Welcome to Bespoke Unit’s complete guide to men’s tailoring where we talk all about different alterations for your suit. In this series of guides, you will learn what can and can’t be altered or tailored, what you’ll expect to pay, and how to find and keep a great tailor.
You can use the menu below to look at our guides covering individual garments below. Meanwhile, we’ll be focusing on the following in this introduction:
Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.
Learn How A Suit Should Fit
Why Do You Need A Tailor?
In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. -Benjamin Franklin
The giant of American history was a great man, but he forgot to mention “alterations.” Sure, there’s a chance that you might be able to buy a ready to wear (aka “RTW”) suit jacket, put it on, and walk out looking like you just emerged from a Savile Row tailor.
In that same universe, Kenny G will put out a heavy metal album and Snapchat will become acceptable for business communication. As was mentioned in our guide, “How to Buy a Suit”, if you decide to purchase an off-the-rack garment, there is 99% certainty that you will require the services of a tailor.
The two major offenders we regularly see are:
- Sleeve length too long (see the jacket alteration page) – you should be able to see about 1/2″ of shirt cuff when standing in a natural posture
- Trouser length too long (see the trouser alteration page) – depending on your own style you may opt for no break, or have one, but one thing you want to be sure of is that you’re not swimming in fabric around your ankles
Aside from that, there are many small tweaks you can make to sharpen up your garments. We have developed guides for each garment detailing the alterations that are a piece of cake, all the way through to the near-impossible.
But first, we must find a good tailor to actually make the alterations for us.
How To Find A Good Tailor
Firstly, it’s important to remember that not everyone who offers alterations on an existing suit is a tailor. There are also seamstresses and some dry cleaners that also provide this service. Typically, tailors will also make garments in some form or another as well.
Finding a good tailor is like finding a good doctor or a good lawyer. You know they’re out there, but where are they to be found? Some of this will be trial and error, so even if you take the following advice, start with a simple alteration like shortening pants.
Since we live in the 21st century, the Internet is a great resource that can be used. Go to Yelp or Citysearch and look for tailors near your zip / postal code and see what the reviews say. Don’t just look at the star ratings, actually read the reviews so you can get a feel for the work that was done and its quality.
A less technology-driven method would be to ask your best-dressed friend where he gets his clothes worked on (this should go without saying, but we thought it’d be remiss to not mention here).
If you’re completely on your own and all of your friends and relatives dress like schlumps, then your best bet is to go into the nicest men’s shop in town and ask who they use for tailoring.
Many stores have onsite tailors, so if you’re buying from them, it’s generally easiest to let them do the work if you don’t have your own tailor yet.
Even if you didn’t buy the clothes there, some companies (like Men’s Wearhouse in the USA) will still do your alterations for you, they’ll just charge you a bit more than they would one of their own customers.
If the store doesn’t use an onsite tailor, ask them to share who they use. Chances are it’s a local shop that would appreciate the additional business you’d bring.
What you’ll generally want to avoid is taking complicated alterations to a dry cleaner that also claims to be a tailor. Certainly, some exist that will do good work, but generally, they’re only good with simple alterations.
Building A Relationship With Your Tailor
Over time, your tailor should fill a space in your life akin to that of your favorite bartender or barista: a person with whom you have a good rapport and who knows your tastes and preferences.
The key to this is to communicate honestly and openly with your tailor. Be upfront about your likes and dislikes.
Your tailor, like any professional, would rather learn this information upfront as opposed to doing work that you then ask to have re-done. This costs money for you, time for him, and is an unpleasant experience all around.
Over time, your tailor will learn how you want your clothes to fit, and you will learn how he does his work (i.e. what does “slim” or a “slight break” mean to him?).
His good work should be rewarded with your loyalty, and your loyalty can often be rewarded with a “yes” instead of a “no” when you ask for the occasional rush job.
Above all, listen to him when he tells you that he can’t do a job or that an alteration is a bad idea because he’s a professional who knows what he’s doing.
What’s Worth Getting Tailored?
Now that you have read our introductory guide into tailoring, it’s time to start learning about the specific alterations for your garments.
The guides in our tailoring series are broken down three sections: jacket, waistcoat (vest, in American English), and trousers. We have also created a dress shirt page as this is arguably linked to the suit, and deserves just as much attention.
Each section shall detail the major alterations that can be performed, note which ones are possibly “worth it” if needed, and indicate which ones might be a bridge too far. Unfortunately, the latter usually means that you shouldn’t have bought it in the first place.
Use the links below to skip to the specific garment: