As most us know, when it comes to dressing with style, rule #1 is making sure that your clothes fit you. It may sound like an obvious concept, but it’s one that still gets passed over again and again. It’s also the one rule that can TRULY make or break a look – transforming inexpensive items into expensive-looking pieces or turning designer duds into what look like high street bargain bin finds. Unfortunately, focusing on fit is easier said than done. These days, it seems that every new emerging brand has a whole new block, cut and take on the size and shape of small, medium and large. An extra-slim cut shirt in Charles Tyrwitt is not the same as a slim cut in H&M or Gant. The chance of you picking up something off the rack that fits exactly how you like it to is going to be pretty small. This is where a tailor enters the picture and saves the day. The pieces you buy that fit you well in certain areas but not in others can, nine times out of ten, be altered by a tailor to suit your specific body shape and preferences. They also happen to have a wealth of knowledge and experience of how individual items of clothing can be nipped and tucked in order to flatter various body shapes. So, whether it’s breathing new life into the old pieces you currently have stored in your wardrobe or taking your brand new purchases to the next level, there’s not much a tailor can’t do in order to make you look – and feel – better. Luckily, getting your clothes tailored professionally happens to be relatively cost effective, especially when compared to the price of designer clothing. But what happens if you have neglected your personal style for far too long and you want to tailor a large number of pieces? It can start to get pretty pricey, even if you manage to secure a discount. That’s without even considering the fact that a large percentage of our readership may not be able to afford a tailor AND new clothes at the same time. With all this in mind, for those times that a tailor just doesn’t fit into the fiscal picture, why not try doing it yourself?
Beginners DIY Tailoring
Altering my clothing has become a bit of a passion project of mine. All you need is a sewing machine, some cotton thread and a handful of fabrics to practise sewing in a straight line on. Of course, the machine is going to set you back an initial outlay at first, but once you realise the extent of alterations you can do with just a basic understanding, it will more than pay for itself in the long run. Most instruction manuals are really straight forward and easy to understand when it comes to setting it up, and once you’ve practised a bit you would be surprised how quickly your skill level evolves. I’d recommend picking up some spare needles (you’ll break a couple, trust me), some pins to take the clothing in and a picker to unpick any mistakes that you make. Here are just a few of the alterations that I’ve started doing myself after owning a sewing machine for only a couple of weeks…
Change The Buttons
One of the easiest alterations to make, and it doesn’t even involve a sewing machine! About.com have produced an excellent guide for beginners, entitled ‘how to sew on a flat button’, whilst you should also remember that the existing holes left from the old button provide guidance as to where your needle should be going. So, read up on the above and then try it out on some of the old pieces you don’t wear any more (shirts, jackets, chinos, polos – the list is endless). You will be pleasantly surprised at how that old work shirt can be instantly transformed with something as simple as contrasting coloured or higher quality buttons. I personally like swapping the buttons on my jackets for lighter shades in the summer – just another step in developing a truly seasonal wardrobe. However, many of you will want to alter the often cheap, bright white plastic buttons you find on many high street pieces (we are looking at you, Topman chinos), which will instantly make them appear more expensive and subtly separate yours from the mass-produced crowd.
Taking In A Shirt
Here you have two options: putting in darts or taking it in at the side seams. Personally, I like both methods but feel that a dart works better with a shirt made from a lighter material such as broadcloth or linen, not an Oxford cloth or flannel. My preferred method is to turn the shirt inside out, put it on and then have a friend – that you trust – pin two darts into the back of the shirt. You then use your sewing machine to sew along the line the pins form. When you are happy with your work, simple steam the darts closed with an iron. For an even easier way of taking in a shirt look no further than this threadbanger video:
Again, this is super easy to do and there are plenty of videos online that will take you through the process, step by step. Why not breathe new life into old jeans, trousers or chinos by taking them up to ankle height and treating them as your new go-to spring/summer trousers? Wear them sockless with loafers, of course.
Trousers To Shorts
Got some trousers that you don’t wear anymore? I owned a few pairs like this, yet heading into summer I didn’t have any shorts that I particularly liked either. That was until I realised I could just turn these old trousers into the shorts that I really wanted, without spending any money at all. The main problem I have with both trousers and shorts is that it’s hard to find a pair that fit my massive rugby thighs well. So even when I replace the trousers with an updated version in a different material or design, I turn the old pair into shorts so that I don’t have to hunt for the perfect fit again later on in the season. Again, it’s an easy alteration. If you’re not fussy all you’ll need is a pair of scissors and dedication to trimming the fraying edges every couple of weeks. Alternatively, for those looking for smarter, cleaner lines, cut them to the desired length and then hem them like you would a pair of trousers.
Fabrics For Pocket Squares
The great thing about creating your own pocket square is that you can pick the EXACT fabric, colour and pattern you want, usually for a pretty low cost, from any fabric shop. Then simply follow this great guide by Eight-In-Hand for putting it together. I tend to make mine from old shirts that have started to fray or wear in awkward places.
So there you have it, a few alteration tips that you can start doing yourself for a lot cheaper than a tailor. Like I said, the sewing machine will set you back initially but once you look at it as an investment and see the amount of money that you’re saving, you’ll reap the rewards. If you become passionate about it then it could potentially lead to you making your own clothing; I’m currently toying with the idea of making a waistcoat. Aside from the savings, it also gives your clothing an individual stamp – a stamp that you’ve done yourself. Which is sort of what style is all about. As always, we want to hear what you have to say: do you already do all your own alterations? Have you been thinking about it for a while? What sort of advice or experiences could you pass on to the rest of us? Let us know in the comment section… Matt Allinson