They’re rarely the most expensive items in our closets, nor the most on trend. But they fit like a glove, and highlight our assets while minimising our…”crap-sets.”
But finding those pieces in the shops is as rare as a Donald Trump good hair day.
When we’re not mass consuming fast fashion, we’re spending big on labels we hope will transform us, only to tug self-consciously at clothes that don’t fit. If only we could grow/lose three centimetres “here, here and here,” we’d finally have that style thing sorted.
What if there was one simple thing you could do that could turn all (okay, most) of your clothes into make-you-look-reliably-awesome staples? That put an end to casting your lot in with a dozen hit and miss fast fashion pieces (“it’s only 20 bucks and surely the 6,000 other women wearing them can’t be wrong”)? And what if that one simple thing was also the most environmentally friendly choice in that it contributes absolutely zilch to the eco-disaster that is the modern garment industry?
What if there was one technique, as ancient as the Game of Thrones era, that could transform the clothes you have into wondrous garments that for the love of all that is holy, actually made you feel good about your random not-quite-fashion model curves rather than denying their existence?
I know, something about as sexy as the memory of your great-grandmother’s dusty dressmakers’ mannequin. But the truth is, looking great in clothes has little to do with size—it’s all about the fit.
“Whether you’re a size 6 or a 16, you should always have your clothes tailored to your body,” says Mindy Kaling’s costume designer Salvador Perez. Ever wondered why even the schleppiest TV characters look fab? Every stitch is altered to their measurements. “Shows like Mad Men [are set] in an era where people tailored their clothes and now people want to walk into a store and buy it. But nothing off the rack fits that beautifully. By just taking in the back of a sleeve and a little bit at the waist, you can look so much better.”
Kate Middleton is notorious for wearing chain store threads that any old pleb can buy on the high street, but she looks a little bit better than us mortals when she does. Why? It’s not the princess sparkle dust, it’s the expert addition of some royal alterations.
Yet most of us balk at tailoring: “It sounds expensive,” “I don’t know where to go,” “Too much effort.”
It may take initial legwork, but once you’ve found someone who knows your shape, you may be able to work in a discount for multiple pieces.
- Find someone you like and stick to them.
Google tailors and alterations in your area. Ask for recommendations, and read online reviews. And don’t overlook the franchise alterations services. The quality of the individual tailor may vary from outlet to outlet, so find one you like and stick to them.
Get your tailor’s feedback on the proposed alterations and agree on what’s possible. Bringing a photo can help. “And it’s always a good idea to bring the shoes and undergarments you would wear with the item so we can work with the outfit,” says Santha King, a tailor at the Alter It franchise.
“I have regular clients who drop off a handful of garments they’ve had for years, then feel like they’ve got a new wardrobe,” says tailor Aggie Marrama of My Perfect Fit.
“But make sure the person who does the fitting is the person who does the work. And agree on what will happen if you’re not happy.”
- Invest in everyday basics.
“We’re used to engaging a tailor for special occasions like a wedding day but it’s becoming much more common to invest in the clothes you wear more regularly,” says King. “Once customers see what’s possible, they’re surprised at what a drastic change it can make.”
On pure “cost per wear” terms, it’s worth tweaking the everyday pants, shirts, dresses and work blazers you have on highest rotation.
- Learn what works for your shape.
Nigella Lawson looks stunning in her most basic signature cardigans because she gets them all tailored to her shape, which for her means nipped at the waist and fitted at the bust.
“When women know which shapes suit their body, it’s empowering—it’s less about getting yourself to the perfect size,” says Marrama. (If you’re not sure what suits your shape, start here.)
Consider getting favourite pieces copied in multiple colours and fabrics. Once your tailor makes a pattern from the original, it’s relatively straightforward (and more cost effective) to run up multiple copies.
- Where to spend, where to save.
There’s no point investing in an alteration if the fabric loses its shape after the first wash. Instead, scour the thrift shop for pieces in good quality fabrics.
“Once clients see how much better they look when something fits well as opposed to being a label, they often buy clothes cheaply in op-shops then invest the leftover money in getting them tailored to their body,” says Marrama.
And buy big. “It’s generally easier and cheaper to take things in than to let things out,” says King. “Making bigger into smaller is easier that making smaller into bigger.”
- What to pay.
Shop around but respect their profession. The term “tailor” covers dry-cleaners who’ll hem something cheaply, to bridal dressmakers who charge bridal prices. A basic mid-range tailor won’t cost the earth, but remember you’re paying for labour and they’ll need to assess the piece to give you an accurate fee. Ultimately, if you buy fewer pieces but invest in what you do have, you’ll spend less overall but looking amazing every time.
Tailoring is like driving a car—there’s a bit of a learning curve (where to go, what to ask for), but once you’ve done it you wonder how you ever got by without it. And unlike a car, after one initial financial outlay, it ends up saving you money.
Most of us only wear 20 percent of what’s in our wardrobe. Screw waiting until that magical day you wake up looking like Gisele Bundchen. Your body is a wondrous snowflake that deserves more than being crammed into ill-fitting clothes—with a little professional assistance, turn what you already have into something that makes your snowflake sparkle.
Author: Alice Williams
Editor: Catherine Monkman