I have a suit that I bought several years ago from a local men’s shop. I don't wear suits on a daily basis because our work is pretty casual, but I wanted a suit to use for special occasions. I have a wedding coming up that I would like to attend, but the suit seems to have shrunk in the closet since the last time I wore it. Can anything be done?
W.M. L. Silver Lake, CA
Ah, yes, the suit that “shrank in the closet"! Darn those closet gremlins anyway!
Fortunately, there is a lot that can be done to make the suit bigger. Men are lucky that way; their clothes, especially suits, are made to easily alter. And the more money that you invest in your suit, the easier it is to adjust. A good suit-maker wants you to be able to wear your suit for 5-10 years, so they purposely leave large seam allowances and extra hem length. And that’s why most men’s suits are made from wool, which is very forgiving when it comes to letting out the seams. It’s rare that you get needle marks, and the fiber also has a natural stretch to it. You can actually steam a wool garment to make it bigger.
Let's say that when you bought the suit, you had no tailoring done to it besides the hem. The pants can probably be let out 2 inches at the waist; the hem can be let down from 2 1/2 to 3 inches. The suit coat can be let out 1-2 inches and the sleeves can be let down at least 1 1/4 inches.
You are probably asking yourself why you would need the garments longer. After all, you haven't grown upward, just outward. When we gain weight, our waistline expands - not only taking up more room around but lifting the hem as well. If you have to let out the waist all the way, you will need to let the hemline down as well.
If you have grown across the back and shoulders, however, you may need a new suit because this part of the suit cannot be let out, unless you had the jacket taken in when you bought it.
And that brings me to the suit which has already been altered. A good tailor will leave as much seam allowance as possible inside the suit while making sure it still hangs well. As an example, when you bought the suit, your shoulders were the same size as they are now, but you were working out and feeling trim in the waist and upper back. Since a suit is fit for the shoulders, you may have had the sides and the center back seam taken in. If the tailor left the extra inside, you could have it let out as much as 3-4 inches.
The same is true for the pants waist. If you had the waist taken in 2 inches and the tailor did not trim the excess, you could increase the waist that 2 inches plus the 2 inches of the original seam allowance.
If the pants have a plain hem, tailors usually do a 3-inch hem, which means it can be let down 2½ inches easily. If the pants are cuffed, you can have a regular hem put in and get them even longer.
On the subject of men’s clothing, I am often asked why women’s clothing is so much more expensive to alter than men’s. First of all, men’s construction and styling are usually consistent from suit to suit with few variances. The jacket sleeves are more complicated to hem if there are real buttonholes in the placket, but for the most part, suits are generally constructed the same. An experienced tailor who has been working on men’s suits for several years can do the alterations quickly and easily. And speed is the key to making a living in alterations.
Women’s construction and styling, on the other hand, vary like night and day. Just take a look at an Armani runway show. The suit jackets vary from seemingly simple tailoring to extravagant details of bows, flounces and ties. There are box style jackets, tailored blazers, princess seamed jackets, and many others. Sometimes alterationists like myself have to take some time to figure out how to take the garment apart, baste it, try it on the customer again, and then do the finish work.
Also, women’s fabric tends to be more delicate than men’s suiting. Delicate fabrics take more time for stitching and pressing, not to mention taking apart the seams.
In general, women are more particular about the fit of their clothes, too. Men want to show off their physique, of course, but women prefer a closer fit to show off their curves and design details to hide their flaws.
This is why many alterationists specialize in men’s or women’s clothing but don’t necessarily work on both. When looking for a tailor, be sure to ask whether they are experienced in the type of work you need done.
Barbara Stone is the owner of Barbara Stone Designs, a full-service tailoring and dressmaking business at 5200 Churn Creek Road, Suite P, Redding, CA, 96002. She can be reached at (530) 222-1340 or [email protected]