Lost a ton of weight, clothes don't fit anymore. Should I learn to do my own alterations or buy new clothes?
March 30, 2012 10:58 PM   Subscribe

I've lost a lot of weight in the past year and have gone from a size 14 to a size 8. After a few years of thinking it was just a metabolism/getting older thing, my doctor recently discovered my weight gain was caused by the beginning stages of hypothyroidism. (I ballooned 47 lbs. in a year and half.) After I started taking medication (and increasing my workouts,) the weight started dropping off. I was a size 4 before all the gain, so it's possible I might lose more. I have a lot of nice clothes that don't fit me anymore. Some pieces are really nice designer items and I'd like to keep them and protect my investment in them. Alterations are expensive, and buying new clothes isn't cheap, either. Is it worth it to learn how to sew and do my own alterations? Before I invest in a sewing machine and some classes, I want to know if this plan is doable. I know nothing about sewing, so is taking in clothes something that's complex and should be left to the professionals?
posted by matrushka to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
designer clothes are generally designer because they feature some really good tailoring and seam work. they're generally made out of many pieces of fabric and to take it in so many sizes, the potential for it fitting really odd or not flattering anymore are high. i would certainly only leave it to a professional, but you might also try consignment or ebay for a couple pieces to see how that goes at returning some of the money and offsetting the cost for some new clothes. .
posted by nadawi at 11:05 PM on March 30, 2012 [11 favorites]

Altering clothes at home is easy enough if you just want to go down a size or two. Turning a size 14 into a size 4 is a different thing entirely, requiring roughly the same level of skill as making a new garment from scratch. It's a task best left to a professional, unless you're tremendously enthusiastic about learning advanced dressmaking techniques.
posted by embrangled at 11:10 PM on March 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

Congratulations on your weight loss! By all means, reward yourself with the services of a great tailor. Ask around, you might even find someone who is good and not too expensive.
posted by Lylo at 11:19 PM on March 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

It'll be so nice to wear those new clothes you're going to buy, a reward for looking into what was happening to your body and then fixing it. Which is to say -- sell the nice clothes you've got, on ebay or craiglist or donate them, then buy different.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:29 PM on March 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

In general, the more simply-cut a garment, the easier it is to alter. So a plain gored skirt on a waistband you might be able to take down from a 14 to an 8. A tailored jacket, almost certainly not.

But at this point you know nothing about sewing, so my advice would be to do some research about really excellent quality tailoring in your area. Once you've found a place that comes highly recommended, take in a piece or two and ask for an estimate on doing the alterations. If the cost seems reasonable to you, get the work done, and see how you like the result. My guess is that the cost-to-result quality ratio is going to be unfavorable unless you are bringing in a garment that is both simply cut and very expensive (say, a $4,000 silk swing coat.)
posted by La Cieca at 11:59 PM on March 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Only start sewing if it's a goal of yours to learn to sew, or a hobby you want to pursue. My experience is that while the basics are pretty easy to learn, and sewing can be fun & rewarding (I enjoy it & used to do it a lot, even though I don't really have time for it anymore), you will almost never save money making or altering your own clothes, and doing it well takes a long time to learn.
posted by eleyna at 12:33 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seriously, don't do it yourself. Even very simple sewing tasks can be more complex than they seem, especially if it is well made clothing which often has many subtle components. If you are a beginner, you shouldn't be learning on your expensive designer clothes. I have been sewing since I was about 8 years old, and I will make clothes from time to time, but I wouldn't mess with expensive clothes myself. Also, having things tailored is less expensive than you might think; having a blouse taken in should only be about 10 or 15 dollars for example.
posted by windykites at 3:09 AM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

doing it well takes a long time to learn.

posted by eleyna

This, 10 times over. I can make clothes from scratch, I can remodel something or remake it into something else (like turn a dress into a top), but taking something in to drop multiple sizes... I wouldn't even attempt it.

