Enjoy Fashion

Tailoring 101: Where to Go and What to Ask

Zoe Fisher  |  August 9, 2021

Yes, tailored clothing can be gorgeous + spectacular in every way… But is it worth the cost, and what do you really need? We break it down.

It’s no secret – when your clothes feel and look good, you feel and look good! And when you feel less-than-put-together, it’s time to seek out a fix. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of “shortcuts” when it comes to good tailoring — it’s not something we can do ourselves unless we’re an accomplished seamstress, and it’s also not something most of us have the money for often. Thankfully, there are ways you can get the finishing touches you need on your wardrobe without spending a fortune. We checked in with stylists and fashion experts for their best tips on the nips and tucks your closet needs most, and where to go when you need a helping hand. 

Talk To Your Dry Cleaner If…

When deciding on where to go for alterations, you’ve got to weigh costs and benefits. If you just want a hem fixed, or a slight alteration, just go to your trusty dry cleaner. Style coach Megan LaRussa Chenoweth of Style Yourself Chic says, “A dry cleaner is the perfect place to drop off a shirt that has lost its button, or a pair of pants if a hem has fallen out. For basic hemming of pants and jeans, a dry cleaner can often do the trick.” (If you’re not sure what proper hemming should look like, check out Chenowith’s video on choosing the perfect length pants for your height!) 

Go to a Professional Tailor or Seamstress If…

In some cases, certain garments require professional attention. Visit a professional tailor or seamstress if you wish to have an investment garment altered, such as a wedding gown or an expensive designer piece. A tailor can help adjust the fabric to better fit your silhouette, properly hem a tricky hemline, or stitch up a too-low neckline. If the fabric is delicate, perhaps velvet, leather or suede, you might need to consider a professional who has experience handling such pieces. If the garment is an investment piece, make sure you conserve some of the precious material for future alterations. According to Robin Chalfin, owner of Toolkit Tailoring Studio, a good tailor will always leave some seam allowance inside when working on a hemline. “This allows the fabric to be let in and taken out over time, based on your need,” says Chalfin. And remember to plan ahead when going into alterations. Bring the shoes you plan to wear with the pants or skirt you wish to alter –  that way there are no too-short or too-long surprises when it’s finally time to show it off.  

Do Your Research

Prices for dry cleaners and professional tailors will vary according to where you live. In a larger city, you’ll pay more than you would in a small town or rural area. No matter where you live, however, certain alterations should never break your bank. According to Megan Chenoweth, simple fixes like a small hem, button or zipper replacement, or mending a split seam, should generally cost you no more than $20. If you are going to a dry cleaner, find out if they will be making the alterations on-site. If not, you could be charged a higher fee to include transportation costs. If that is the case, it might be cost effective to simply go to a professional tailor. Yelp, Citysearch, and Google reviews are great tools for searching for a trustworthy professional to alter your favorite pieces. 

Form a Relationship 

A tailor should play the same trusted role in your life as a good hair stylist. They will be tasked with caring for very important aspects of your personal vision of yourself. When you are a regular customer, the tailor will get to know your silhouette and your preferences. According to Robin Chalfin, “When you form a relationship with a tailor, they will become familiar and know what looks good on your body.” No two bodies are the same, so having someone who understands your wants, your needs, and your personal vision is crucial. 

Hold Your Ground

Do not hesitate to tell your tailor exactly what you want. Alison Bruhn, co-founder of The Style That Binds Us, says, “You have to be your own best advocate. You have to go in from the very beginning and say, ‘This is what I want to do.’” Ultimately, it’s your money and your body. Your goal is to look and feel better, so do not be afraid to communicate your vision. And make sure you ask upfront what the alterations are expected to cost. A tailor will often take into account the difficulties involved with the fabric, the intricacy of the alterations, and the possible time commitment in determining a final quote. “Department stores,” Chenoweth notes, “should have a price list on display in their fitting room area. If they don’t, ask to see a copy to ensure you know how much the tailoring will cost before leaving your garments with them.” If it is later determined that more alterations are needed, insist that the tailor contact you before proceeding to explain the changes, and the increase in cost, if any. 

Know When It’s Worth It

Who hasn’t found a great piece, at a great price, but it’s two sizes too big, or the sleeves look weird, or the hem is just too short? Although it may be possible to adjust the piece, it may not be wallet-wise in the long run. According to Chenoweth, “If the garment needs major alterations or reworking, then oftentimes it is not worth the money or effort.” However, if you do fall in love with something that fits your wallet, but doesn’t quite fit your body, it could be worth it to splurge a little on the alterations, and create your own couture. In most circumstances, though, as Chenoweth notes, “It is better to find something else that doesn’t require quite so much work.”
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