Men’s Suit Alterations: What Can You Tailor & How Much it Costs
Men’s suit alterations are among the most underrated fashion weapons at your disposal. If you’re struggling to cross the divide from “average suit” to “WOW! That suit!” and want a surefire way to launch your fashion game into the stratosphere, look no further. Bold choices like wearing brown shoes with blue or gray suits, or ditching the dress shirt for a turtleneck, can all make an impression. But sometimes, wearing a great suit is all it takes. People form first impressions fast. It pays to look your best.
Our slogan - “The Fit That Suits You” - Plays a lead role in this article. Sure, fabrics and customizations are important… but the secret to a fantastic suit is extremely simple - It must fit you like you were born to wear it!
Today we look at why more men should be using a tailor, what a tailor can (and can’t) do for your fashion game, and how to make even a budget suit look great.
A tailor is something of a miracle worker for suits. They take something almost perfect and make it exceptional. But there are some things a tailor can’t do, which is why the Oliver Wicks team urges you to be careful with your measurements. When shopping for an off-the-rack suit, aim for something as close to perfect as possible. There are limitations to how much you can alter a garment. Let’s take a look at what’s feasible and what isn’t.
Sizing down is considerably more realistic than sizing up when you need something altered. Sizing up would require the new fabric to come from somewhere, and while you might be able to squeeze an inch or two out of a generous seam allowance, it’s far from ideal. There can be fabric wear and tear or color differences to compensate for. Made-to-measure and bespoke garments will sometimes leave a little extra at the seams to help you keep your suit longer, but don’t expect this from off-the-rack.
Even sizing down a garment is not infinitely possible. Building patterns for garments at specific sizes is a surprisingly complex job, and there’s a point beyond which the garment can no longer be altered. The general rule is two sizes down and maybe one size up, and you should always go for a suit that needs sizing down (rather than up) if possible… but also know that this is only possible for certain aspects of the fit, and the cost involved may just not be worth it.
Take from this - If you’ve narrowed your choice down to two sizes, opt for the larger of the two, and have a tailor take it in if needed.
The line of the shoulders on a suit jacket is where all the magic happens. The shoulders are also nearly impossible to alter once constructed, so we emphasize the fit of the shoulders when trying on jackets. But if your jacket shoulders aren’t quite right, can anything be done? Let’s look at some fit issues in more detail.
We’re going with “not realistically possible” here. Within reason, a master tailor can reduce shoulder width, to a degree, but with the sheer complexity of the job, it would likely be cheaper just to buy a new jacket. If you were happy to spend that kind of money on alterations, you’d have gone with bespoke or made-to-measure to begin with.
Your jacket may or may not have shoulder pads, depending on the style. For example, British-style jackets tend to be padded, while Neapolitan tailoring features a deconstructed, unpadded jacket. So can your shoulders be padded out? The answer is a solid maybe. A good tailor can add a little padding or pull it out, but that doesn’t guarantee the look will be convincing. Suits are made with a specific style in mind, so efforts to radically resculpt a jacket to a style might not have the result you’re looking for. After all, adding a spoiler to a Honda Civic won’t make it into a drag racer.
Are you hoping to address the dreaded “collar gap”, or “roll”? If additional fabric needs to be released from the seam, you’re crossing your fingers that the brand made an allowance for this - Some do, some don’t - Don’t bet on it! A talented tailor can certainly remove and recut this area, but it’s a major undertaking. It’s easier to make sure you find a good fit when first buying off-the-rack.
Can sleeves be narrowed? Yes. But, keep in mind that they may need to reduce width throughout the entire sleeve in order to retain proportions if the alteration is drastic. This ‘small job’ just got expensive! For minor changes, it’s a fairly common, simple alteration.
Can sleeves be shortened? Kind of. High quality suits may feature functional sleeve buttons, which makes it hard to shorten by more than ¾”. On cheap budget suits, go for it - Buttons can be removed, and you’re free to hack away.
