How much can women’s clothes be altered?
July 28, 2011 5:31 PM   Subscribe

How much can women’s clothes be altered?

I’m a non-sewer, so I don’t know all the vocabulary, or perhaps all the right questions to ask.

When looking at clothes that are not an exact fit, I often bypass anything that’s too big in the bust or too small in the waist. However, I’ve often wondered how much can women’s clothes be altered?

I’m sure the specific cut and fabric matters. But in general:

What are easy alterations (besides hemming)?
What are trickier, more expensive alterations, which may be better avoided?

Any other things to keep in mind? For example, a particular fabric being tough to work with?
Or, yes, that can be done, but check X to make sure there’s enough fabric allowance?

Again, this is in general, so I'm not talking about a situation where it's a $500 vintage cocktail dress I have my heart set on, and I'll pay whatever it takes to try to make it fit me.
I'm talking about browsing second-hand/vintage clothes, what alterations are possible, but not so costly they would make the garment prohibitively expensive in the end.
posted by IHeartWallabies to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (7 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I don't sew, but I've always heard that altering a garment's shoulder area is the hardest, and often prohibitively expensive. Sleeves can be hard too, especially upper arms.

Here are alterations I have had done, from cheap to expensive: hemming, button or zipper replacement, waist taken in, sleeve shortening, narrowing/reshaping of skirt, trouser leg narrowing, sleeve narrowing, neckline reshaping, torso narrowing/reshaping.

If you're shopping vintage, you'd want to pay lots of attention to the condition of the cloth. Lots of vintage stuff is on its last legs fabric-wise, and it would be a waste of effort to tailor things that don't have much life left.
posted by Susan PG at 5:54 PM on July 28, 2011

Rule of thumb: OK to take stuff in, tricky to let stuff out.
So if it's too big and you want to make it smaller, that's usually relatively easy.
If it's too short and you want to make it longer, well, they can only work with the fabric that's there.
posted by bleep at 5:57 PM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

I typed out a big long answer but I'm running on three hours of sleep and when I previewed I realized it didn't make any sense.

Bottom line is what bleep said. Taking stuff in is no problem. Letting stuff out is fraught with peril.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:05 PM on July 28, 2011

Keep in mind that you can only take in things so much before the proportions look off though - taking things in one size shouldn't be a problem, taking things in three sizes very well might be a problem.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:36 PM on July 28, 2011

The amount if alterations also depends on how the garment was costructed. I have sone nice wool skirts that are clearly constructed to be easy altered . The seam allowances are generous which means the hip area can be let out. The waistband is in four pieces to allow it to be taken in on the sides easily. (Pendleton makes some nice skirts!) I find vintage clothing often has these attributes.

Leather and vinyl can't be let out Easily because you'll see the needle holes. Chiffons and ravely fabrics may be problematic as well especially if the seam allowances are narrow.

I've let out plenty of vintage clothing. You do also have to watch out for fading and wear at hems.
posted by vespabelle at 6:57 PM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have recently discovered what Susan PG said. I was in a similar situation - purchased used clothing. Two shirts were tank tops and could easily be "hemmed" to bring up the shirt and cover the breast area.

The other was a short sleeved shirt which required the sleeve to be adjusted to bring up the shirt so the breast area was properly covered. The pricing was double the tank top hemming.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 7:31 AM on July 29, 2011

Look at the garment, in the one area that is a bit baggy (if it's more than just one area, then don't do it!). When you imagine getting rid of the fabric that is too much fabric, where does it go? Figure out which seam the tailor would be adjusting to make that happen. The ideal quick-fix involves leaving the seam intact and just sewing a parallel line closer in.

Things that make an alteration expensive:
- if there's more than just one seam to be adjusted
- if the seam is very curved, or curved in (at waist) and out (at hip), or you're adjusting a tapered thing like the darts at a bustline, that's more complicated, thus pricier, than a seam that's basically a straight line.
- if the seam intersects another piece of material: for example, taking the wasitband off to adjust the hip/waist ratio of a pair of pants, then re-installing the waistband; or removing a sleeve to change the shoulder seam or armpit seam of a top, and reinstalling the sleeve.
- if the two pieces coming into the seam have to be adjusted differently - for example, resewing the side seam to remove fabric from a bustline if the dress is already snug across the shoulderblades.
- if there are pleats or gathers in one of pieces entering the seam: for example, this is almost always true at the top of the sleeve, meaning that you can't just sew the shoulders narrower in one pass, you have to detach the sleeve, trim off shoulder width, and reattach.
posted by aimedwander at 7:49 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

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