June 18, 2020/31 Comments/in Clothing, Jackets, Sportscoats, Suits, Trousers, Pants, Slacks, Wardrobe, Clothing and Accessories /by Dr. Christopher Lee

You’re at a thrift shop and see a vintage Armani suit you love, but the shoulders are too wide. Should you buy it? In situations like these, the difference between getting a steal and wasting your money depends on whether your tailor can complete the required suit or garment alterations to make the item fit you well.

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How Many Sizes Larger or Smaller Can You Go?

The first rule of suit alterations is that taking away or reducing the amount of fabric is doable, but you can’t make something bigger, at least not by much. Exactly how much depends on what allowances of extra material were under the seams or hems of the garments. Tailored pants and jackets that were originally expensive or well made, especially bespoke, will usually contain more allowances, future-proofing for the changing size of the wearer over time. Ready-to-wear or less expensive items usually have little or no extra material to let out as a means of keeping costs down. Therefore, you’ll have better chances for a successful alteration if your find is a bit too big rather than too small for you.


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Ethan Wong’s strategy for attaining a higher rise often involves buying a size up and tapering the legs


Adding to and Subtracting from the Waist – YES

Because it’s commonly understood that waistlines fluctuate in size (we’ve all been there, right?), pants manufacturers are usually pretty generous in providing allowances of material to enlarge the waistband and upper part of the seat from the waist toward your rear end. The exact amount varies by the size, but at least 2-3″ is found at the center rear seam. The opposite can be done as well, also at the rear, to around the same limit. Anything more than 2-3″ will affect the balance of the trousers as the rear pockets get close together. All changes to the waistband should also require some alteration to part of the seat.


From these examples, it’s clear that pants are simpler in construction than a jacket, facilitating more ready changes, though, as noted at the start of the article, the rise is the most difficult to change as it requires removing the waistband and replacing the zipper as well.

Conclusion – Know What Suit Alterations Are Possible

There are many different alterations that are possible when you examine the components of a suit. Understanding the anatomy of a pair of pants or a tailored jacket will also make you aware of what can and cannot be done. Study the garments you own–look at the seams for allowances, check for previous work, and get a sense of its structure. Then weigh the advice above against your love for the item. You can then decide whether it’s something you are willing to invest in or if you would just prefer to buy something new (or vintage!).

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Have you tried any of these alterations with success or failure? Share your stories in the Comments section.