Though not technically an element of a suit, the dress shirt is almost always worn with one. For the purposes of this men’s tailoring series, therefore, we thought it would be helpful to include a list of common alterations done to dress shirts.
In this guide, you will learn about the different shirt alterations, how much they may cost, and how hard they are to do. Each shirt alteration has been broken down under the following categories:
- How To Tailor A Dress Shirt
- Easy Shirt Alterations
- Challenging Shirt Alterations
- Expensive & Impossible Alterations
Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.
How To Tailor A Shirt
Your shirt will often be covered by a jacket, which leads a lot of men to skimp on altering their shirts.
While they have a point, our stance is that if you’re wearing clothes, they should fit well, period. Also, there will come a point in the day when your jacket is off and you don’t want to look like you’re wearing a balloon.
Easy Tailoring Fixes
1. Take In Sides
Shirts have a seam on either side, and if it’s too big, a tailor can take it in for you. When you’re getting pinned up, make sure the tailor isn’t overzealous. A svelte look is one thing, but a shirt that is too tight will make you look fat after even the lightest meal.
Estimated Cost: $30
2. Add Darts
In cases where you need just a little bit of shape and taking the sides in would be too much, the tailor can simply add darts to the front, back, or both.
Note: a “dart” is an overlapped piece of fabric / pinched-in seam on a garment to bring in its dimensions.
Estimated Cost: $20
3. Shorten Sleeves
Your sleeves should, when buttoned, hit at the break of the wrist and no further. If they don’t then your tailor can shorten them. Make sure your sleeves are consistent, along with your suit jacket sleeves so that the optimal amount of 1/2″ cuff is showing at all times.
If you want to save the placket you can have your tailor shorten the sleeves from the shoulder, but it’ll be more expensive.
Estimated Cost: $25-$45
4. Make Long Sleeves Short
If you want to turn a long sleeve shirt into a short sleeve one, your tailor can do that.
We do not recommend this unless you’re moving to an extremely warm climate, and even then we’re going to question you on it.
Estimated Cost: $30
Tougher But Feasible Alterations
Many off the rack dress shirts from fine retailers cost under $100, so we question the need to make these alterations unless you’re truly in love. Retailers (including many fine ones online, such as Charles Tyrwhitt) now offer in many cases two to three different body fit options, along with neck size, sleeve length, collar and cuff options.
If you’re not sure of your perfect size then order an array, get the one that’s right for you, and then stick to that configuration. As the old saying goes, “prevention is better than cure!” But if you’ve already made that purchase or want to see if an alteration is feasible both technically and financially, read on.
1 & 2. Replace Collar And/Or Cuffs
This is typically done for custom shirts (as they often cost in excess of $100 up to $500 or more!).
Collars and cuffs see the highest amount of stress in a shirt (ever notice how both get dirty and frayed in a way that the rest of the shirt doesn’t?), which is why haberdashers have been replacing them for decades.
In fact, this is where the contrasting white collar and cuff tradition comes from. If the maker still has the original fabric available, then you can have it replaced with the same, but if it’s unavailable, you can always go with white.
If this is a ready-to-wear shirt, replacing collars and cuffs is sadly more trouble than it’s worth. Not only will you have to pay for the labor, but if your tailor has to also make the collar and cuffs, the additional expense becomes significant.
At that point, you might as well just buy a new shirt. It’s a shame because if it was easier, think about the recycling opportunities! Indeed, shirts were far more expensive in the past, which is why people used to replace the collars instead.
Occasionally, the same collar or cuffs can be used. In rare cases, a collar or French cuff can be flipped over and the reverse can be worn. However, you may see signs on the old stitching.
Another solution is to have the collar removed and then use it for wearing detachable collars.