FYI - More drastic shortening can be made to premium suits (with functional buttons), but it’s done in a different, more complicated manner. A tailor can remove the sleeves from the jacket entirely, and reattach them further up. A reasonable solution on a high-end favorite, but you’ll certainly pay for the labor involved.
Can sleeves be lengthened? Kind of - But cheap suits lose this round. High quality suits may have additional fabric tucked away inside for this purpose, though again you’ll likely not have much more than about ¾” to play with. Budget suits won’t have this - It would have been skipped so that you got the jacket a dollar cheaper.
Divots or “dimples” can happen at the shoulders even when they fit well. Typically dimples are caused by a mismatch between the cut of the sleeve and your arms and resting position, or the shoulder width may be a bit off. They can also happen when the sleeves are cut wider than the jacket’s armhole. It is fixable, but it probably indicates a broader quality issue with the construction of your jacket. If you love the suit, your tailor will work to give it the best look possible. But if you’re already ambivalent about the suit, you may want to spend the money you were going to spend on a new suit instead. There’s no need to get an expensive repair unless you’re invested in this specific suit.
The body of a suit jacket is easier to alter than the shoulders.
We mentioned above about sleeve alteration possibilities. When assessing a jacket for this, you should determine if the jacket has real, functional sleeve buttons, or false buttons (stitched on purely for the look).
The number of buttons on the jacket body can’t be altered. The placement of buttonholes differs depending on the total number of buttons/design, and you can’t move around and remove buttonholes easily. While “reweavers” who can seal and rework missing fabric over a buttonhole do exist, it’s not an alteration you do for a plain old suit, and it’s certainly not something your average dry cleaner can undertake
Lapels are also tricky. You can take a wider lapel style and rework it into a narrower one, but you can’t add fabric to make a narrow lapel wider. While some peak lapels can be reworked into notch lapels in the right circumstances, it will leave the lapel buttonhole out of alignment. Consider whether this bothers you before asking for this alteration.
A quick note on this - We’re well and truly in very expensive, master-tailor-only territory here. With lapels, you’re pretty much stuck with what you’ve got.
The skirt or quarters of the jacket refers to the bottom portion below the waist button. While business suit jackets tend to have straight, slightly slanted skirts, others are more stylized, curving around and away from the body. You can transform a straight skirt into a curved one, but it can be iffy for button placement. And as always, the fabric can’t be added back in to reverse the alteration. Don’t worry too much about this one, we doubt you’ll ever see such variations in the real world.
When it comes to jacket length, we advise people to shop carefully. Lengthening a coat, even a little, is impossible. You can tweak it to be shorter but only by a little. Otherwise, the pockets, buttons, and other features will look too close to the bottom of the jacket.
Most modern business suits and business casual blazers are double-vented—they have two back slits). Older,cheaper suits, or varying styles might have only one, while some Italian suits have none. Increasing the number of vents is impossible, as there isn’t enough fabric for a quality job. However, it is possible to close them if desired, but know that this may negatively affect how well the suit drapes/fits.
What can and can’t be fixed on suit pants?
Quality dress pants are sold with extra fabric at the bottom to allow for alterations, which means it’s easy to have the length taken in initially (with the excess made into cuffs if desired). Of course, after the fabric is removed, the trousers cannot be lengthened. Further hemming (outseam shortening) is always possible. You can even go the other way if you still have fabric to spare.
If perfect outseam length, or break preferences, are particularly important to you, many made-to-measure brands will give you the option to receive the hem unfinished. After delivery, this allows you to visit a local tailor and have the pants length set exactly where you want it.
Pretty much all pants can be slimmed down (or tapered) throughout the leg. Letting out is a little more tricky. High quality garments may have additional fabric hidden within the seam to allow for this (much like sleeve lengths on jackets), but there are limitations, and on cheap garments it is likely to not even be a possibility.
Because our waists are the area that fluctuates the most, manufacturers tend to allow a little extra fabric here for tailoring. You should be able to expand and reduce the waist size with relative ease. However, some lower-price brands may not give the extra fabric, so choose carefully. As with all of these points though, “within reason” applies - A tailor can’t magically transform a 30” waist into a 40” waist.
Changing the rise (the area from the front waistband to the crotch seam) is a difficult operation. It can be done, but is it worth it? The waistband and zipper must be changed, making for a more time-consuming and pricey alteration. Lowering the rise is easier than increasing it due to the fabric amount. When you play with the rise, you’ll likely need to alter the pants length as well, to compensate.
Too wide at the ankle? You’re in luck, as the leg opening can be narrowed down. Like suit sleeve width though, go too much, and you’ll be altering the entirety of the pants to maintain proportions. Widening can be possible too, but your options here are more limited.
And there you have it! While shoulder alterations remain unrealistic, other aspects of your suit jacket can be tweaked to your satisfaction. And, as we mentioned, many made-to-measure suits outright expect you to have key areas of your suit tailored to fit you perfectly.
How hard will tailoring hit your wallet? About the length of a piece of string.
Jokes aside, it’s difficult to give even broad figures, as alteration costs vary by the complexity of the work, the fabrics involved, the city a tailor operates in, and the tailor themselves. Keep in mind the difference in tailoring skill, experience, and expertise as well - A master tailor with 35 years experience in bespoke has earned the right to charge more than a 20-year old fresh out of tailoring school.
However, let’s talk about some averages.
Hemming pants and shortening sleeves are key to a tailor’s daily work. Typical costs are between $10 and $60, with higher costs associated with hemming garments with pleats or linings. Likewise, shortening a jacket or blazer sleeve is more complex than shortening shirt sleeves. r.
Typically, waistband adjustments cost between $10 and $45. Remember, suit pant construction is precise; it’s not a case of bunching up elastic at the waist. If your dress pants are tailored to stay up without a belt, if they are tuxedo pants, or if you use button-on suspenders, a sizable waistband adjustment may need the seat and crotch altered as well.
Zipper and button replacements are simple tasks and usually cost under $60.
Simple size alterations on dress shirts usually come in under $40. If you have a shirt you like but the collar is looking dingy, you can have a new collar added for around $50. The difficulty is finding a suitable fabric that will match perfectly.
Taking in a suit jacket, vest, or blazer is commonplace, and will often be under $100—sometimes as low as $20. Double-breasted jackets and jackets with three seams will cost more than “normal” two-piece jackets. Suit sleeves are adjusted from the shoulder, so expect to pay $20-$40. Adjusting the shoulders themselves is, as we noted above, very tricky. If the adjustment you want is even possible, you should budget around $75-$150 for the job. Although it might not seem like it, replacing linings is a complex task and can be pricey, with costs starting at around $50.
Please note the prices quoted above are intended only as a general guide. Suit alteration prices can and do vary drastically. However, they will always be based on the complexity of the job.
Always get a quote! The last thing you want is a surprise $500 tailoring bill, on a $450 suit. It can happen, trust us!
As with pricing, the length of time required to alter a suit will vary depending on the complexity of the job. You should also keep in mind that tailoring has peak seasons throughout the year. Year-end is always a busy time, as people get working wardrobes and “party suits” ready for the new year and New Year’s. Popular wedding seasons are also a busy time.
Simple alterations shouldn’t take more than 48 hours unless your tailor is particularly busy and some even offer a same-day turnaround. So if you need some quick fixes to look presentable at, for example, a funeral, you should be good inside a week. More complex alterations can take up to two weeks.
If you’re getting multiple suits altered or fitting out a bridal party, you should give the tailor much longer. Even as much as 8-12 weeks, depending on the number of garments involved. But if you’re waiting for a single suit, it’s perfectly reasonable to inquire after your garment within a 14-day window. Again though, it depends on the tailor, and the job in question - The best bespoke tailors in the business may have a 6 month+ waiting list.
