An Easy Alteration - Tapering the shape of a skirt or dress

As I am headed home for Thanksgiving, this will be my last post for the week. To my US readers: have a wonderful holiday! And don't forget about Black Friday deals. I am envious of those who live in the NYC and the LA area, near the supposedly awesome Woodbury Common and Desert Hills Premium Outlets. I've never been to either but I hear their Thanksgiving Midnight Madness is truly madness!

So ever since I found a good tailor whom I can trust, my outlook on shopping has changed. Instead of asking "Will this fit?" I now ask "Does this have the potential to fit?" Now, whenever I see something nice on eBay for a good price, I make mental alterations to see what can be done, if needed.

This is a Theory Gamia combo dress that I found on eBay in a size 0 last month. It's nothing special in the pics, but I thought it had the potential to become a welcome addition to my winter work wardrobe. The top is a knit black stretch fabric (which, from past experience, I was pretty sure would fit me) and the bottom is a unique gray and black textured material over an ivory underlay.
I instantly took a dislike, however, to the full and swingy A-line skirt. Unless it's Halloween and I'm a 50's poodle girl, I try to stay away from such skirts as they tend to overwhelm tiny petites.

It even looks too full and matronly for the Theory model who is probably at least 5'10" plus heels, so imagine how it looked on me. Unfortunately, this was when I just started blogging, so I wasn't yet in the habit of taking before-and-after pics.
I figured that the skirt would be an easy alteration, and went ahead and bought the dress. When I tried it on at Hemmingway Tailors, they instantly tsk tsk tsk'd at the huge skirt and started pinning away. They recommended shortening to right above the knee, and changing the A-line to a more tapered shape. Click "Read More" to see the end result.

New Jacket Reveal - Burberry Part 4 - Felted Plaid Jacket

I've been seeing flannel and plaid jackets everywhere this year, most ubiquitously at retailers like H&M, Forever 21, and Urban Outfitters which cater to youngsters. I have to admit, the trend does seems to look best on those with "grungy chic" style, paired with their skinny jeans and worn-out vans slip-ons. I less often see it done right as part of a professional wardrobe. For something that's on-trend yet stylish and work-appropriate, I turned to the master of both check and outerwear: Burberry!

Although there was a large selection at the Burb store, I came in with predetermined requirements. I knew what I didn't want: no logo Nova check, no shiny materials, no long length (all my coats are long!). Features that I wanted: warm, flannel-like material, style that could be worn for both work and casual, in a nice monochromatic color scheme.

There was only 1 item at the store that met all of my above requirements, and... I happened to love it!
A felted jacket in navy, gray, and charcoal plaid immediately caught my eye amongst the more conservative and classic offerings by Burberry this year. Although classic is timeless, sometimes you just want something a little more interesting. The jacket I found was warm and cozy, and made edgier by lots of heavy duty zippers and hardware. I tried on a size 2 and although it was a little big, I could tell it was definitely workable. The shoulders - very 1st thing I look at - fit perfectly and all the proportions seemed on-point, or at least alterable. Even if the buttons or belt loop placements were off, those could have been easily altered.

During the fitting, I requested the torso be slimmed, and the sleeves shortened and slimmed. As I had expected (and feared), the tailors said the only alteration they believed was needed was the shortening of the sleeves. Since they've done this to me before, I came prepared this time and was determined not to be a pushover again! I also wonder since the alterations are complimentary (for full retail priced items), whether they are used to pushing for as little adjustments as possible. Although I valued their opinion, I wanted the alterations done right the first time - per my own preferences. After some more bickering, the head tailor agreed, muttering under his breath about how it was going to cost one of his staff an entire day's work. He then barked at my SA for a smaller size, but Burberry currently does not carry petite coats nor sizes below a 2 in the US.

Anyways, the haggling with the tailor was well worth it, because I was very pleased with the end result. They did a meticulous alteration job, especially with the realignment of the check pattern and working with the hardware.

Thanks to my friend, I was able to sneak in some "before" photos in the fitting room to show the alterations : )

Front (Sleeves shortened and slimmed. Sleeve buckles were removed and reattached, zippers were cut and re-clamped):
Before --> After

Before --> After

Back (torso was taken in 1 inch along each of the two back seams, where the belt loops are, to create more of a "waist" shape):
Before --> After

End result, belted - love it for casual wear with skinny jeans and ankle boots:

Or for going to work with slim-cut pants and pumps:

Burb is all about the details:

So to summarize, some tips for petite women shopping for a coat:

1. Ask a knowledgeable sales associates to recommend slim-cut styles or cuts that run small for the season. I do this at Burberry and the Theory outlet and have gotten a few good recommendations out of it.

2. Make sure that the shoulders fit and that the unalterable aspects (collar size comes to mind) are right. Although I've had both done, shoulder and lapel alterations are difficult and costly - often not worth the risk. Coat length and width are usually alterable, but make sure you go to a good tailor and expect to pay anywhere from $40 to the hundreds.

3. Know the way you like things to fit, and make sure you get the exact alterations you want despite what the tailor says. Definitely take their suggestions into consideration, but in the end you are the one paying for and wearing the coat so there should be no reason to make compromises.