Estimated Cost: $30 (collar or cuffs), $50 (collar and cuffs)
Estimated Cost to make and replace: $75 (collar or cuffs), $130 (collar and cuffs)
Difficult, Impossible, And Last Resort Fixes
Unfortunately, the following alterations simply aren’t possible for a shirt. Therefore, you’ll have to buy a replacement or exchange your recent purchase if it’s possible. If you’re not sure where to buy a shirt that fits, we’ll offer a few suggestions below. Alternatively, check out our guide to the best dress shirt brands.
1. Let Out Sides
Unlike jackets or trousers, shirts do not have any extra material built into them. As such, they can not be let out in the same way. If your shirt is too tight, you either need to lose weight or get a new shirt.
Estimated Cost: N/A (impossible)
2. Lengthen Sleeves
Jacket sleeves have additional material built into them. Shirtsleeves don’t. If you’re one of those guys who’s a bit on the lankier side, you’ll either have to shop for tall sizes or go custom, cause no one in the world can lengthen your sleeves for you.
Estimated Cost: N/A (impossible)
3. Lengthen Shirt
Again, there is no extra material with which to do so. If your shirt needs to be longer, that means you need to buy a longer shirt.
Estimated Cost: N/A (impossible)
A Final Word On Shirt Alterations
You may have likely deduced at this point that shirts offer fewer opportunities for alterations due to their lack of material relative to jackets and trousers. With that said, it’s even more important that it fit as best as possible off the rack, because there’s less room for error.
As mentioned above, if you’re struggling to find a shirt that fits well, here are a few suggestions on what to do.
Finding Shirts That Fit
Some shirt brands only go by collar size with a standard arm length and fit. It can be very frustrating if you have a large neck and short arms or vice versa. Therefore, the best shirt brands will retail shirts of different collar sizes with several arm length options.
We believe that this additional measurement is vital for a shirt that fits well, and it will reduce the number of alterations that you may need. Many Jermyn Street brands like Hawes & Curtis have been practising this for years. Meanwhile, new brands like Twillory offer multiple lengths as well as double cuffs that can be adjusted thanks to additional hidden boutonnières.
Check out our guide to the best dress shirt brands to see who else we suggest!
Similarly, if you’re quite slim, you might be floating in a large shirt. Meanwhile, a shirt with the right neck and arm length might be depressingly tight. Although brands offer a selection of different cuts (like “slim”, “tailored”, and “classic”), sometimes you may be better opting for custom garments.
Buying custom or made-to-measure garments sounds expensive but you’d be surprised! Often, it can provide you exceptional value, which is often cheaper than designer brands.
Indochino is an option that offers excellent value. Although it retails its custom shirts at $79, there are often multi-buy deals and offers where you can pick them up for just $50 each.
If you spend more than $399 by stocking up or ordering a suit, you can also have 10% off your order with our code “BESPOKEUNIT“.
Meanwhile, Black Lapel is pricier at $149 per shirt. You can benefit from a $25 discount when using our code “FTOBESPOKEUNIT” when placing an order, though.
Other Tailoring Guides In The Series
As you may have noticed in the menu above, we have a number of other alteration guides that you can use when assessing the work that will need doing:
- How A Shirt Should Fit
- How To Find A Good Tailor
- Trousers / Pants Alterations
- Waistcoat / Vest Alterations
- Jacket Alterations
Alternatively, visit our main suit homepage for many more pages and free resources.
So my problem is I am a TRex. Large next short arms and stout. So how can I reduce the amount of material in the arm pit area so the shirt does look like it does fit everwhere
I suppose there’s two options, as this kind of alteration is more advanced. You could take your current shirts to a tailor who can make the desired changes. IF you have high-quality shirts which you expect to last a long time with proper care, this is a good option. Otherwise, consider brands like Charles Tyrwhitt or Apposta (made in Italy) that can create custom shirts for a relatively accessible price. IF you’re going the custom route, I’d suggest going to a tailor who can accurately get your measurements before you place an order. While you’re at the tailor, it’s possible they’ll create a custom-fit shirt for you as well, so ask for their pricing and consider giving them your business – it’s never a bad idea to make friends with a local tailor!