Clothes & Pizza

Tips for Tailoring and Altering Clothes

While the content of this blog post also lives on my Instagram highlights, I wanted to get it down on paper (errr computer) so that you’ll have access to it here as well. Y’all know that I take A TON of my wardrobe to the tailor. As someone with a non-model body type, I’ve found that spending a little extra moolah getting my garments tailored to my body, makes a HUGE difference in how I look and feel in my clothes.

I crowdsourced questions from my Instagram audience, which you’ll find below. Please keep in mind that I myself am not a tailor, but a customer of tailors. And therefore my answers are from the customer’s point of view.

Before we get into the questions, I want to thank Britt from Saguaro Shoppe for sending me these killer fire engine red vintage Levi’s. All they needed was a bit of shortening, and they were good to go! Britt just celebrated the one year anniversary of her vintage shop (yay! Congrats!), but she’s far from a vintage novice. Britt and her boyfriend have separate shops but work together researching, sourcing, and selling vintage full-time.

She loves mod designs and crazy florals of the 60s, as well as the the funky prints and silhouettes (high waisted pants, bell sleeve tops, etc) of the 70s. “If I found nothing but rompers and jumpsuits from the 60s and 70s, I’d be happy!” she says,— I’ll bet a lot of you can relate to this sentiment! I’m so thankful Instagram introduced me to her shop, and I know you’ll enjoy her collection as much as I do. Definitely check out her IG shop for more incredible vintage pieces.

Tips for tailoring your vintage clothes Tips for tailoring your vintage clothes

Now, on to your questions:

Q: What garments do you usually get tailored? What makes it worth it?

I get a lot of my pants hemmed (because I am short) and a lot of pants, skirts, and dresses taken in at the waist/bodice (because that is my smallest area). For you, try to think about what area of your clothes bothers you—do you feel like sleeves are too long, pants are always dragging, shirts are too long, etc—and go from there. Common areas to tailor are waist gaps (at the back of your pants), hems, and sleeve length.

Q: What average price range is appropriate for alterations? Minor and major.

This is a bit difficult to answer since pricing depends on where you live and the quality/experience of your tailor. But as a baseline: Tailoring unlined items is less expensive. Tailoring simple fabrics like cotton, linen, poly is less expensive. Leather, silk, chiffon, etc is more expensive. You can also ask your tailor for a price quote on an item before they go to work. Or ask how to work with them to lower the cost if it’s a major alteration. There are many different ways to alter garments—different ways of creating stitches, folding fabric, adding seams, etc (some are quite complicated, and therefore expensive). You tailor will likely be open to working with you on the right solution for the garment and your budget.

Tips for tailoring your vintage clothesTips for tailoring your vintage clothes

Q: I routinely pay more for tailoring than I do for the item…and it makes me crazy. What are your thoughts on this?

I often tailor a lot of my thrifted pieces, so the cost of those items is pretty low. For example, I just thrifted a leather skirt that cost $4. But it will cost upwards of $60 to get it tailored to fit me properly. I think if you’re buying cheapie fast fashiony things, it doesn’t really make sense to tailor them because they won’t last that long to begin with. I don’t mind spending money on tailoring if the original cost of the item was low (as long as the quality of the item is high).

Do items always get dry cleaned after being tailored?

No. Not unless you also request/pay for the item to be dry cleaned. You garments will be (and should be) pressed after they are tailored, but not cleaned.

Tips for tailoring your vintage clothesTips for tailoring your vintage clothes

How do you explain what you want? Do you use reference photos?

It depends what I’m having done. I usually have garments hemmed and taken in at the waist. In this case, I will try the item on, and my tailor will pin/reshape the piece while it’s on my body. I have never had something so fully reworked that I had to show a reference photo. But that’s a great idea if you’re having a piece reworked in a major way.

How long does it take to get your pieces back?

Usually less than a week. You can also pay a rush fee if you need them sooner.

How much do you spend on an average trip to the tailor?

On average I drop off a few pairs of pants for the “hem + waist combo” and my bill is around $40-60.

How do you ask about resizing? How do you make a vintage piece larger or smaller for you?

It’s nearly impossible to make things bigger, but almost always possible to make things smaller. Investigate your garment: flip it inside out and look at the seams. Get an idea of how it’s constructed to see if there are natural places that the tailor can open up and sew back together. If the garment is lined, that just means it’s slightly more expensive because they will have to adjust the exterior and the lining. Sometimes you can make something bigger by adding panels, or if there is extra material at the seams. But this is completely a case by case basis. Generally speaking, you cannot increase the size of something.

Tips for tailoring your vintage clothesTips for tailoring your vintage clothes

Any tips for finding a quality tailor?

Ask around—find a stylish person and ask them! Check Yelp or Facebook. Do a trial run with something you wouldn’t cry over if it were ruined. Have a consultation before committing if the piece is super valuable/special to you. Ask a recent bride where they got their wedding dress tailored. Most bridal gowns need tailoring. And these are challenging/high stakes projects, so they probably went to a reputable tailor.

Do you let the tailor decide how to alter, or do you have a look in mind and tell them how to do it?

This depends on what the piece is, and the relationship you have with your tailor. Most garments are constructed to fit the body a certain way. For example, a Fit ‘n Flare dress is meant to hug the waist, an A-Line is not.  Keeping the integrity of the original silhouette is always easier than trying to change it up. And your tailor (hopefully) knows best how garments are meant to fit. But you also probably have personal preferences and should stick to those. I usually have my tailor hem my pants slightly shorter than she suggests. Simply because I prefer a higher hem than she is used to.

Any vintage alterations “don’ts”?

I touched on this a bit above, but I think the biggest tip I have is: Stick to the original integrity of the piece. Meaning, don’t try to drastically alter the silhouette or shape of the garment. For example, if your jeans are wide leg, it’s easier to tailor them at the waist/hem to fit you perfectly, than to change the shape into a skinny jean. Unless you have a fabulous tailor (and a big budget), and have your heart set on a totally different type of garment. It’s much easier to alter the fit of the item than to completely change the construction into something else. It can be done, but it’s more difficult (more opportunity for things to get lost in translation), will likely require more fittings, and therefore, be more expensive.

How much of your wardrobe is tailored?

Most of my pants are hemmed (either by my tailor, myself, or chopped off with a raw hem). Unless the pant is cropped length, it’s probably been hemmed to fit me. Some of my pants are also taken in at the waist. I tailor a lot of my vintage pieces that I thrift. Because the cost of the item is low, but the quality is high, it makes sense to tailor. If I find something while thrifting that is truly epic (like my mint skirt suit), but doesn’t quite fit me, I’ll buy it. I usually know something will be relatively easy to tailor—and this is just because I have a lot of experience with tailoring! It gets easier to figure out the more you work with your tailor. I also encourage you to ask questions about their process (what makes something more complicated/expensive) and find out how your tailor works. This will help you not only appreciate their craft, but learn when to pass over pieces that aren’t worth the tailoring expense.

Tips for tailoring your vintage clothes

Thank you Saguaro Shoppe for partnering on this post!

Everything I’m wearing in this post in vintage, save for the glasses which are linked here, and the shoes which are old Forever 21.

6 Responses

  1. I had no idea that tailoring unlined items is less expensive. My sister is getting married in a few months, and my daughter is going to be her flower girl, but her dress is too big and needs to be altered. I will definitely keep all of your great tips and information in mind when getting my daughter’s dress altered for the wedding.

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About Abby


Bay Area-based UX designer by day, clothes horse by night.

Say hello: clothesandpizza@gmail.com

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