Suit Alterations Guide: What Can You Tailor & How Much It Costs
Anybody Asked For A Tailor?
Suit alterations are the most common extra costs that occur when you buy tailored clothing off the rack.
In today’s article I will discuss the most common Suit Alterations, their usual cost as well as alterations that are impossible, tough or simply not advised.
Whether you are tailoring a full suit, jacket, trousers or shirts, this guide is for you.
Do I Really Need Alterations?
Not so long ago, I wrote a very elaborate article about style mistakes men make.
As a man with OCD and a penchant for detail, I notice them in my daily life and most have to do with fit or over-accessorizing.
The most important aspect of dressing well is finding the right fit, otherwise you look sloppy and disinterested.
Ready To Wear (RTW) mass produced clothes supposedly have the average joe in mind and attempt to fit the most amount of people possible.
This of course poses a problem, as people are unique with different individual proportions.
In most cases, trousers are extremely long, sleeves are short or long and the average body type is what brands consider.
To get the most out of your garment, you really need to make a few alterations and adjustments to improve fit and image.
We will talk about most of them and I will tell you my opinion about each.
I will even break it down in three categories: Jackets, Trousers and Shirts.
1. Suit Jacket Alterations
I would like to begin with the top and specifically jackets.
Here is where you will see the most alterations as well as the biggest no-noes.
Most of the alterations that you can do on a suit jacket, are also available to some extent on coats as well.
1.1 Sleeve Length (Cuff)
We begin with the most common alteration for suit jackets, which is the sleeve length.
It is a rather easy alteration, but depends on a few factors.
First of all, functioning buttonholes limit the amount you can lengthen or shorten your sleeve.
At Suitsupply for example, the min/max is between 0.75-1.50 cm and in very few cases 2 cm.
The problem is the buttonholes and how they look if you cut or add too much fabric, altering the proportions.
On the other hand, decorative buttonholes such as on Spier & Mackay give you more flexibility.
At Suitsupply Sweden, the price was 245 SEK if I remember so about $30.
1.2 Sleeve Length (Shoulder)
Sometimes, the only way to adjust the length is directly from the shoulder.
However this involves detaching and reattaching the sleeve later.
It’s a very costly alteration that requires a lot of work and tailors don’t like doing it.
Plus, it also depends on the skill of the tailor.
I had only 1 client in my whole Suitsupply career that did this alteration.
Cost was approximately $80 if I remember right.
In my opinion, if you need to buy a suit and do this adjustment, you are better off making something custom instead in the first place.
1.3 Waist Adjustment
Adjusting the waist of the jacket is the other most common alteration you would do when buying RTW.
By letting out or taking in the side seams you can almost go up or down a size.
It all depends on the fabric inside, but the concept is the same.
Very interestingly, when taking in the seams you can remove a min/max of 0.75-4 cm but only 3 cm when letting them out.
I still remember how to use the pins to adjust the seams, in a half moon shape.
A bit uncertain about the cost, but it was around $30 I think.
1.4 Center Backseam
This is more of a bonus one, as you can slightly adjust the center backseam of the jacket to remove some folds, or let out a little extra space alongside the waist.
Around 1 cm so don’t expect much!
I find this alteration unnecessary.
1.5 Jacket Shortening
The biggest no-no in suit alteration history is shortening the jacket.
Whoever is pinning the jacket has to insert manually pins, but most importantly follow the line of the jacket correctly.
If they do it wrong, your jacket will look like a mess.
Due to the pockets, there’s also a recommended limit to how much you would shorten.
At Suitsupply, they did not allowed more than 3 cm and I actually never saw this alteration once.
Unfortunately I don’t remember the price but it sounded expensive.
1.6 Button Alterations
If you want to replace the buttons with new ones or different ones, it’s really simple.
My advice is to not go overboard though with fancy gold ones.
However, if you try to add let’s say a third button to a 2 button jacket, forget about it.
Such conversions are ridiculous and don’t work.
The same thing applies to changing your lapels.
Just don’t do it.
1.7 Collar Roll
A Collar Roll or Square Back Neck as we called it really comes down to your shoulder design.
Often accentuated by tightness around your blades and shoulders, creating a rippling effect just below your neck.
By pinching and pinning the middle with two additional zero points, you can adjust it slightly and remove some of it.
You can take in 0.75-1.5 cm and the cost should not exceed $15-20.
While not eliminating the problem, it can improve looks and is rather simple.
It does need a spotter or competent sales rep though.
1.8 Shoulder Padding
Adjusting, changing or reconstructing a shoulder pad is not something I advise.
Especially with the emergence of more natural, unstructured shoulders.
I don’t want to talk much about this, but it is expensive and really requires an expert pair of hands.
One to avoid.
1.9 Sleeve Tapering
Last but not least, a brief talk about tapering the sleeves of a jacket.
I still don’t recommend this and have seen guides saying it’s a basic alteration.
