A Guide to Clothing Alterations

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Small Changes to Breathe New Life into Your Wardrobe

Read on to find out which alterations are safe to undertake by yourself and which should be taken to a tailor.

We’ve all been there. We’ve bought an ill-fitting dress or shirt because we liked the pattern, or some detail, or because it was cheap…

However, there’s no need to despair. This is not a serious fashion faux-pas. As a matter of fact, this is not a fashion faux-pas at all. You can buy clothes on sale without the least concern about how they will look on you. The secret is to know how to alter thus acquired garments to make them fit like a glove.

Even if you happen to be a straight off-the-rack size, a few clever tucks or changes can make all the difference between frumpy and elegant. Fit is the most important aspect of style. If a garment doesn’t sit well on you, like it’s meant to be there, nothing else matters. You will be badly dressed.

On the other hand, if you master the art of alterations, you will be able to salvage many of the ill fitting garments in your wardrobe. You will also stop wondering why clothes fit celebrities, but not you.

The important thing is to know what can be done, plus what can be done by you, and what should be entrusted to a professional.

fashionFit for a Beginner

Here is a list of the changes you can confidently undertake yourself, even if you are a beginner and do not own a sewing machine:

  • Make a skirt, dress or pants shorter by altering the hem. Do note that a garment can also be made longer; however, this is a trickier operation because (a) you need to check that there’s enough allowance and (b) you must make sure that the ungainly old fabric fold will not show.

  • Insert a hidden snap to close a gaping ladies’ blouse. It is easy to make and can be of enormous value. Some well-endowed ladies have called this alteration nothing short of life-changing.

  • Also for ladies, another strategically positioned little snap will prevent bra straps from peaking out in a most unsightly manner. This little trick used to be standard on many vintage dresses.

  • Men often struggle to find a button-up shirt that fits properly off the rack. Usually, there is too much fabric that bunches up around the midsection, a problem that any gent wielding a needle can easily solve by shortening the shirt. Sometimes, you will also need to shorten the sleeves, an undertaking that is just a little more challenging.

  • Shirt (or blouse) too wide? Check to see whether the seams on the side of the body are straight. If yes, buy the garment with a clear conscience, because taking a straight seam in at the sides is one of the easiest clothing fixes there is.

  • Love the pants (or pencil skirt), but the on-seam pockets just don’t look right? Simply sew them shut and cut them out from the inside to streamline the hips. The added bonus on while pants or pencil skirts is: no pocket outlines. True, this operation eliminates usable pockets, but do you know anyone who ever looked good walking around with anything stuffed in their pockets?

Of Intermediate Skills

You should probably undertake the following alternations only if you are fairly confident with sewing and if you own a sewing machine:

  • Shortening the hem of jeans is something most people shy away from, because it is difficult to replicate the original stitching. The solution is to leave the original hem and take out the bit just above it. First, mark the desired length with a pin. Then cuff the legs up (so they are inside out) until the original hem is right above the pin. Use another pin to secure the cuff into place. Sew right below the original hem, taking care not to sew through any part of it. Check that you are happy with the result, and only then cut off the bottom fold of excess fabric, flip the original hem down and press it into place. Your jeans will not only fit properly, but also look as if they came from the store that way.

  • Pants often gain a lot by having the waist adjusted at the back seam and the legs tapered along the inner and outer seam, resulting in a more flattering, streamlined silhouette. This requires careful measuring, as well as sewing machine stitching. Do note that you can't make a pair of wide-leg pants into leggings.

  • Shirts often benefit from having the boring straight hem changed to a curved style, which creates a more interesting, flattering silhouette. This alteration also allows you to tuck your top into a tight skirt or pant with minimal bunching.

  • Sometimes, a sleeveless garment can hang down a little too low, showing the sides of the bra on women. The easy, inexpensive fix is to take it up at the shoulder seam. Do note that this will automatically raise the neckline and the underarm seam, making the circumferences smaller.

  • There are few things that can uglify a garment as much as a zip of wrong colour. Replacing it is not as easy as it might look at a first glance, but this is a skill worth perfecting, because those pesky thingies tend to break down. 

Leave It to a Pro

clothing alterationsTake your alterations-needy garment to a professional tailor in these instances:

  • When you want to improve the fit of a blouse, a skirt or of a pair of pants by the insertion of darts. Darts take in the most fabric at the starting point and gradually go down to zero. This is best left to a professional because the operation involves redoing the side seams or the waist area, as the case might be.

  • Any alterations on a jacket, especially if it is around the shoulder area, require the professional touch. In fact, some people say that if a jacket you otherwise love in every other detail needs the shoulders fixed… leave it on the rack!

  • If new lining is indicated on a jacket or a dress, this is clearly a job for a tailor.

  • Alternations involving removing and reattaching the sleeve are tricky. Often, the sleeves won't hang right afterward… unless the intervention is performed by a tailor, that is.

  • The replacement of the invisible zip on your cocktail dress is also best left to a pro. And if that dress happens to be just a bit too tight, consider a wide exposed zip instead. You will breathe more easily, and people are likely to complement you on the whimsical style detail.

Unless you are very skilled, the general rule is to take to a tailor everything that’s expensive and / or of high quality, because you really do not want to ruin a fine silk dress or a designer skirt. Other than that, allow yourself the freedom to play. Just remember to wash and dry your garment before taking it in – and to measure, measure, and measure once more before cutting.

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