What’s the best way to find a reliable and skilled tailor? Is it as easy as googling “suit alterations near me” or “tailor shop” and picking whoever comes up first?
Not quite. You may have noticed that most dry cleaning shops offer alteration services. That’s fine for something quick and easy, but these shops rarely have a tailor with the skill needed to alter a suit correctly.
Department stores can have more skilled tailors on the payroll, as long as they have the time to focus on your garment. If you choose to go in this direction, make sure the store does not pressure the tailors to make quotas or focus on items purchased there. While very skilled and knowledgeable about complex garments, that kind of work environment might not allow them the focus needed to do the best job. It may seem slightly cynical, but we’d also ask ourselves why they’re working in the local mall, rather than a specialized tailoring store.
So if searching “men’s suit alterations near me” is as likely to net a dud as a gem, and the two other common locations for tailoring services are out, what should you do?
Don’t rule out Google just yet. It can be a fantastic way to find a personal tailor who works from their own shop and can devote time and effort to the job. But it’s important to go deeper than clicking the first result. Take the time to read the reviews of tailors in your area to ensure you find a professional with the skill and prices you require.
You can also ask for a referral or a recommendation for a good tailor from local boutiques and high-end dress stores. Even bridal stores may be a possibility, although some do their alterations in-house. (Of course, if you’re soliciting recommendations, it can’t hurt to ask around your own circles as well!)
Be wary of tailors who claim they can do everything. Some fabrics—leather and fur being two notable culprits—truly are different beasts. A skilled professional knows exactly what they can and can’t do. Many good tailors specialize—one may do suit alterations and menswear exclusively, another may work on bridal gowns, and so on. A well-respected tailor in one specialty will often have resources for clients who need other work done, so don’t be afraid to ask for their recommendations, too!
Once you’ve found a good match, bring them a small job, like slacks that need hemming. These can act as your test piece. A complicated job isn’t ideal if you’re working with a tailor you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t be afraid to sneak a peek at the racks in the shop while you’re there, either. Does the work look well done? Are the stitches neat and regular? Would you be happy to wear the work?
Find a balance: Don’t go cheap… but also, it’s probably not necessary to hunt down the finest tailor in New York to stitch a button back on for you. Read reviews. Speak in consultations. Don’t hand over your finest suit right away. Build trust in a tailor you like, and develop a connection for future business - “My tailoring guy” - It sounds cool, right?
Once they’ve finished one or two small alterations, you’ll know if you’ve found the right tailor to handle the rest of your work. And remember, establishing a rapport with your tailor is always a good idea! Having someone who knows your tastes, likes, and dislikes is invaluable in fashion. And it feels good too!
DIY suit jacket alterations—yea or nay?
Sorry, but we’re giving this one a solid “nay.” Making any type of sewing alteration to the fit of a garment is intimidating enough. Doing so with the full construction of a suit—which packs layers of fill, canvas, and robust material into an artfully built garment—is a whole different ball game. You might make things worse, not better.
A tailor isn’t someone who simply picked up a needle and thread one day. They are someone that has built a unique skill set and understanding of garment construction that it’s highly likely you don’t have. If they wanted, most tailors could build your suit from the bolt up, not merely alter it. They have both the knowledge and confidence to rip out and reformat seams, make alterations, and otherwise redesign your suit around your body.
Tailoring men’s suits isn’t the kind of skill you pick up through a five-minute YouTube video. Most garment “hacks” you see glibly tossed around may be fine to repair a hole in an old t-shirt or shorten the hem of a pair of distressed jeans, but they won’t be able to help you through the process of unpicking and rebuilding a man’s suit. If you want to experiment, it’s best not do it with what might be the most expensive item in your wardrobe!
