Regardless of your body type or size, proper alterations can help transform mediocre-fitting items into garments that flatter your figure and boost your self-confidence. For women who wear special sizes, alterations can be critical. However, if you (like myself) don’t have the good fortune of being related to a skilled seamstress, and are too lazy/clumsy to sew yourself, alterations can really add up and become quite costly.
I’m sure many of us have tried on a garment that is “ok,” but would be much better if it fit perfectly. To alter or not to alter? When faced with such a decision, I try follow this 3-step thought process:
Step 1. This is the most common mistake that I used to make. Spending $ on altering something that I felt lukewarm about to begin with. Return or sell “meh” items before it’s too late. Also, be realistic about what can be altered (ie. don’t convince yourself you love something by imagining wildly different “results”).
Step 2. When assessing worth, look at garment quality, and again at how much you love it. If you will love a Forever21 dress to pieces after it’s taken in, and would’ve paid XYZ for something like that to begin with, then go for it.
Alteration costs vary a lot from tailor to tailor, but here are some prices that I’ve paid, for reference:
Hem: $10 no lining – $25 w/ lining
Shorten sleeves: $15 no lining – $25+ w/ lining
Take-in waist: 15+ no lining – $25+ w/ lining
Take-in shoulders: $40+
Take-in sides: $15 for shirts – $40+ lined items
Step 3. Risk level is a function of both the complexity of alterations and your tailor’s experience. I have had so many (even basic) alterations come out messed up.
Higher-risk (even w/ a good tailor): fancy dresses, suiting, taking-in shoulders, changing the design of a garment, or changing a garment more than 2 numerical sizes.
Example: Last month I found myself at the Ann Taylor outlet, clutching onto a suit in a beautiful lavender and cream tweed. Unfortunately, the smallest size it came in was regular 0, and I was swimming in it. The length of both pieces fit me fine though (must’ve been a shorter style), which was key, because blazer length probably can’t be altered.
Step 1. I was instantly drawn to the color and texture, and needed a Spring suit. I saw vast potential in the suit as a set, and also as versatile separates. Nothing similar is available in smaller sizing.
Step 2. Alterations would be very costly (guesses, anyone?) but the suit was 75% off. I probably would’ve paid the total cost for a tweed suit that fit great right off the rack.
Step 3. Alterations needed: Sides slimmed, sleeves slimmed/shortened, skirt taken-in, and shoulders narrowed (pretty risky) + tailors who do a good job 90% of the time = somewhat risky.
But I really loved the material and overall Chanel-inspired look, so I went for it. Stay tuned for the results.