Although, I admit I used to have tiny-fit syndrome. I was so sick of having ill-fitting clothes that I would get everything altered almost skin tight. With alterations, it's helpful to leave a little leeway (or ask the tailor to maintain a seam allowance) in case of future changes in tastes or weight gain : )

4. If you're interested in a new coat and happen to be in the Boston area, go, go, go to my sales associate (John Doherty). He's been at Burberry forever and knows womens trench coats and outerwear unlike anyone I've ever met. John works Tuesday through Sunday at the 2 Newbury St store, and it's better to go during weekdays for a peaceful shopping experience. I usually call in just to make extra sure he's working before I make the trip.

Aside from him being the coat guru, I love John because he treats everyone with the same respect regardless of spending ability - now wouldn't it be nice if all SA's were that way? I used to visit that store as a poor college student, decked out in A&F and H&M, clearly with no intention to spend money. Regardless, John treated me equally if not better than the lady with the 3 Chanel shopping bags. Now that I'm an actual customer, he has also dissuaded me from buying something that he does not think looks great on me (point in hand - I was at JCrew this weekend couldn't resist trying on the Carlin coat. It was swimmingly ill-fitting on me, yet 2 sales associates came over to gush about how great I looked). It's service like that which makes me not regret the money spent!

Basic Alterations - Signs of a Good Tailor

It saddens me to think back on lovely items that were damaged by a bad tailoring job. The alterations I got were basic, too...just simple waist and hem jobs that every petite woman has probably gotten before.

Before you entrust your belongings to a new tailor, I can't stress this enough - ask to look through their work done (aka other people's stuff hanging on the racks waiting to be picked up). Be on the lookout for signs of good versus shoddy work. Some tips below that I wish I knew a year ago ...

1. Alteration Type: Basic Hem

Signs of shoddiness: Pulling of fabric from incorrect stitch type or incorrect stitch tension, crooked and uneven spacing.

Here's a trench coat I had shortened. Not only was it hemmed inches too short, but the hem was very sloppy! The thread tension was way too tight and pulled on the fabric. Also, on trench coats the bottom hem is usually a wide one (1 to 1.5 inches). Any good tailor would have redone this without being asked:
Signs of a good job: Even spacing throughout hem, symmetrical, correct stitch type and spacing (ie: suiting and dress pants require the invisible stitch done by hand).

To compare with the above, here is the original hem on a trench coat. One may say it's kind of cheating to compare with an original, but any good hem job should look just like the original!

2. Alteration Type: Take in waist

There's usually 2 ways to go about this... 1. one incision done via the back center of the waist, or 2. two incisions on both sides of the waist. If you need a lot taken in (I'd say anything over .5 to 1 inch), the latter method should definitely be used or else the fit and proportions could be messed up. If the tailor suggests otherwise ... they're probably being lazy, so try elsewhere!

Signs of shoddiness: This is a pair of Banana Republic Martin pants, size 0 (this must have been before I knew they made 00). I needed a good 1.5 inches taken in, yet the tailor insisted on doing it the first method!

Sloppy stitching, lining looks messy, Banana Republic care tags nowhere to be found:
Alteration is very visible from the outside via the stitching, and pockets are super close together:

Bad waist alteration on dress pants, exterior

Yeeks! 3 belt loops so close together looks bad (fixable), pockets too close together forming a weird angle on the butt (not fixable).

Also, this is not evident via the pics, but due to the higher rise, I could barely pull these pants over my hipbones after the waist was altered to fit my high waist. Bye-bye $80 pants and $20 for alterations. I'm too much of a sucker to ask for my money back.
Signs of a good job: A proper waist job should not be visible from the outside. Simple as that. Below are examples of the 2 types of waist jobs.

Theory pants, size 00. Needed only half an inch taken in, so my tailors at Hemmingway said it was best via the back center. Note the clean lines showing perfect reattachment of waistband. The weird darts on both sides were there when I bought the pants.
Clean and symmetrical reattachment. Now that I look at this closely, I just noticed that the Theory label is missing, just like the bad BR waist job above! Make sure to tell your tailor if you want to keep the size/brand label.
The second pair are brand-less pants (could be Express?), size 0 Short. These were very big and needed 2 inches taken in. Both sides of the waist method was the way to go.

Note the clean reattachment from the inside of the waistband:
Note the clean lines and angles from the outside. The fit was perfect and you can't tell at all that so much was taken off:
I just realized neither of my "good" examples are lined. Will have to hunt for a better example : )

3. Alteration Type: Working with silk.

I love silk, but it definitely requires special treatment when being altered. The needle and thread used must be thin, or it will pull on the fine silk. Silk textures vary, so it's important that the tailor knows what he or she is doing. Make sure you ask exactly what they plan on doing.

Signs of shoddiness: pulling and damage on the silk.

Just thinking about this incident breaks my heart! This is what my beautiful 100% silk Theory ombre blouse, size P used to look like:
It was just a tad too long, so I took it to a tailor to get it hemmed 2 inches. She said no problem. When I got it back, however, I was appalled to find that she had done a crooked, very wide (1.5 inch) hem by hand. The needle used was probably thick, because each stitch showed clearly and pulled on the silk, leaving behind long streaks of damage. I don't have a photo of my blouse in this sad state.

Signs of a good job: thin, even, rolled hem with delicate stitching.

When I took it to Hemmingway for repairs, the ladies were equally horrified. They said the silk on the bottom 1.5 inches was so pulled and damaged (not to mention crooked) that it had to be cut off. They re-did the hem, shown below:
But now look at my poor blouse! Although the hem job was redone correctly, the blouse is now several inches too short for me. I can only wear it under blazers and have to consciously avoid raising my arms to prevent giving anyone a peek show.