At the very start of The Italian Job, Michael Caine’s character delivers one of the coolest lines in British cinema. His girlfriend picks him up from prison in the Turkish Ambassador’s stolen car and asks him where he’d like to go first as a free man. His immortal reply? “Take me to my tailor.” Clearly, Charlie Crocker knew the score.
While things have changed today, and ready-to-wear suits have replaced bespoke tailoring for the vast majority of guys, there’s still a reason for you to make friends with a man of the cloth: alterations.
A completely glove-like fit can’t be bought unless you go bespoke. The reason for this is that ready-to-wear suits – even expensive ones – are designed to offer a reasonable fit across a range of different body shapes, sizes and silhouettes, and they have to compromise as a result.
With a good tailor on speed dial, you’ll have all kinds of sartorial sorcery at your fingertips – from giving tired pieces a new lease of life to making a high street suit look a whole lot more expensive.
If you ever slip a jacket on and find the sleeves are a touch too long, the jacket’s bagging across your front, or swallowing the hollow of your back, don’t despair. A decent alterations tailor can work wonders, and tweak a ready-to-wear suit almost everywhere that matters, to help you achieve the look and feel of a bespoke suit. Here’s how.
Suit Jacket Alterations
Lengthen Or Shorten The Sleeves
In an ideal world, a suit’s sleeves should fall to the wrist, and show around a quarter-of-an-inch of shirt cuff beneath. That’s the theory, but let’s face it – we’ve all got different arms. If you struggle to find jackets with sleeves that finish where they should, this is easily fixed. An alterations tailor should be able to move a jacket’s cuff buttons and pick-up or let down the sleeves of your jacket by about an inch. It’s trickier to do this with working cuffs that fasten or unfasten, so best to stick to brands that sell ‘sham’ or faux cuffs if you struggle to get sleeves that fit.
Chip The Jacket’s Shoulders
If all else fails, it is also possible to take the shoulders of a jacket in – an alteration that tailors call ‘chipping’ because it involves taking off the sleeves, cutting or chipping away the shoulder pads, and then sewing the whole thing back together. It’s the tailoring equivalent of major surgery, and it can go badly wrong. But, if you find the right tailor and struggle to get a jacket’s shoulders to fit you snugly, this is definitely worth a go. Try this alteration is you are slight of frame, but make sure you find a tailor who knows what they’re doing.
Take In The Jacket’s Waist
This alternation, perhaps more than any other, can transform the look of a ready-to-wear suit. At its most fundamental, the suit is supposed to offer a masculine take on an hourglass figure; building up your shoulders and following the natural line of your waist. If you have big shoulders, or a hollow back, often this doesn’t happen, and extra cloth in the jacket’s waist can swallow you up. Avoid this by having the jacket taken in through the side-seams – it will fit the whole thing to your frame, and clean-up any bagginess. Most alternations tailors can pin a jacket to you and get it fitting like a glove inside a week.
Rotate A Jacket Sleeve
A fix that’s definitely not for tailoring newbs, changing the pitch of a jacket’s sleeve – that is the angle at which the sleeve is attached at the shoulder and the corresponding way it sits on your arm – isn’t so much a routine alteration as an impressive feat of engineering. The pitch you require generally depends on factors such as your posture, but of course off-the-peg suit retailers don’t know you personally, which is where this sartorial edit comes in. Keep in mind that even the slightest change in pitch requires the sleeve to be removed entirely to be tilted, so reserve this one for a blazer or sports jacket you see yourself wearing for many years to come.
Suit Trouser Alterations
Taper Trouser Legs
One for guys who don’t skip leg day but still want a slim silhouette, tapering trouser legs is a straightforward way of ensuring trousers or jeans that fit at your waist and thigh also fit well through the lower leg. The process involves slimming the trouser leg down from the mid-thigh/knee area to the break, stripping away excess fabric and creating a new seam that sits closer to the body. Ideal if you want your denim or chinos to look less like your dad’s.
Hem The Trousers
“Trousers should shiver on the shoe and not break”, so said Oscar Wilde. The ‘break’ of a trouser is the degree to which the material bags on the top of your shoes. In an ideal world, your trousers should hang clean down to the bridge of your foot and sit neatly on top of the shoe, as Wilde describes. There’s nothing less elegant than trousers that are too long, or more embarrassing that trousers that are too short (unless purposely cropped). Hemming suit trousers to the correct length is the easiest alteration in the book – any old tailor should be able to do this quickly and easily.