I once won a competition where I got to choose the dress of my choice from a small exclusive boutique. The only dress I liked was three sizes too big for me, though. The boutique owner sent me up the road to her tailor, a young slip of a girl who didn't even measure me. She had me try on the dress, looked me up and down, and then said, "okay, it'll be ready in a week". I turned up a week later, sure that the $300 dress would look awful (which I'd hoped to wear to a school reunion), and it fitted perfectly, as though it was made for me. I guess my point is that some people are talented tailors, and some - like me, with my 30-ish years experience at sewing - are good at minor alterations and that's all.

Use trial and error to find a spectacular tailor/seamstress. Get a smaller less expensive item tailored, and if they do a great job, stick with them for life. It is a learned skill, but as I've suggested in the paragraph above, some people are just born to do it and do it well.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 4:20 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yes, it's much, much, much better to go with a tailor if you're not already sewing. I *do* sew, have been since I was a kid, and still wouldn't do alterations that significant on clothing I cared about; my skills just aren't at that level. Also, it can be time-consuming, difficult, and stressful to do that kind of sewing. (Some people enjoy dressmaking and refashioning clothing. It's not so much my bag.)

If you're still tempted, I would go read the blogs Gertie's Blog for Better Sewing and Male Pattern Boldness and check out some of the process/nitty-gritty posts. Does learning how to perfectly adjust sewing machine tension for perfect topstitching attract you? How to grade a pattern to reduce the size (something you'd be doing -- and note that most experienced seamstresses dread doing this with a paper pattern, much less with an actual garment you've only got one of)? Learning all about the nitty-gritty details of interfacing?
posted by pie ninja at 4:33 AM on March 31, 2012

I'd like to keep them and protect my investment in them.

I'm all about the DIY, but if your plan is to protect your investment in designer clothes through amateur alterations, I would describe that as a bad plan.

Have the smaller items that can be altered tailored by a professional. Sell the rest.
posted by mhoye at 5:37 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks very much everyone - super helpful advice. I'm glad I came here first.
posted by matrushka at 6:33 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whatever can't be altered might be a good candidate for a designer consignment shop. You may even get more $ if you spend it at the shop to replenish your wardrobe.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:18 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding a designer consignment store. You can at least get some of your investment back and someone else can pick up some beautiful clothes for a good price.
posted by Leezie at 7:55 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd like to keep them and protect my investment in them

Do know that alterations will take the resale value of a higher-end garment down to very little, if anything. "Haute Brand Name jacket, size 14" on eBay sells, "Haute anything, altered," no, or for $5. This goes even for professionally altered stuff; even a very simple thing like shortening a hem reduces resale value.

I would take the more easily altered stuff you absolutely adore to a good tailor, and sell off the rest. I have had some weight fluctuations in recent years; I understand how painful and expensive this is. Try flash sale sites, "30% off sale plus free shipping" stuff at J. Crew, posh consignment stores, etc.
posted by kmennie at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nthing all the suggestions to have a pro do the alterations on the must-keeps. Some items will be more easily tailored than others: lined clothing, in particular, is a bear. Get recommendations for a quality tailor and ask his or her advice on the feasibility/expense of altering your favorites.

If you have to get rid of some items: A few years back I donated some never-to-fit-again items to Hadassah. (I could nearly cry when I think of one of the suits, but nothing lasts forever!) They gave me a tax receipt for the items, which Salvation Army typically does not do for clothing. If you need new designer clothing, consignment stores are a great place, as already stated above.

By all means, learn to sew if you'd like. I'm taking up sewing again myself after a 30-year hiatus, because my mom's 50-year-old Singer is in my third bedroom languishing for want of attention, and because I want to make my own flannel nightgowns and such. If I were ever to get good enough to alter my own formal clothing, I'd be amazed. I'd be happy with a well-sewn sundress or two.
posted by Currer Belfry at 11:35 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, sizes 12 and 14 and 16 US are eagerly sought after by consignment shoppers. It's really difficult, even for experienced tailors, to alter structured garments by more than two sizes, so your best bet would seem to me to consign your too-large clothes and use the proceeds to invest in clothes that fit your new shape.

I know how frustrating it is to give up beloved clothes when they're too big! But my fantastic tailor is pretty adamant about not being able to take thing in more than two sizes, and when I've tried myself (and I'm pretty good for an amateur) the results haven't been great.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:40 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

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