Nothing is sure in life but death and taxes. And among such dues is the tailoring tax; the price you must pay to look your best. But perhaps more important than paying your tailor is being able to communicate to him what you want.
So let's take a look at the most common alterations that you may need to look your best -- starting with jackets!
This is the most typical jacket alteration and is arguably the most crucial. Showing a 1/4 to 1/2 an inch of shirt cuff from beneath your jacket sleeve is the most widely recognized aspect of a well-fitted suit; aside from offering an aesthetically pleasing balance to the shirt collar visible atop the jacket, this detail communicates fastidiousness to even the most untrained eyes.
When a jacket has ornamental buttons, shortening the sleeve is a simple and relatively inexpensive alteration that averages $35.
If the jacket has functional buttonholes, this become a more complicated affair. A skilled tailor can shorten the sleeve from the shoulder, but this involves opening up the top of body of the jacket. Lesser tailors will refuse to perform this alteration altogether, while those who are capable will generally charge upwards of $75 for the task. For this reason, it's preferable to avoid jackets with functional buttonholes if the fit isn't perfect off the rack.
Lengthening sleeves can be done for a similar price as shortening, but the ability to do is limited by the amount of extra fabric on the inside of the sleeve. This is an alteration best avoided, unless you know there's room to play.
Tapering the sleeves to fit the forearms more snugly is less crucial than length but certainly enhances the appearance of a jacket. This will also cost around $35 on its own, or can be paired with shortening for a total for $60-$70.
When having the sleeves adjusted, make sure that you stand relaxed with your arms hanging by your side. If you use your shirt sleeve as a reference for length, make sure that it is buttoned to stop at the heel of your palm. If the shirt is sliding down your hand, then the jacket sleeve will be cut too long to show a bit of cuff on a shirt that fits properly.
If you don't have a long sleeved shirt for reference, have the jacket sleeve pinned to end at the bottom of your wrist bone. That will ensure that 1/4 - 1/2 inch of shirt cuff shows, assuming the shirt sleeve fits as it should.
"Waist suppression" is another common jacket alteration that gives the garment a more pronounced "V-shape." Along with this, the tailor may cut away excess fabric along the chest and back to remove unsightly folds. When being pinned for this alteration, it's good practice to make sure you've left enough space to comfortably fold your arms.
It's also possible to let a jacket out a bit, but that is limited by the amount of extra fabric left in the garment.
Alterations to the body of a jacket usually start at $75.
There are two main alterations to considered at the jackets collar: is it flush to the shirt collar and is there a roll at the the back?
The first is more crucial to avoid upon the initial purchase of your jacket: collar gap is rather unsightly and while it can be reduced with alteration, there are limitations to what even a good tailor can do. While you may get lucky, this should mostly be seen as damage reduction. Such alterations start at $45.
Collar roll, on the other hand, is an easy and relatively inexpensive fix. A tailor can remove the excess bunching of fabric for around $25.
Clean shoulders are a must for well-styled menswear! Your jackets shoulders should fall smoothly without crumples or divots. Because shoulder alterations are tricky and expensive, it’s often best not to buy jackets that don’t fit your shoulders off the rack. Yet a skilled tailor can work some magic if you are trying to salvage a jacket that you already own.
Removing shoulder pads is a relatively simple alteration that can alleviate issues caused by the jacket shoulders being misaligned with the wearers shoulders. More structure demands a more perfect fit in terms of width, armhole shape, and pitch than an a softer shoulder. Removing the structure can make the garment more forgiving in this area. Shoulder pad removal starts at $45.
It should also be noted that the sleeve will sit lower when it isn't held up by the padding, so it may be worth shortening the sleeve a quarter inch to compensate for that difference.
When the jacket shoulders are too wide, it's also possible to narrow them, but that’s a topic worthy of its own article. The short of it is that this can be done, but should only be trusted to a very skilled tailor, and it'll be pricey.
Again, you'll save yourself a lot of money and headache if you make sure a jackets shoulders fit off the rack before purchasing.
“Proper” jacket length is an oft-debated topic, as the historically correct answer can clash with the modern day style zeitgeist -- which in turn differs between the general population and menswear enthusiasts. If you don’t already have your own opinion about length, aim to have your jacket end at your crotch. If you’ve got longer legs, a longer jacket ending slightly past the crotch can balance your proportions. Conversely, the trend of slightly shorter jackets can serve those with a long torso and short legs.
Regarding alterations, a jacket can be made slightly shorter. The main limiting factor here is that bringing the bottom hem too close to the jackets pockets will throw off the proportions and look awkward. As such, the most one could conceivably get away with subtracting is an inch -- if that.
These alterations have been listed in order of simplicity and commonness. Nearly every jacket will need some sleeve shortening and a fair amount require waist suppression. When it comes to fit issues in the collar, length, and shoulders it's easiest to buy a different jacket that already fits in those areas. But if you've got a skilled tailor and some extra cash, further modification is possible.
Understanding proper fit and the contours you want to create goes a long way in determining whether a piece is worth buying and how to communicate with your tailor when having it altered. Additionally, having pictures ready on your phone to illustrate your desired outcome to the tailor will make your requests even more clear.
Stay tuned for an article on pants and trouser alterations as well!