shirts that require pressing. For dressy tops, I sometimes have necklines moved, keyholes sewn shut, and buttons replaced.
Make sure your tailor gives you some breathing room, some forgiveness. I have a few great pieces that only work when I am at my best shape. Most of my pieces allow for some monthly swings of 5-10 lb. This is especially helpful for busy swelling every month.
My biggest tip is to not be afraid to invest tailoring in an inexpensive garment. Especially if it’s a sturdy material like ponte or woven cotton, the quality will last and the fit will be way better with tailoring. I once took a patterned H&M pencil dress to my fancy schmancy expensive tailor, who proceeded to compliment me on the dress and was shocked to find out that it cost $35 at H&M. I spent $40 to get it slimmed down through the whole body (the next size down was skin-tight) and also shortened a bit since I’m petite. Totally worth it.
I get almost everything tailored. I’m 5″3 and with a bigger butt than top half. I get almost every dress taken up in the shoulders because I can never fill out the top. I’ve taken out flashy gold exposed zippers and replaced with matte black or even better, concealed. Every dress gets shortened to just above my knee and sometimes sleeves too, if I’m lucky to find a dress with long sleeves. I live in Germany and between my tailor’s broken English and my terrible German, sometimes it’s a surprise when I get the item back but it always looks much better than before. However, she thinks everything should be tight and I don’t, so I have to sneakily re-do the pins in the dressing room before handing it over for fixing.
I never thought of just taking off the heel on my shoes and putting on a different one; I need block heels because anything smaller gets stuck in cobblestones, so I have several pairs that I never wear and while the shoe part is comfy, the heel part is not practical. Using my terrible German, I may attempt to get this done with the cobbler in my village, who is conveniently 2 doors down from my tailor.
I have smaller hips in proportion to my waist, and find that often if pants fit my waist, they are too big in the hips and baggy in the seat. That is one alteration I have not had much luck with, I have ruined several pairs of pants trying to have the seat taken in. Now I buy pants that are too tight in the waist but have some stretch, and stretch the waist with a waist stretcher. If the material has some lycra or spandex, I can usually get at least an extra inch, sometimes 2, in the waist by just stretching.
An extra hidden snap in button-down shirts. And I get pockets removed altogether — it makes such a difference!
+1. I have removed the pockets from several button-up shirts; such a game changer.
I sew and do all alterations myself. I’m an hourglassy pear, so I’ve taken in waists on pants & skirts, taken in dresses hove the waist to the arm hole of dresses with cap or no sleeves. I’ve taken in waists on dresses and shirts. And I often buy long jeans and hem them, preserving the hem, so I can get the exact length I want, and because regular length jeans are often just barely too short. I’ve also turned a maxi length dress to knee length and sewn up slits that were too high.
Often for me it’s easier to just make my own pants or dress, especially fitted sheath dresses, so I can get the fit I want instead of altering an existing garment.