Of course, there are some easy alterations that you may wish to take on yourself, if you’re that type of person. If a button comes loose, or if a belt loop needs an extra stitch, that can be done at home with no fuss. But if you don’t have needle skills, don’t hesitate to get help. Many tailors see “simple” fixes daily, and they’d all rather help you out with a quick spot job that takes five minutes than see you ruin a great suit because you were trying to learn how to sew on a button.
Just like you trust your barber or hairdresser to get the job done and leave you looking fabulous, trust your tailor too. These people have done the book study, worked the years as an apprentice - That irreversible mistake that you’re about to make with DIY… they’ve likely done it 20 times themselves, on test fabric, in a workshop, many years ago. Leaving it to the pros is our firm stance.
You might be asking, if doing it yourself is off the table, how do alterations save you money? It’s true some alterations aren’t cheap, but we promise a good tailor will save you money in the long run, if you’re starting out with a well-made suit to begin with!
Made-to-measure suits and true bespoke tailoring cost more than buying a similar suit off the rack. You know this, but do you know why?
We’ve looked at how jacket and suit sizes work before. They’re created and built around a notional guy—let’s call him Joe Average. He’s an aggregate of data about men like you, but also like your neighbor, your bartender, your colleagues, etc.
The result is a set of measurements that mostly correlate with “average men” but don’t match any specific man all that well. Your arms are longer, your shoulders are broader, your legs are too long or too short. The list goes on. A custom-made suit ignores averages to create your perfect fit, but the workmanship isn’t cheap.
Now imagine you get a great deal on a suit that fits very well, but not perfectly. Maybe it costs $200. Then you take it to your tailor, and he alters it to fit near perfectly, but it’s another $200. Pricey, right? That’s the same as the suit, which is likely to fall apart in 6 months (if you’re lucky) anyway at that price
At the other end a bespoke suit could cost you $2500 or more. With that in mind, you can see how getting near the look of a custom fit for the cost of off-the-rack plus tailoring is a bargain. And if you understand how a suit is measured and what can be tailored, you can take advantage of sales to buy higher quality garments that you know can be altered to fit.
So, those are the two options, buy a suit that will fit fairly well but fall apart, or spend $2500.
Well, fortunately for everyone, no. There’s another way.
Good quality made-to-measure aims for the best of both worlds. You can expect to find a high level of construction quality, a fit that is targeting your unique dimensions, all for a price that is much, much lower than bespoke. Furthermore, if you do still need a few tweaks, most MTM brands will have an allowance in place to cover minor local tailoring costs.
What we’re highlighting here is the benefit that tailoring alterations can offer, but at the same time, noting that prevention is better than the cure, and there are ways to shop smart and (hopefully) avoid the necessity of adjustments in the first place.
Tailoring helps you keep a good suit in your wardrobe longer. A quick tweak here and there can keep your suit fitting perfectly as your body changes, so you don’t have to buy a brand new suit just because you’ve gained or lost a few pounds or had one last unexpected growth spurt.
Same goes for any minor maintenance work. If a button pops off, or you notice a stitch coming loose, a trip to the local tailor can revive the garment to its former glory - Keeping it in your collection for many more years to come.
A tailor is your best bet to refresh an old favorite that’s going out of style—for example, creating a clearer taper in a pant leg or lining a previously unlined garment. Of course, they can’t work miracles, and you’ll need to weigh up the expense of the tailoring vs the value of the garment (even if sentimental), but a good tailor can certainly do wonders for your sartorial style.
Now you not only know the alterations possible for your suit, but the average cost of those alterations, where to get them, and even how to decide if you need your suit tailored in the first place. Using a tailor for the finishing touches on your suit is a fashion secret every man should know. There’s nothing better than walking into a room knowing you can own your look, and your tailor will help you create the perfect fit you need.
Oliver Wicks believes that a perfectly tailored suit should fit like you were born to wear it. That’s why we offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee proudly, enabling you to make sure every made-to-measure suit you buy from us fits like a dream.
The Fit That Suits You - Why not experience the Oliver Wicks difference for yourself today?