There’s nothing so frustrating as having a closetful of clothes and nothing to wear.
Maybe you’ve lost some weight and everything in your closet just hangs on you. Maybe you bought a bunch of clearance sale shirts at deep discounts, but every time you try them on, you remember the sleeves are too long. Or maybe your closet is full of formerly trendy garments that now make you look like you’re stuck in the past.
This situation isn’t as hopeless as it sounds. With the help of a good tailor, you can turn all these near misses into perfect fits. A tailor can take in those too-big pants, shorten those shirt sleeves, and even update those oversize jackets with a slimmer, more modern silhouette. And you’ll spend much less than you would buying a whole new wardrobe.
How Much Clothing Alterations Cost
The cost of alterations varies quite a lot. Some jobs involve much more complex sewing than others and therefore cost more. But even for the same job, the price depends on where you live and what kind of tailor shop you use.
As such, it’s difficult to give alteration costs that apply broadly. But if you scour the Internet for ranges for specific tasks, you find that prices for common alterations typically fall into these wide ranges:
- Hemming Pants, Skirts, or Dresses: Hemming costs between $10 and $45. Note that linings and pleats add more to the cost of hemming a skirt.
- Shortening Sleeves: Sleeve shortening costs from $10 to $60. Jacket sleeves cost more than shirt sleeves, and jackets with buttons and linings cost more than plain ones. Also, shortening the sleeves of a jacket from the shoulder costs more than shortening them at the cuff, but jackets with decorative sleeves may require shortening from the shoulder.
- Adjusting a Waistband: If your waistband is too big or small, it will cost between $10 and $45 to adjust it. Pants or skirts with linings cost more than unlined ones. If you have the waist on a pair of pants adjusted, you may need to alter the seat and crotch as well, increasing the cost.
- Taking In a Dress Shirt: You can fix too-big dress shirts for $15 to $35.
- Turning or Replacing a Shirt Collar: Shirt collars can wear out and make the whole shirt look dingy. To fix it, you must turn it (literally take it off and sew it back on so the better-looking back is now the front) or completely replace it. Those services cost between $30 and $50.
- Taking In a Suit Jacket, Blazer, or Vest: For $20 to $90, you can take in a suit jacket, blazer, or vest. Jackets with three seams cost more than those with two. Taking in the sleeves costs an additional $20 to $40, and adjusting the shoulders costs between $75 and $150.
- Taking In a Sheath Dress: Sheath dresses cost $25 to $50 to take in.
- Replacing a Zipper or Buttons: Replacing zippers and buttons is relatively easy, so the cost is generally only $10 to $25.
- Replacing the Lining on a Garment: Replacing the lining on any garment can be pricey at $50 and up.
Ways Clothing Alterations Can Save You Money
Alterations aren’t cheap, but they can save you money in the long run under the right circumstances. You just need to know when making your old clothes wearable again can save you a bundle on new clothes and when it’s best to donate your old clothes to charity and buy something new.
1. Get a Custom Fit for Less
Retailers sell clothes made to fit a generic body, with measurements that fall close to the average. But real bodies aren’t one-size-fits-all. Each person’s measurements are slightly different, so when you buy off the rack, the best you can usually hope for is a fit that’s “good enough.”
By having your off-the-rack purchases altered, you can make them fit like they were made for you for a fraction of the cost of real custom clothing.
For instance, you can buy a suit on sale for $200. Perhaps it doesn’t fit just right, so you have the jacket and jacket sleeves taken in, the waistband on the pants altered, and the sleeves shortened. All told, the suit plus the cost of tailoring could come to around $405.
Now, compare that to the cost of a custom-made suit. Chicago tailor Nicholas Joseph Hansen tells CNBC he charges anywhere from $800 to $1,800 for a made-to-measure suit constructed to fit the buyer’s exact measurements. The price of the altered off-the-rack suit is only 22% to 50% as much, depending on what alterations you need.
Even that’s far from the most you could spend on a suit. To get that $800 price point, Hansen explains he has to have the sewing done overseas, where labor is much cheaper. A “bespoke” suit — one that’s custom-fitted and sewn in the tailor’s Chicago shop — costs between $2,800 and $4,800. Compared to a bespoke suit, an altered one is only 8% to 14% as much.
2. Adjust Clothes to Shifts in Size
Not only is your body different from everyone else’s, but it also doesn’t always stay the same from one year to the next. If you’ve lost 10 pounds in the past year, the pants that fit you fine last winter are likely to look a bit baggy this winter. But with just a minor adjustment, you can make them a perfect fit once again.
