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. Here are some tips 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:

Bad hem job on a trench coat

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, below 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!

Proper hem on a trench coat

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:

Bad waist alteration on Banana Republic dress pants, interior

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.

Bad waist alteration on dress pants, exterior

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.

Proper waist alteration via back center on Theory pants, exterior

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.

Proper waist alteration via back center, interior

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:

Proper waist alteration via both sides on Express pants, interior

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:

Proper waist alteration via both sides, exterior

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:

Theory Ornella ombre silk blouse

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:

Correct hemming method for fine silk

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.

Theory blouse after 2nd round remediation alterations

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  1. Unknown wrote:

    Jane, Can you share who is your tailor? I just moved to this city.

    Posted 2.22.17 Reply
  2. Janetta wrote:

    Very informative article! I just took a pair of pants to a local tailor. She's taking them in at the waist and hemming the bottom. What was a little strange was she also pinned maybe 1/4 inch of the seat too. I'm crossing my fingers that they turn out ok because I have such a hard time finding dress pants!

    Posted 6.19.14 Reply
  3. Anonymous wrote:

    I stumbled upon your blog and have enjoyed reading all your posts. Thanks for the great examples of good and bad tailoring. I'm especially excited that you mentioned Hemmingway Tailors because now I have to try them out. They are very close to where I live in Newton!

    Posted 5.26.12 Reply
  4. Unknown wrote:

    I have been going to my dry cleaning lady (close to my place of work) for years, until she sold the business. Heart broken, I tried another dry cleaning lady (close to where I live). Not sure of her work, I gave her a jean to hem. Sadly, that was a diaster. If she couldn't handle one jean, how would she do with coats, dresses, shirts? But, fortune smiled at me as I went back to my regular alteration location, and found out the new owner does an amazing job! Prices have gone up – is that the norm? What use to cost $8, now cost $15.

    Posted 5.9.12 Reply
  5. Anonymous wrote:

    I Go to Jordan the Tailor in Boston he is amazing. Decent on the pricing too. never had a problem. I no longer live in boston and I take a whole years worth of shopping back to him.

    Posted 2.28.12 Reply
  6. Clop wrote:

    Hi! Stumbled across your blog. It's great; love your style & tips. I picked up two dresses I had taken in at Hemingway Tailors today (went there after your recommendation), and I was disappointed. There was a stain on the dress, and some of the stitching was not even. Their workmanship cannot compare to BestFit, though they are maybe $20-$30 cheaper. I would have gladly paid the extra money for better quality. I should have brought in "test" items first before bringing in my "nicer" clothes. I hope my dress can be fixed.

    Posted 1.17.12 Reply
  7. Stefanie wrote:

    Dear Jean,

    I would first like to say I adore your blog and it has been such a big help to me!! My questions is this: How much do you normally pay to have a jacket/trench altered? (shoulders narrowed, sleeves narrowed, shortened, hem shortened, body slimmed, keeping the pockets and slits in the back) since I just took a jacket to be altered…thanks so much!!!!

    Posted 5.14.11 Reply
  8. Hi there – not sure where to find average prices, especially since they can really vary from tailor to tailor. Mine charges $10 for a hem without lining, and $15 to $20 for a waist alteration depending on which alteration method is used.

    Posted 12.19.09 Reply
  9. Anonymous wrote:

    Exactly what I needed. I love the pics that came with this article. Do you have list of on average how much one charges for heming, waist alteration?

    Posted 12.19.09 Reply
  10. M_M wrote:

    Thank You!!! It is great article. Now I know how to identify a good tailor.

    Posted 11.2.09 Reply

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