An alterations professional is a tailor or seamstress who specializes in altering clothes to fit an individual better. Having custom-made clothing is fairly rare today, thanks to the easy availability of ready-to-wear designer fashions; however, seamstresses and tailors can custom-make clothes as well as alter ready-to-wear clothing to an individual's unique body.
The cost of a custom garment covers the professional's time plus the cost of all materials; don't expect it to be inexpensive, especially if designing the garment is part of the job. For alterations, most tailors charge by the job or project and prices are often standard, running from $8 on average for hemming pants up to a few hundred dollars (or more) on average to alter a wedding gown or other special-occasion garment. If a garment requires a special fabric or sewing method, the cost may be higher. Likewise, if a garment must be enlarged, it will likely cost more for the extra material and the more time-consuming tailoring techniques. Some tailors charge more to alter women's clothes than men's.
Type of alteration
Professional tailors can make alterations to correct almost any problem with a garment's fit. Shortening the length of pants or sleeves on a shirt is the most common type of alteration — and the easiest, simply a matter of removing fabric.
Garments can also be enlarged (referred to as "letting out") using a variety of tailor's tricks; it doesn't hurt to ask an alterations pro what's possible. The possibilities depend on how many layers of material and what types of material make up the garment, as well as how much time it will take to produce a garment that doesn't look like it was altered.
Here is a list of common, average prices for standard alterations on a variety of garments:
- Shorten dress-shirt sleeves: $19
- Shorten jacket sleeves: $23 (without buttons) to $28 (with buttons)
- Take in the body of a jacket: $40 (two seams) to $52 (three seams)
- Take in a dress shirt: $20
- Adjust the shoulders of a jacket: $35
- Hem a skirt or dress: $10-$14
- Take in or let out a skirt or pair of pants: $15 (unlined) to $20 (lined) or $25 (with a zipper)
- Shorten top-stitched pants: $10
- Shorten cuffed pants: $14
- Shorten lined pants $14
- Shorten lined and cuffed pants: $18
- Take in a sheath dress: $45
- Restitch a fraying seam: $5
- Replace buttons: 50 cents each
- Move a button: $2
- Add a hook and eye: 50 cents per set
Any of the above examples may cost more depending on the location, if there are "extras," such as a vent in a suit jacket sleeve or hem, or any unique stitching or feature in the cut of the garment.
The type of stitching used can affect the price for alterations as well. A blind-stitched (invisible) pants hem often costs less than a top-stitched hem, for example. If an alteration requires a lot of hand sewing work, it may also cost more. For example, a bridal gown with elaborate beading or any garment made from delicate or slippery fabric may need to be hand-sewn.
Certain types of garment materials cost more to alter. For example, it typically costs $4 or $5 more on average to have denim jeans shortened and hemmed than pants made of other fabrics because tailors must use a sewing machine with a heavier-gauge needle and thread. Also, jeans require different hemming methods and styles than regular pants. If you need a pair of cuffed slacks taken up, you'll pay about $5 more on average.
Altering leather garments is a specialty tailoring field and is usually more expensive. Some standard tailors can alter lightweight leather garments for an additional cost — sometimes as much as 50 percent more than altering fabric pieces. But for heavier or specialty leather, it's a good idea to find someone who has experience working with leather. Teresa Condoy of Bdesign & All in Fairfax, Virginia, provides all kinds of sewing services, from clothing alterations to furniture upholstery. She works with a variety of materials, including leather, and says it can be hard to tell how much more a leather garment will cost to alter or repair. The price depends on how many pieces of the garment she must remove, alter and sew back together. For example, she might charge $50-$75 to alter a leather jacket, but if a customer only needs some restitching done, it might only cost $25.
It's common for wedding boutiques to keep only one or two sizes of a certain gown design in stock. Wedding gown sizes differ from standard women's clothing sizes for ready-to-wear clothes — what's referred to as the "street size." Wedding dress sizing is typically smaller than street sizes, so you may end up purchasing a dress one or two sizes larger than your street size. More often than not, brides-to-be will need their gown altered in some way, whether it's adding fasteners to bustle the train or adding bra cups in a backless or strapless gown. In fact, most wedding dresses are designed to be altered, and are constructed so that adjustments might be easier to make than with a standard ready-to-wear gown.
In general, experts recommend buying a dress that is no more than one size larger than your own size. Although it's always easier to take a dress in than to let it out, trying to alter a dress more than one size too large can often mean remaking the dress. It will be cut proportionally larger all over, from the neckline and shoulders to the bodice and skirt side seams.
Depending on the region, brides can spend anywhere from $75 to $300 or more to have a wedding dress altered. Most alterations cost more on bridal gowns than other garments because the fabrics are delicate and the dresses can be complex. Some bridal salons charge a fee per service, while others charge a flat fee that covers all alterations. For example, shortening a gown often costs about $200-$250, and design changes, like adding beading or reshaping the silhouette, can cost from $50 to several hundred dollars on average. A typical flat fee ranges from $500 to $700, on average, depending on the salon and the expected alterations.
Common wedding dress alterations and average prices include:
- Taking in the sides: $50-$200
- Adding a bustle: $55-$95
- Adding bra cups: $20-$40
- Modesty panel: $30-$50
During your fittings, make sure you wear the same undergarments, shoes and accessories you plan to wear on the actual wedding day. The best tailoring requires working with the exact clothing and accessories.
Tailoring for petites
Women who wear petite sizes are familiar with a variety of fit problems — gaping waist bands and pants legs and skirts that are too long and out of proportion. Some tailors specialize in altering clothing to better fit the proportions of women who wear petite sizes, keeping in mind that it's not always as simple as just taking up the hem an inch or two.
Like any other garment, costumes can also be altered to fit better — but expect it to cost more. Costumes tend to be made from fancier, more complex fabrics than regular clothing, and they often require specialized threads for sewing. Some seamstresses offer repair and restoration services for vintage pieces.
- If you're having machine-washable garments altered, be sure they have been washed before you have them altered to account for shrinkage.
- If you wear high heels, wear or bring a pair when you meet with the tailor to have pants taken up so that the hem will fall correctly with heels on.