A good pair of wool dress pants purchased off the rack at a place like Banana Republic (well made but not overly expensive) can cost between $100 and $200 new. Spending $40 to take in the waistband on your old pants could save you anywhere from 60% to 80% over buying new ones.
In some cases, a tailor can even adjust clothes in the opposite direction. If you’ve put on a few pounds, they can “let out” a garment in the waist, chest, or neck to give you more breathing room. However, that’s only possible if the garment has extra fabric in the seams.
3. Update the Look of Old Clothes to Stay in Style
Fashion changes from year to year, and clothes with plenty of life left in them sometimes end up in the give-away pile because they look dated. But often, all it takes is a minor alteration to bring them up to date.
For instance, you can update the look of a garment by:
- Raising a Hemline. In 2020, The Guardian reported that midi-length skirts and dresses (with calf-length hemlines) had given way to a length slightly above the knee. You could pay $50 to $100 for a new skirt in this length, or you could simply shorten an old midi-skirt for around $35 and keep wearing it.
- Removing Shoulder Pads. Do you have an old suit jacket with those giant ‘80s shoulder pads lurking in your closet? Rather than spend around $200 replacing it with a new jacket, have those shoulders removed for around $100.
- Replacing Buttons. Even just replacing the buttons with a more modern style can give a garment a fresh look. Instead of buying a whole new coat for $100 or more, get your tailor to swap out the buttons for $20. You can even do this job yourself with a needle and thread and some basic sewing skills — no sewing machine required.
4. Tailor Your Clothes to Keep Yourself Decent
Minor alterations can keep your clothes from slipping, sliding, and gaping in ways that expose a bit more than you’d like. For instance, busty ladies can add tiny snaps between a shirt’s buttons to keep it neatly closed. Women with narrow shoulders can add small loops with a snap on one end to thread through their bra straps to prevent their tops’ shoulders from slipping down.
Minor fixes like these aren’t too expensive. One user at Corporette says she had snaps added to a blouse for only $5 in 2011. Adjusted for inflation, that would come to around $6 in 2021. By contrast, replacing a blouse could cost anywhere from $20 to $50, not to mention all the time required to find exactly the right fit.
5. Take Advantage of Clothing Deals That Don’t Quite Fit
Sometimes, you find a truly exquisite bargain on a sale rack or in a thrift store like Goodwill, but it just doesn’t quite fit. Rather than passing up the deal, you can take it to a tailor and have the garment altered to fit. If the price is low enough, the total cost, even after alterations, can be less than paying retail.
For instance, my husband once found a secondhand suit at a consignment shop for $59. The jacket fit him perfectly, but the pants were too big, so we had them taken in and hemmed for $35. Altogether, we paid less than $100 for a suit I later discovered would have cost $650 retail.
6. Save Your Favorite Worn-Out Garments
Occasionally, you have a beloved old garment you just can’t replace for any amount of money.
Discarding these old favorites can be heartbreaking, but sometimes, a tailor can save them for you. In some cases, extending the life of a worn-out garment is as simple as replacing a lining or turning a worn collar. A fix like this can keep your irreplaceable garment alive for between $30 and $100.
In extreme cases, a skilled tailor can keep your old favorites alive by making exact copies of them. It’s a pricey service, but for a garment you adore and can’t replace, it can be worth it.
Getting the Most for Your Money
Alterations are only worth the money if you actually like the result. If the tailor doesn’t do a good job or you didn’t really like the garment much to begin with, then all you have at the end is a lighter wallet and a piece you still don’t want to wear.
To get the best value for alterations, you need to start with two things: a good tailor and a piece of clothing that’s worth the trouble of altering.
How to Find a Good Tailor
The most challenging part of getting alterations done is finding the right tailor. Many dry cleaners offer tailoring services, but style blog Alterations Needed says these tailors usually can’t handle anything beyond a simple hemming job. I found the same thing when I took a coat to two local dry cleaners to have the sleeves reset and they both claimed it was impossible.
Many department stores also provide on-site tailoring. These tailors usually have decent skills and low prices. But Alterations Needed says they’re usually rushed, overworked, and not that interested in your particular needs as a client. Men’s style site Dappered agrees, saying you need “a tailor that is your tailor,” one who knows your likes and dislikes.
Unless you’re incredibly lucky, you’re not going to find the right tailor by simply searching the Internet for “tailors near me” and picking a listing at random. Instead, follow these commonsense steps to find the right person for the job.
1. Ask Around
Many sources say the best way to find a good tailor is to talk to people you know. Alterations Needed recommends asking “chic ladies” or “impeccably dressed men” who alters their clothes. The author of Dappered says that even for men, women are usually the best people to ask, noting that he found his superb tailor through one of his wife’s former co-workers.
