Bulk Tailoring - Possible? Advisable?
February 19, 2017 7:04 AM   Subscribe

I am a petite, early-30s, hourglass-figured woman who has finally decided to get a bunch of (mostly) business casual items tailored, but need advice about the best plan of attack - because they are numerous, and varied. I would like to get the 20 items in the "to get tailored" area of my closet comprising tops, wrap dresses, and pants hemmed, have tab-button sleeves or necklines tacked closed, and/or waists taken in (pants). Will a tailor want to do these in multiple batches? I have questions about etiquette, expectations, ballpark timelines, and tailoring interactions in general...

I've already donated what I would not wear, and so do plan to wear all of these items, in the name of "shopping my closet" rather than purchasing new items to add variety to my wardrobe. Most of these alterations are due to buying clothing that fits "well enough" on first try-on in store or when received at home from an online order, but on reflection are determined to no longer fit, but the return window has closed; I am trying to be even more discriminating on purchases going forward. I purchased a sewing machine with aspirations of learning to do some of these fixes myself, but am a complete novice and pressed for time, and at this point am willing to pay someone else to get the job done. I have never used a tailor, but it seems it's time to develop a relationship with one.

When contacting tailors, I plan to ask about all of these, as I assume answers could vary. But to get a general sense of the scope of what I'd like to do, my questions are:
(1) Is it pretty standard to call ahead to make an appointment? I assume I can't walk in somewhere with 20 items.
(2) About how long does it take during a tailoring appointment for them to measure/mark (?) X items? (e.g., I took a dress, a shirt, and pants to a tailor and it took them about 30 minutes to determine what to do and where to do it, total; I took 5 tops to a tailor and they marked them up in 15 minutes flat).
(3) Is there a limit/general range to how many items they will take at one time? None of these are time-sensitive needs, I am happy to prioritize into multiple groups.
(4) What range of time have you experienced for alterations to be completed? (e.g., I had 5 shirts taken in and it took my tailor a week, I had 2 pairs of jeans hemmed and it took my tailor a month).
(5) I am in the northeast US/metro NYC-ish area. Can I get this all done for under $500? I am looking for quality over price, and am willing to wait on the lower-priority items with this in mind.
(6) This is less about finding a tailor than logistics of getting many things addressed, but young professional MeFi women, anything you love/hate about your tailor that would be good to know? Good questions to ask when screening potential tailors?

For reference, the items and alterations in question are:
6 sheer/lightweight woven (not knit) tunic/tops needing hems taken up and/or tab-button sleeves tacked down
2 sleeveless shells to be taken up at the shoulders to reduce V-neck exposure
1 sleeveless shell needing to be taken in at the sides
2 pairs stretch jeans needing to be taken in at the waist and hemmed
1 pair stretch jeans needing hemmed
1 pencil skirt needing to be taken in at the sides and hemmed
2 wrap dresses needing to be tacked closed somehow at the hem and neck
1 faux wrap dress needing to be tacked closed at the neck and short sleeves made into cap sleeves
1 semiformal knee length dress needing hemmed (2 layers)
2 jersey maxi dresses hemmed
1 formal floor-length georgette/poly blend dress needing hemmed (2 layers).
posted by shortskirtlongjacket to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'll answer 6 which might help answer the others - go about finding a tailor like finding a partner - go slow and in steps. Take the easiest and cheapest things you own in first, and just one or two - things like hemming. If those go well, bring in the things needing their sides taken in. Taking up shoulders and formal dresses are some of the last things to bring in. (Tailored coats and tailored dresses for reshaping would be last.) if at any point you are unhappy, move on to the next tailor.

A good tailor will also be honest with you - telling you things won't be possible or will ruin the lines of the item. A bad tailor could even ruin a hemming job (I've seen this happen), which is why you want to go slowly. A good tailor will also help you gauge expectations when you go shopping for new items - you'll know what things are easy to fix and which things aren't, and which pieces are worth investing in even if they don't fit right off the rack.
posted by umwhat at 7:24 AM on February 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

Seconding umwhat about auditioning your tailor.

Also, most of them seem to be very focused on keeping things as inexpensive as possible. If you're willing to pay more to have things fit as well as you see on, for example, Mad Men, bring pictures and make it clear what your priorities are. I took in some relatively inexpensive shirts because I was willing to pay to have that specific print shirt made to fit like an expensive item, but it was hard to convince the tailor I was serious.

Also, if the seams have some kind of tape sewn in, or might conceivably be "glued" -- be prepared for your tailor to balk at this. I'm not saying you have to give up on them, but it might take some convincing.

Finally, be aware of your own tolerance for risk so you can communicate that to the tailor. They don't run on big margins, so they can't promise to replace a $300 jacket if your idea for alterations makes an unattractive seam.
posted by amtho at 7:57 AM on February 19, 2017

Yes, take in a couple of items at a time and assess as you go.

A little while ago I took 4 pairs of trousers to my local alterations place. They were two different styles, with a coupld of pairs (same size and fit) in each style. Nothing unique or complex - standard black workwear I could have easily hemmed by hand watching TV but I felt lazy.

The dude measured both styles on me at the time (same shoes) and yet two are now the perfect length and two are at least 1.5 inches too short and look ridiculous on me. There was nothing to be done to rescue the too short ones. Good job I don't buy very expensive workwear.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:36 AM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

About finding a tailor: sometimes smaller clothing stores have relationships with tailors who are not in-house but to whom they refer people for alterations. Might be worth asking around.

Another thing to pay attention to, with more complex alterations, is how much the tailor/seamstress seems to care about what you're asking for: do they write complicated details down when necessary (once when I had to outright ask someone to do this, she made a big show of taking notes and judging by the result never looked at them again); do they seem to really understand what bothers you about the current fit; etc. Ideally you also want to be able to try the altered items on the spot when they're finished and have further alterations made if necessary, and you want someone who'll have no problem with that or even encourage you to do it.
posted by trig at 10:20 AM on February 19, 2017

My over-arching advice is to crowd-source this with the stylish people you know -- both of my excellent tailors (in Los Angeles, or I'd recommend them!) were recommended to me by many many many many people.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:56 AM on February 19, 2017

For things where you need to remove stitches, like the tacked neckline, get a seam ripper. It's a little tool specially made to carefully pick and cut stitches. I recently bought one (Dritz brand) at a big chain drugstore.

Ask the tailor to measure both pant legs and both sleeves, because your limbs might not be even. Try on tailored garments before leaving the shop.

Tell them you have more stuff that needs altering, so they will make a good effort with the couple of items you bring in at first. Even when you've found a shop you like, I wouldn't bring in more than 4 items at once... or maybe even three. Don't give them any reason to rush your job.
posted by wryly at 2:22 PM on February 19, 2017

Nordstrom has amazing in-house tailors. Not cheap, but not too pricey either. It doesn't matter that you didn't buy the clothes at Nordstrom. I like going there because the tailor has been pre-vetted.

It will take up to 10 minutes for a more complex fitting (taking in the waist) -- could be as fast as 5 minutes, but sometimes they don't get it right the first time and then have to try again. For hemming something to be shorter, more like 5 minutes an item (even less for pants; more for shirts or skirts).

Hemming something shorter -- $10-20
Taking in the waist of something -- $20-30
posted by amaire at 2:36 PM on February 19, 2017

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