Let Out The Legs
Most modern suits, particularly those found on the high street, are cut with slim, sharply tapering trousers, which are designed to flatter a skinny frame – but that isn’t ideal if you’re of naturally larger proportions. If you struggle to get trousers with legs that are wide enough to fit without straining around your thighs, many brands will supply trousers with inlay down each side seam, which an alterations tailor can use to let out and widen the trousers – giving you a touch more room to move.
Make Your Shirt Fit Better
You might not prize your shirt as highly as the tailoring you wear on top of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth streamlining. Adding darts (subtle sewn-in folds) to a shirt can instantly improve how it fits through the torso, tucking in excess fabric and giving you a sleeker silhouette. Although you’ll find plenty of DIY guides on adding darts to a shirt, it – like most alterations – is best left to the professionals unless you consider yourself a skilled seamster.
Give Your Shirt A New Neckline
Always thought that crew neck would work better as a boat neck? Or maybe you want to kill the collar on your favourite button-down? A good tailor can help you achieve both. Although in many cases, like with a T-shirt, it’ll be easier (and more affordable) just to buy a new one, having a tailor work on the neckline is not only more environmentally friendly, it’ll also allow you to keep what you like about the garment (e.g. the colour or print) while optimising how it fits at the neck.
Get Rid Of Pockets
Some shirts look better sans-chest pockets. So if you’d rather your favourite shirt had a more minimal appearance, check in with your tailor who should be able to remove the pocket(s) without leaving behind much of a trace. Results vary, with holes from where the pocket was stitched initially sometimes visible, so get your tailor’s professional opinion before pushing the button on this one.
Finishing Touches And Repairs
Replace Buttons And Zippers
No, it’s not exactly rocket science, but having your tailor replace missing buttons or faulty zippers saves you having to carve out the time to do it yourself. (Or, you know, learn how to do it in the first place.)
Reline A Suit Jacket
Love your off-the-peg suit jacket but want to make yours more personal to you? A tailor might be able to help. Relining an entire suit jacket isn’t easy, with intricate work required to fashion new interior pockets and ensure the new lining sits just right in the shell of the blazer. So, while prices vary hugely, this alteration typically doesn’t come cheap.
Stitch Down Pockets
Apart from perhaps an upended glass of rioja or a sticky-fingered child, few things wreck the appearance of your tailoring like overstuffed pockets. If the temptation to overload every open seam is too much, it is possible to have them sewn shut. Not only does this stop you wrecking the clean lines a suit is intended to create, it also encourages you to invest in a decent briefcase or holdall.
Five Of The Best Ready-To-Wear Suit Brands
In order to get the most out of your suit alterations, you need a good starting point – these are tailors, not magicians after all. Here are five of the best ready-to-wear suits that, with a few tailoring tweaks, will look like second skin.
Gieves & Hawkes
The quintessential Savile Row tailor, Gieves & Hawkes’s ready-to-wear tailoring is superb. Whether you’re looking for a crisp three-piece suit for the office, or something special for wedding or even a cocktail party, this is the place to come. The house’s flagship at No.1 Savile Row is an impressive shop; the staff are friendly, attentive and fitting a suit to your figure is all part of the service.
Richard James was founded in the early 1990s as one of the ‘new wave’ of cool Savile Row tailors, a reputation it has kept up ever since. Today, the house designs a mixture of sharp formal suits, and slightly more colourful, creative suits too. Try one of its plain coloured double-breasted jackets with elegant pleated trousers for a slightly retro, but sophisticated look.
When all else fails, try Suit Supply. This on-point Scandinavian brand makes modern tailoring in a wide range of fits and luxurious Italian and British fabrics. It cuts suits with a traditionally British ‘structured’ look, but it is best known for its unstructured Italian-influenced designs. Try its ‘Havana’ model for a contemporary, relaxed look.
Reiss’s tailoring comes up quite slim, but the brand uses good quality fabrics, and its tailoring is very well cut. Incidentally, this is a good place to shop lightweight summer suits or jackets – Reiss makes lots of tailoring with a light, airy construction, and uses some high-twist cloths that are designed to travel well and resist creasing.
Drake’s is a slightly more arty choice, but no less appealing. Its suits and jackets are made lovingly in Italy, in a mixture of ‘olde worlde’ tweeds, corduroy, brushed cotton and even denim on occasion. Unlined and unstructured, its tailoring is sharp-looking yet relaxed all at once.