Tailoring a store-bought suit can be a complicated, tedious operation. Even experienced tailors set certain limitations on what they will and will not alter to a ready-made suit. And tailoring a suit yourself is not a job for beginners. Let’s talk about some of the time-consuming features of suit alterations and whether you should attempt them yourself or take them to a professional tailor.
Related: How Long Does It Take To Hem Pants?
How Long Does It Take to Alter a Suit?
Suit alterations can be challenging, especially to an inexperienced sewer. If you take a two-piece suit to a professional tailor, you can expect to wait from two to six weeks for it to be returned, depending on what changes you are requesting.
It may still take several days of concentrated effort to finish the job for an experienced home sewer. If you cannot give the project your undivided attention, it may take a week or so to complete the job at home.
Why? Let’s look at some reasons why suit tailoring is such a chore.
The natural order of things.
We may never answer whether the chicken or the egg came first to the satisfaction of everyone. But we can learn which parts of a suit are assembled first and how they all support each other.
If you visit your local fabric shop, you can pull out a pattern and examine the directions. Or, if you want some hands-on learning, you can visit your local thrift shop and buy a used suit coat to disassemble. By examining how the pieces go together, it becomes evident that there are some tricky spots that would seem impossible to duplicate once put together.
When attempting to take in, let out, or shorten/lengthen various parts, you’ll find yourself often jumping into the middle of the original process, trying to work around or through whatever method was used to create the garment. And all suits are not put together the same way, so what you find in one coat may not apply to the next.
What can and cannot be done?
Even professional tailors will refuse to attempt some alterations. It would be a good thing to learn from their limitations. What alterations do many tailors say no to? Which ones will they say yes to? Here’s a short overview of what to expect.
- Too much size difference–As a professional seamstress, I admit I always did love a challenge, but even I have had to set limits. Used suits that are vastly over or undersized for the new owners can only be changed so far without affecting the fit and appearance. Seams that end up in all the wrong places won’t make the effort worth your while. A good rule of thumb is no more than two sizes difference. But in some cases, even that may still be too much. Of course, it’s always easier to take in than let out. Expect better-made garments to include more seam allowance for tailoring than less expensive brands.
- Collar/Lapels–Some collar alterations are possible; others are not. Shortening the back of a collar for a better fit is not uncommon. Lapels can sometimes be made a bit narrower. Any more than this is not feasible.
- Shoulders–Most suit shoulder shapes and seams are too complex to change. The one exception is to possibly lessen the amount of padding.
- Sleeves–Many sleeve alterations are possible. Narrowing, shortening, and lengthening are some of the most frequent tailoring needs. The only issue is if the sleeves have faux buttonholes. It is difficult to remove these, and shortening too close to them looks off.
- Buttons–As a quick fix, buttons can be moved slightly in or out for a looser or tighter fit. However, adding or subtracting buttons is generally not done. I have added an occasional extra button if the coat gaps open where it shouldn’t.
- Reshaping the front jacket quarters–There are several styles for the front of the jacket below the buttons. In more formal jackets, the bottom will have a full length and square shape. However, a more modern style rounds off the bottom so that it flows away from the buttons. Although it is possible to round these quarter panels, it is not easy to do so that it looks like it was made that way. Most tailors will refuse to do so.
- Length–Again, length is a more common alteration than most. However, too much shortening may not be possible with some pocket, button, or flap placements.
- Back vent–A back vent may be closed, but it is difficult to modify in any other way.
- Suit pants–Pant hems, leg width, or waist size can all be adjusted. The only issue I have run into is when a customer wanted a straight leg changed to a cuff. Unless they also wish to have the pants shortened, there will not be enough fabric.
The Do-It-Yourself Nightmare
I have tried to give you enough information to keep you from a sewing nightmare. As you look at each item listed above, consider that each one you attempt could take hours of your time. If you’re not in a hurry, it can be a learning experience. If you have a time limit, it may be better to take the suit to a professional tailor.
The cost of tailoring can sometimes be prohibitive. You may want to call nearby tailor shops to get an estimate of prices for your particular needs. Dry cleaners also offer these services, but it’s hard to say if you’ll save either money or time there.
If you decide to do the work yourself, be prepared to take your time to do it right. Hopefully, you have at least a couple of weeks to do any significant alterations to both suit coat and pants–or shop for a new, better fitting suit.