Readers, we know you like quality stuff that’s built to last, and helping you find the best threads is our raison d’etre. But what happens when those super-duper-rare jeans, from the farthest corner of Japan, land on your doorstep and don’t fit the way you expected them to? Send them back and live a life of regret over the top-notch selvedge denim that wasn’t meant to be? Certainly not.To help you make sure this never happens, we’ve rounded up the best guidance on finding someone to alter your clothes, along with all the fit dilemmas that a tailor can help you solve.
The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Clothes Alterations
We could go on for days about the history of tailoring and alterations, so let’s cut a very long story short and touch on the basics. During wartime eras, clothes and household items weren’t as readily available as they are now, so it was common to ‘make do and mend’ everything from socks to dishcloths. Most people had a partner, friend, or trusted seamstress with the skills to do it, and ditching a perfectly good garment, just because it was a touch too big, was relatively unheard of.
Unfortunately, from the ’90s onwards, demand for garment alterations and repairs declined significantly. Why? Well, since then, it’s become possible to buy brand new clothes for less than the price of having your old faithful ones mended. In fact, it might even be easier and more convenient to snap up fresh items from a low-cost retailer, but the basic quality of them means you’ll find yourself back where you started in no time.
The good news is that in the last five years, online searches for phrases like ‘sustainable fashion’, ‘clothes alterations near me’, and ‘clothes repairs’ have been steadily increasing, proving that there’s still a definite interest in skilled sewers.
What Can I Have Altered?
If you’ve got this far and the word ‘tailor’ is still conjuring visions of guys on Wall Street, then rest assured that almost everything in your existing wardrobe can be altered, repurposed or reconstructed, given the right know-how.
You could have pleats or even sleeves removed, elastic added into the waistband of your shorts, the list is endless. Or perhaps your sizing has changed and the pants you once loved now resemble MC Hammer’s finest; having an expert update them will save you investing in a whole new closet. Don’t forget, clothes can be taken out just as they can be taken in, and most pants, for example, are made with extra fabric in the side seams to allow for adjustments.
Since most clothes are cut for ‘standard’ body shapes, there’s an abundance of easy fixes that can improve and personalize off-the-rack threads. These amendments could include taking a jacket in at the waist, shortening the overall length to sit at the right place on your hips, or neatening the fit of your pants if the seat is too baggy or the legs too wide.
Alterations aren’t just limited to fit, either—replacing unsightly buttons with some nice vintage ones is a common ask, as is replacing the lining of an old coat that’s still got years of wear left in it.
On Finding a Tailor Worth their Salt
Before embarking on a quest to find a tailor (we’ll get to that in a minute), first decide whether to use a local business or a mail-off service. The latter will save you time and hassle and will likely have plenty of reviews to share, so it’s ideal for simple jobs like patching up a hole in knitwear, mending a tear in fabric or shortening pants.
Obviously, you won’t get the same personalized assistance that you would from someone in your neighborhood, which is why more complex tasks, such as taking in shoulders or making a garment roomier, are best discussed in person, where a professional can measure you up and make an informed judgment.
Ultimately, one of the best ways to find a tailor is through word-of-mouth—if you’ve got a friend whose clothing always fits perfectly, then chances are they’ve got a good contact up their sleeve. But if your network doesn’t offer up any suggestions, then scour local directories, Yelp, online forums, and social media, where you’ll find dedicated groups, marketplaces and posts. There’s also a handful of new digital enterprises, such as The Seam (which operates like Uber but for tailors) to consider.
Keep in mind that not every sewer has the same skill-set, and while some might be adept at darning and repairing denim, others might have specialist leather machining knowledge, so make sure you find the right person for the job. Don’t be afraid to go and have a chat with potential tailors before commissioning them. It’s only then that you’ll really get an idea of how they work and build a relationship where they’ll be happy to suggest all kinds of tweaks for your clothes.
As with most things, it’s a wise idea to get the lowdown on any business before trusting it with your treasured items. Seek out honest reviews and ask to see some examples of previous alterations or repairs that are, ideally, very similar to your item. When you’re looking at these pieces, pay close attention to the quality of the sewing. Are the seams an even width from start to finish? Is the fabric around the stitching smooth or is it puckered? And how do the proportions of the garment look?
If you’re not completely convinced then don’t hand over your favorite sashiko pants straight off the bat, instead, have them work on an initial test piece. A good tailor will not only understand how to alter a garment on a basic level, but how to adjust the fit and silhouette in accordance with your body shape. If one of your shoulders is slightly higher than the other, for example, then accommodating this measurement in a jacket alteration makes a world of difference to the final outcome.
If you’ve got a pile of odd jobs that includes basic alterations like missing buttons and minor tears, then you might want to dip into our DIY guides before hunting down an alterations service. But, if you’ve done your research and finally found a match, then don’t be a stranger!
Log their details in your contacts, find out their favorite tipple, and keep in touch, because chances are you’ll be relying on this person for years to come.