The Tailor Effect: Before & After Alterations

February 18th, 2013

The most important thing about any garment, without a doubt, is how well it fits your body.

A man looks much better in a cheaply-made garment that is properly tailored, than an expensive garment that doesn’t fit correctly. In many cases, in fact, the Articles of Style crew and I spend more on alterations than on the garment itself (especially when vintage/thrift shopping).

To illustrate this point, we took some ill-fitting pieces to our highly recommended friends at The Tailoring Room and documented their transformations.


As you can see here, a good tailor can make a dramatic difference. Special thanks to Franklin (above) for always taking care of us.

1. Vintage Shirt & Jeans


As you may already know, Wes is an expert in the art of thrifting.

His secret? His relationship with our tailor Franklin, who was able to completely re-engineer the fit of this vintage flannel shirt and these old boot-cut Levis.


Some useful tailoring advice:

– It’s easier, and safer, to slim-down a garment that is a little too big. Letting-out a garment that is too small or tight is much more difficult.

– As a general rule, garments can only be taken-in (made smaller) on seams. Similarly, garments can only be let-out (made bigger) on seams as well, but only if there is additional fabric (known as “seam allowance”) left under the seams during manufacturing. Shirts, jeans and the majority of mass-produced “tailored” garments are made with very little, or no, seam allowance (because the cost of this “extra fabric” adds up and is seen as a “waste” for a company pumping out thousands of units).

– Denim jeans are usually made with a chain stitch machine, not a regular sewing machine. Therefore, in order to properly match the original stitching, the shop needs one of these machines. Not all tailors have them. Luckily for us, Franklin does.

– A good tailor, like Franklin, can also do wonders repairing old denim. They won’t look brand new, but they’ll have minimal scarring (which looks pretty awesome).

  • Plaid flannel shirt (Vintage – tailored) ·
  • Jersey scarf Handmade ·
  • Jeans Levis Vintage (tailored – originally boot cut) ·
  • Beige henley by Ralph Lauren Polo ·
  • Brown suede boots by Massimo Dutti ·
  • Brown leather duffle by Frank Clegg Leatherworks

2. Cheap Off-The-Rack Suit


Alex picked up this suit from the clearance rack at Macy’s a few years ago (before working at Articles of Style), but never felt comfortable or confident wearing it.

The suit was about $80 on discount. In this case, the alterations were about the same.

Look at it this way: $160 for a well-tailored suit in your rotation is much better than $80 for a suit that sits in the back of your closet collecting dust.


Some useful tailoring advice:

– Make sure the fit is pretty close before buying. Alteration charges can add up quickly, and there’s always a limit to how much can be done. In many cases, a tailoring tweak can bring new life to an old garment. In other cases, buying a new piece is actually cheaper and more effective.

– Bring a picture of the fit you are looking for. Nothing you say to your tailor will help him understand better than a photo. This is especially important in smaller towns, where the only available tailors are older men who have been delivering loose, full-cut garments their whole lives. Rather than fighting with him about the proper length and width of your trousers, show him a picture and say “I want them exactly like this”.

– Don’t let a non-tailor chalk you up, unless you trust that they know what they’re doing. This is the problem with most large department stores that offer in-house alterations with your purchase. They typically don’t have an experienced tailor on staff full-time, so they “train” the salesperson to pin and chalk the garments for the tailor to work on later. This is a red flag that you’re probably in for something you won’t love.


Worsted Wool Suit in Coffee

  • Blue club collar shirt ·
  • Navy stripe tie Vintage ·
  • Watch by Timex for JCrew ·
  • “Rust” wingtips by Florsheim
  • · Brown suit by Alfani

3. Old Stretched-Out Sweater


Knitwear tends to stretch-out and lose shape/elasticity over time.

Franklin worked some magic on Towni’s five year old pull-over here.


Some useful tailoring advice:

– Knits are tricky. In most cases, cut & sew garments can be worked on, but not hand-knit sweaters (you might need to find a specialist for that). Your best bet is to bring the garment to your tailor and show him the issue(s). If he can’t help you, he might be able to recommend someone who can.

– Sometimes it’s better to buy a new one. In full disclosure, it probably would have been cheaper to buy a new sweater from JCrew (now on sale) in this case, but we wanted to show how dramatic a few tweaks can be.

– When testing out a new tailor, always try-on the garments when you pick them up. If something isn’t the way you expected, have them take a look and get it right. Also, consider how you will wear the garment when showing up for a fitting. For example, if you’re fitting a suit, bring a shirt, tie and dress shoes.


Navy Hopsack Suit

Sky Blue Broadcloth Shirt

 4. Dad’s Old Coat


As the old saying goes: “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure”.

You never know what you might find in the back of an old closet. If it’s just collecting dust, you might be able to take it to your tailor and give it a new life.


Some useful tailoring advice:

– There can be a vast difference in skill level, and attention to detail, from one tailor to another. Some are master garment-makers with decades of experience, others may have only taken a few sewing classes at the local community college. To find a trustworthy tailor in your area, check out user-review sites like Yelp and Citysearch to hear from people who have experienced the level of service first-hand.

– Once you find a tailor that does good work, build a relationship with him. Get to know him, so he can get to know you and how you like your clothes to fit. Bring him a coffee every once in a while and, more importantly, send him some business by recommending him to your friends.

– Like anything else, tailoring is not a perfect science, so manage your expectations. If you’re thinking a tailor can make a suit from H&M look like a suit from Tom Ford, you’re in for a disappointment. He’s a tailor, not a magician.

– Lastly, are you supposed to tip your tailor? I’ve always wondered about this, so I asked a few tailors. The common response was: “No, you don’t tip a professional”. You tip your delivery guy and doorman, but not your surgeon. A thoughtful birthday or christmas gift is a tasteful touch, though.


Taupe Gray Wool Coat

  • Grey cashmere beanie by JCrew ·
  • Brown donegal tweed suit jacket ·
  • Brown check plaid shirt ·
  • Burnt orange wide knit tie by Corneliani ·
  • Brown American Bison Belt by Trafalgar ·
  • Indigo denim jeans by JBrand ·
  • Brown leather wingtips by Florsheim
  • · Green overcoat by Brooks Brothers (Vintage)

It’s a popular topic, tailoring, and we certainly can’t cover it all in one post. If you have any specific questions, or any advice from your experience with tailoring, feel free to share in the comments below and we’ll do our best to reply.

FYI – we purposely left pricing out of this post, since it can vary from one location to another.


Thanks, as always, for reading. If you have any questions about our online custom menswear, feel free to contact us anytime. We look forward to serving as your personal tailor and stylist. 

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier

Photography by Alex Crawford