According to Alterations Needed, you can also ask high-end clothing stores where they send their clients for tailoring since they’re likely to recommend only the best. Online style forums are another place to look for recommendations of tailors in your area.
2. Check Reviews
If you don’t have anyone to ask, search local review sites like Yelp and CitySearch for phrases such as “tailors” or “alterations.” Look at the tailors who earn the highest overall reviews and see what people like and dislike about them. Pay extra attention to reviews from other people with your particular body type, such as petite or stalky.
3. Look for Experience
If you’re altering a garment made with a material that’s particularly hard to work with, such as leather or fur, look for a tailor who specializes in these fabrics. Likewise, if you’re seeking alterations on an expensive designer garment, look for an experienced tailor who regularly works with that kind of clothing.
Kendall Farr, author of “The Pocket Stylist,” recommends looking for tailors who advertise themselves as specialists in custom menswear — even if you’re female. A tailor who can make a custom men’s suit from scratch, she says, can easily handle even the trickiest alterations.
4. Examine Their Work
Before hiring a tailor, ask to look at the clothes hanging on the racks awaiting pickup. Scrutinize each piece to ensure the work looks good.
For instance, stitches should be neat and even, with no pulling or puckering. Hems and sleeves should be even. It shouldn’t be possible to tell, from the outside, that the garment has been altered at all. Extra Petite, a style blog for petite women, offers a detailed guide to discerning good alterations from shoddy ones.
5. Start Small
Don’t entrust a complicated job, such as taking in a winter coat, to a tailor you’ve never used before. Instead, start with something small and straightforward, like hemming a pair of pants or taking in a waistline. Once you’ve seen the tailor does competent work with these smaller jobs, you can feel more confident about handing over a difficult or expensive one.
Knowing What to Alter
Many fashion mavens say only high-quality clothes are worth the effort of altering because cheap ones don’t last long enough to justify the investment. The author of Alterations Needed laments that she has had inexpensive tops shortened in the past only to end up tossing them because a few washes left them so severely pilled or faded they were unwearable.
And even an expensive designer jacket is never going to look good on you if it’s in a color or style that just doesn’t flatter you. Style experts say it’s only worth altering clothes you love and will wear often enough to get your money’s worth out of the alterations.
When deciding whether to take a particular garment to the tailor, Extra Petite suggests asking yourself the following questions:
- Do You Love It? Don’t alter something you feel lukewarm about. Ask yourself how often you’ll really wear this garment if you alter it. If it doesn’t flatter you or fill a genuine wardrobe need, it’s not worth the expense.
- Is It Worth It? Consider the total cost of the garment plus alterations — ideally before you buy it. For instance, if a dress costs $50 and needs $50 in alterations to fit you properly, don’t buy it unless it’s worth $100 to you. But even if you’ve already bought your “bargain,” don’t pay $50 more to alter it unless the result will be worth the extra cost.
- Can Your Tailor Handle It? Think about how much work the garment needs and ask yourself whether you trust your tailor to handle the job. Even basic alterations require a competent tailor. Complex ones, such as taking in shoulders, altering the design of a garment, or shifting it more than two sizes up or down, are risky even with a good tailor.
If you’re unsure how to answer the third question, Extra Petite recommends going back to the first question and reconsidering just how much you love the garment. If you truly adore it and think it’s well worth the cost, then it’s probably worth taking a risk. Just be prepared for the possibility that the results won’t be perfect.
Keep in mind that some alterations are beyond the skill of even the most competent tailor. For example, sweaters are usually knitted on machines, and cutting and resewing them never yields a smooth result. Extremely delicate fabrics, such as chiffon and lamé, are also likely to disintegrate if you tamper with the original seams.
Finally, any piece with a very defined silhouette or elaborate details is almost impossible to alter. It’s essentially trying to rebuild the entire garment from the ground up.
Finding a trustworthy tailor opens a whole new world of possibilities for clothes shopping. Suddenly, the question to ask yourself in the fitting room is not, “Does this fit me?” but, “Could this be made to fit me?”
For instance, if you find yourself stuck between two sizes, with a medium being too small and a large being too big, that’s no longer a deal-breaker. You now have the option of buying the large and turning it into a medium-large, the perfect size and fit for you.
Of course, when shopping this way, you need to factor the cost of the alterations into your calculations. An oversize vest that looks like a great deal at $17 looks a lot less impressive when you tack on an extra $25 to have it taken in.
But a $15 pair of thrift shop dress pants that needs only $10 worth of hemming to make it look like a $60 pair is still a steal. For a frugal shopper, it’s one of the best ways to save money on new clothes and still look terrific.