Style

Tailoring 101: What, how, when

Anna Chin of Anna's Alterations checks the blouse of Karen Ferebee while making alterations at her McMullen Creek Market shop.
Anna Chin of Anna's Alterations checks the blouse of Karen Ferebee while making alterations at her McMullen Creek Market shop. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Tailors can do magic: They can make cheap clothes look expensive. They can create a clean silhouette out of a shapeless shirt. They can take identical size 10 dresses and make one fit wide hips and a small waist, and the other fit a wide waist and small hips.

From shirts to pants, blazers to bathing suits, bras to wedding dresses, there is no piece of clothing that cannot be taken in, let out, hemmed up or down, or altered in some way to enhance the look of its wearer.

“At the end of the day your 6s, 8s and 10s are standard sizes,” says personal stylist Felicia Bittle. “Women don’t come in standard sizes. In order to make you look better in your clothing, I want it to fit you in the way your body is shaped.”

At the end of the day your 6s, 8s and 10s are standard sizes. Women don’t come in standard sizes.

Stylist Felicia Bittle

Having your clothing fitted by a good tailor can also expand your choices when you shop.

“When you get something off the rack, don’t put it back if the sleeves or hem are too long,” says wardrobe stylist Erica Hanks. “A lot of times those are easy fixes. Those pieces of clothing might be exactly what you want.”

Anna Chin of Anna’s Alterations has been in the business for 25 years. While trends change, today the most common thing she is asked to alter are blue jeans. Other hot items include wedding and prom dresses.

Shirts are often candidates because they are boxy, which is amended by removing some of the fabric under the arms and adding a tuck to the waist. Chin says some shirts are made so that the collar can be flipped when it is too worn.

Pants can be hemmed, taken in or out at the waist, or the leg seam adjusted. Chin notes that wide-bottom pants should be tailored to cover the shoe, but skinny jeans look best when they are ankle length or shorter. The height of the waist of a pair of pants determines the height of the crotch. “The roomier the pants, the shorter the inseam,” says Chin. She recommends measuring the outseam for greater accuracy.

If a woman is only going to have one piece of a suit altered, Bittle suggests it be the blazer.

When you get something off the rack, don’t put it back if the sleeves or hem are too long... Those pieces of clothing might be exactly what you want.

Stylist Erica Hanks

“When people look at each other, they go from top to bottom – and also you can intermingle that blazer with other things,” she says.

Dresses are often altered for length. Sometimes the shoulders are too big. Petite women can have the waistline on a dress lifted when the torso is too long. “A lot of altering dresses is just lifting up the top,” says Chin.

A tailor can even revive a piece in your wardrobe that has become tiresome. “If you don’t love the buttons that come on a jacket, you can find buttons you love and have someone sew them on to create your own personal piece,” says Hanks.

As to how to choose a tailor, Hanks advises gradual immersion: “Take something small, and if they do a great job, take something a little more expensive.” Bittle notes that most department stores have tailors that are available to the public.

Prices are determined by labor. For example, the price of hemming and taking in a dress is determined by how many layers of lining it has, whether there is a zipper, how full the dress is, and whether any details like cording need to be removed and resewn. The price range of hemming pants at Anna’s Alterations is $8 to $10, taking in a shirt is $10 to $14, and the company has altered wedding dresses for as little as $80 and as much as $500.

What shouldn’t be tailored?

“Maybe an heirloom that you are deciding whether or not to take apart,” says Hanks.

“I wouldn’t tailor anything where it costs more to tailor than the actual item itself,” says Bittle.

Even tailors sometimes turn away business. “People who lost way too much weight and you have to remake the whole garment, I say, ‘Just retire this garment and go shop for another,’” says Chin.

Hanks can tell when a woman has had her clothing tailored.

“It’s not sagging, it’s not pulling, it makes everything look more put together, and helps make your outfit look more expensive, too,” she says.

Bittle agrees. “You know how you see women who are pulling down their dresses? Those are the women who should get their clothing tailored. You shouldn’t be fidgeting in your outfit like that.”

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