There's no faster way to look more put together and elegant than having a closet full of well-tailored clothes. But if you have a hard time finding pieces that fit you properly—from struggling with long pant hems or boxy blazers—know that there's an easy fix for that: A tailor!
Bringing your clothes into a trusted seamstress to be nipped and tucked can make all the difference, especially considering you can change the details that you don't find flattering. With a little bit of an investment, you can make your wardrobe fit better and feel more custom to not only your body type, but your style. Ahead are some tips when it comes to tailoring (that I learned from embarking on this alterations journey myself), as well as before and after transformations to give you an idea of what kind of magic can be worked.
A lot of people find their tailors through word of mouth, but if you're not lucky enough to have a friend that can recommend someone they swear by, then it's time to let Google do its thing. But don't just bop into the nearest dry cleaner: Really read the reviews. If someone is beyond pleased with their hemming, they will be moved to sing their praises in a review. Look for miracle workers: Those tailors that somehow made a dress size go up by two sizes, know how to sew silk, and are patient when you try to explain the look you're going for. (Example: I found my tailor when a woman wrote a review saying she somehow made her swimsuit fit better. Clearly she had skills.)
Try not to pinch too many pennies
While it's good to have a budget and stick to it, taking something to a tailor makes it an investment piece, meaning that sometimes it's worth spending the extra 10 or 20 dollars in order to get back alterations that really make a difference. Instead of bargain hunting for the cheapest deal, put a little bit more money aside and go to the tailor that is well recommended and has a rolodex of happy customers. Because if you find someone to hem your pants for $15 rather than $30, and you get back an ametueur job, you didn't really save any money. You wasted it.
Go in person for pricing
I asked my tailor for some advice on doing this right, and she said her biggest pet peeve is being asked for pricing over the phone. Her reasoning? There's no way to tell you how much it will cost or how much work will be involved without seeing the item in question. If you're shopping around for a tailor, have a few pieces ready that you would like to alter and earmark an afternoon to visit a handful of locations that were highly recommended to compare prices.
Bring in examples of your desired alterations
Chances are when you go to a hair salon, you don't plop down in a chair and tell your stylist to "do whatever." The same goes for your tailor. If you're trying to change the silhouette of a piece, it's helpful to bring in a photo or a physical garment that mimics that desired shape, so your tailor can precisely see what you're going for.
When pins start flying it can be intimidating to speak up and slow the process down. But if your tailor starts pinning and the piece starts taking a shape you haven't really envisioned, don't be afraid to speak up. The tailor won't be offended if they have to repin something! They'd rather get it right the first time.
So, now that you know some of the basics and are armed with straight-from-the-tailor's-mouth advice, it's time to dive in a little deeper. For instance, since alterations are an additional expense to your wardrobe budget, how do you know what's worth investing in? Well, since you asked....
What is worth investing in?
Any garment that can be better customized to fit your body is worth investing in, but one thing your tailor might recommend you to pump the brakes on is a dated piece. The reason isn't that they can't turn that '80s blazer into a black jacket you might see hanging in Madewell's store window. It's just that it will cost you more than what it would to buy a new one. If there are too many moving parts to alter (like tapering the arms, nipping in the waist, ripping out shoulder pads,) then your costs begin to add up. If it's just one or two small alterations, then it's worth it.
What makes the biggest impact?
When I asked my tailor this question, she said that just about any alteration that helps a piece custom-fit your body is a good alteration. But her favorite transformations are taperings. You can take outdated pants from the thrift store, and from anywhere between $12 to $40 turn them into sleek, elegant trousers that fit this year's style.
See if the store you bought your clothing piece offers free tailoring
Some department stores actually offer free tailoring (like Nordstrom!) so you can actually save yourself a step and some money by asking to have a suit, or dress, or pair of pants nipped in in-house. Just ask an attendant after you leave the dressing room to see if it's an option.
To give you an idea of just how much tailoring can transform a piece, here are three items I had customized to fit my style and body better:
1. Tapering Pants
When I saw these olive green, high waist pants at the thrift store, I immediately fell in love—both with the style and the three dollar price tag! But while I'm a sucker for high waist pants, the fit of the leg felt overly dated. To remedy that problem, I took them to my tailor and brought in a pair of tapered pants I already owned to show her just how I wanted them to fit. I put on the tapered pants first, explained how I loved that they were billowy and loose at the hips and became tight at the ankle, and then we pinned just how form-fitting I wanted the thrifted pants to get. The end result was fabulous. You can expect to pay anywhere between $20 and $40 for this specific alteration.
2. Hemming a Dress
If you don't like where the hem of a dress hits you on the legs—or you feel like a raised hem could feel a little more youthful or modern—getting it professionally raised is a great option. For my leg shape, I feel like wearing a midi cuts me at an awkward spot, so I opted to get this piece raised to around my knees instead. My tailor prices this between $20 to $40, depending on the material and style of the skirt.
3. Loosening Pants
Whether you found an amazing thrift store deal or a favorite pair of pants began to feel a little too snug, a tailor can actually gain you a pant size or two! Prices vary depending on where you go, but my tailor does it between $15 to $40, depending on how much work is involved and if they need to order material (or take the fabric from the piece itself). If it means you can wear your outfit without having your sides pinched, it's well worth the price for a favorite pair of pants (or a durable pair you bought for next to nothing at the thrift store)! I have no idea where she got the material off the pant to get it to button again, but I'm excited she found a way!
Tailors are miracle workers when it comes to upgrading your wardrobe, so definitely experiment and see what they could do for your own closet.