To be fair I really don’t recommend it as it just means this suit is not for you or the wrong size.
If you find yourself needing to taper the sleeves you should go custom.
A 3 cm allowance is enough for you to move your arms and have enough space in between the fabric.
2. Trouser Alterations
Continuing the alterations crusade by moving on to trousers.
It does not have to be just about suit trousers, as this applies to chinos and jeans as well.
There are a few tricky points which I will make sure to mention.
2.1 Length Adjustment (Hem)
Just like the jacket, adjusting the length of the trousers is the easiest, most common and most important alteration.
Too many times I see people not caring about the tons of fabric bunching up on their shoes.
While theoretically you can shorten trousers indefinitely, we did not recommend going more than 20 cm.
It will alter the trousers too high up and change the form. Between 6-11 cm is what most people removed at Suitsupply.
As for lengthening, there is always some extra fabric allowing for up to 4-5 cm lengthening.
This was one of the quickest alterations with just a 30 minute turnaround.
I wouldn’t expect to pay more than $10-20 for this.
2.2 Turn Up
This is short of an alteration and more of a modification.
Most common turn ups at the hem are 4 or 5 cm.
To do the turn up, you would require double the fabric of the desired turn up plus one extra cm for the fold.
So for a 4 cm turn up you need 9 cm of extra fabric and 11 cm for the 5 cm turn up.
Usually done in tandem with shortening of your trousers, it can give a different look.
I like turn ups!
2.3 Waist Adjustment
Just like the waist adjustment on jackets, you can do it on trousers as well.
Letting it out or taking it in is rather simple and a quick alteration.
For the low price of $10-20 you can do a max of +/- 5 cm which is basically a size up or down.
The reason you cannot do more is usually the belt loops becoming misaligned and disproportionate.
A general recommendation is that if you intend to adjust more than 3 cm off the waist, you should adjust the seat as well.
2.4 Seat Adjustment
If you have bunching excess fabric or tightness in the seat (your butt) you can also remove or add space.
A maximum of 3 cm in fact.
This is an alteration you will most likely do in combination with the waist.
Cheap, quick and often proposed as a combo price.
2.5 Belt Loop Removal
If you are like me and never wear belts, I suppose you can consider removing the belt loops.
Not a real problem to do, but I would recommend getting trousers with side-adjusters instead.
2.6 Leg Tapering (Thigh & Lower Leg)
Another super common, yet misused alteration is tapering.
I advise not removing more than 4 cm on the thigh and 5 cm on the lower leg.
Trousers require a little excess fabric for movement and stretch when you sit.
I lost count of the times people came to the shop and wanted a super tight slim fit.
Find a tailor that understands the natural form of your leg and the trousers.
A good idea is to test sitting, but also pulling the trousers up. If it’s too tight, it will bunch up and get stuck on your leg.
By the way, some extra tips.
When you tailor cotton or linen trousers, remember that there will be visible marks so make sure to get it right the first time.
Additionally, if you are adjusting tuxedo pants, half the possible tapering by half.
This is of course due to the black special fabric at the sides limiting it.
If you do both alterations, expect to shell out about $50-60.
3. Dress Shirt Alterations
Last but not least, I have a bonus section about dress shirts.
Generally, there are only 2 alterations you should really do on a shirt.
Anything else is dangerous business and will end in tears and cries of anger.
Darts, or Body Darts are the simplest, quickest alteration and a real life saver if a shirt is just a bit baggier.
By placing adjacent pins on the back, you can remove up to 8 cm of fabric and tighten it up.
Very easy, quick alteration and shouldn’t cost you more than $20.
3.2 Sleeve Shortening
Contrary to jackets, you cannot lengthen a shirt.
There’s just no extra fabric to do so. However you can shorten them up to 8 cm usually if they are too long.
I would not recommend doing this unless you wash them a few times first.
This is due to the fact that shirts can shrink up to 0.5 inches (1.27 cm) after a few washes.
Happened to me once and I felt like an idiot.
I’d expect to pay no more than $30.
Table Of Alterations
Before we sum things up, here’s a helpful Table compiling all the information mentioned above.
|Sleeve Length (Cuff)||0.75||1.5||$30|
|Sleeve Length (Shoulder)||N/A||N/A||$80|
|Waist (Take In)||0.75||4||$30|
|Waist (Let Out)||0.75||3||$30|
Alterations are something like a hidden cost you should expect when buying a new suit.
A rule of thumb when I worked at Suitsupply was that if you required more than 3 alterations on key areas then you should look for custom made.
And in most cases, the upcharge for custom made can actually be less than the total amount of alterations.
In Suitsupply for example, a custom made garment includes free further adjustments if required.
The most important take away here is to find the right tailor and gauge each situation carefully and individually.
Lastly, focus first on fit, then quality with the best value for your money.
I will see you next time!
Thank you for reading,