Suit Alterations 101: Your Top Tailoring Questions Answered
Getting a suit that fits like it was made just for you needn't mean splurging on a custom-made garment (though if you want to take that route, it's easier and more accessible than you might think). Sometimes the key to unlocking a perfect wedding suit fit is just damn good suit alterations. A skilled tailor can make an off-the-rack suit rival a bespoke one with a few strategic nips and tucks but even minor adjustments such as hemming sleeves and trousers can go a long way in making a suit fit better.
Alterations are accessible, affordable, and rarely something you have to go out of your way to find (nearly every town in the world has someone or someplace that can handle them). They're how I took a $30 vintage Ralph Lauren suit from eBay and paid all of ten bucks to get it fitted so that it looked like it was made for me by Ralph himself.
Make no mistake, alterations aren't just about making a suit fit as slim as possible. "The fit of a suit truly depends on personal style," says Gary Tam of the menswear brand California Arts. "There are no rules in fashion, no standard that a hem needs to fall at a certain place or that a bust needs to be a certain width." Tam is a man of his word as California Arts' suiting intentionally skews slouchy, channeling the flowy suiting styles of the late '80s and early '90s.
Whether or not you're aiming to mimic Tam's aesthetic, if you're looking to make changes to a suit you've probably got a few good questions. If you're wondering how long suit alterations take, trying to find a suit-altering business near you, or just looking to learn more about what to ask your local tailor when you bring in your suit, you've come to the right place.
Suit Alterations vs. Suit Tailoring
Suit alterations and suit tailoring ultimately serve the same purpose: making a suit fit you perfectly. While the two terms aren't identical, they share a lot of overlap. Tailoring is, if we're being technical here, the art of actually crafting a suit from scratch (and by nature fitting it to the wearer's measurements in the process). Alterations are performed after a suit is finished, be it a bespoke one or an off-the-rack purchase from a department store.
To put it simply: a tailor can perform alterations but the person at your local Nordstrom who hemmed your trousers probably isn't a tailor—and they don't need to be. The art of alterations is a special craft in and of itself. Someone who performs alterations will still know how a suit needs to fit, where the pant hems need to fall, and how to open up the waist of your trousers a bit if need be. That said, you can still go to a tailor for alterations. Most of them are happy to provide them in addition to making new suits for clients.
How Long Do Suit Alterations Take?
While some people who provide alterations are able to rush an order (think 48 hours or so turnaround), you should never assume they'll have the availability to do so. At a bare minimum, you should expect suit alterations to take one week, and longer if the alterations are more elaborate. I've had shoulder pads removed from vintage suits many times, which is far more time-consuming than adjusting a sleeve's length. For more complex alterations, expect a week and a half to two weeks before your suit will be ready.
How Much Does it Cost to Alter a Suit?
This is going to depend on who's doing your alterations and how complex the alterations are. A simple adjustment in sleeve length or slimming down the chest slightly will likely start somewhere in the range of $20 to $30. More experienced alterers may charge more, and a rush order will likely see an extra fee tacked on.
Getting multiple alterations done to a suit can start to run up the price. Individual adjustments tend to fall in the aforementioned range, with $40 being the potential higher end of pricing. If your suit requires hemmed pants, a tighter waist, and slimmer sleeves, those numbers can add up quickly with an intensive suit alteration running anywhere from $100 to $200.
That being said, these numbers only apply if you're taking a suit to someone who specializes in alterations after purchasing it. Most suiting hubs—from Nordstrom and Macy's to Todd Snyder and Suitsupply—will have someone who performs complimentary alterations to garments purchased from the store on-site. The turnaround time may still be about a week or so, but I've been to some stores that perform minor alterations on the fly, only taking about twenty extra minutes to get a suit ready and out the door.
Can You Alter a Suit to Make It Larger?
This one's tricky. Generally speaking, you can't really make a suit larger in any substantial way. Trimming away fabric is easy but it's a far different thing to add more of it. However, there are sometimes minor adjustments an alterer or tailor can make to open up certain parts of the suit.
The most common example is the waist of the pants. Oftentimes by moving the button or fastener slightly, a waist can be opened up by about three-quarters of an inch. It's a minor adjustment, though and anything more substantial is going to be a tough ask.
There are other minor examples but they're largely situational and anecdotal depending on who you ask. I can speak to having had a suit's sleeves lengthened by about a quarter of an inch thanks to a savvy tailor who was able to spot a way to un-stitch and re-sew the sleeve hems from the interior, but adjustments like these aren't the sort you should expect. If you try on a suit in a store and it feels too small, or if you're buying one online and the size chart says the sleeves are a bit too short off-the-rack, it might be better to just size up. It is, after all, far easier to make a suit smaller.
How Do I Know If My Suit Needs Alterations?
Figuring out what kind of alterations your suit needs, if any (not every suit does) comes down to knowing how a suit should fit. The Knot's guide is a great reference for figuring out if your suit needs to have any adjustments made.
A tailor or alterer can also advise on how to make a suit fit better as they will have the experience to point out details that you may overlook. One of the benefits of building a relationship with a tailor or alterer over a prolonged period of time is that they will also come to understand how you like your clothing to fit. Tam lobbies for communicating your needs very directly with the person measuring you for a custom suit or making alterations to one you already own. "If you are making alterations to a suit, make sure the person who is making your alterations clearly understands your vision and is not altering based on what they believe to be the right, standard dimensions of a suit against your body," says Tam. "Just like in all other areas of fashion, everyone has a different sense of personal style, and their sense of 'standard' might be too slim or too oversized to yours." With repeat visits they tend to develop a better understanding of how a suit should fit you–they may even end up teaching you a thing or two.
Does Every Suit Need Alterations?
"Not every suit needs alterations," says Tam. Whether it's made to measure or off the rack, not every suit is going to require adjustments. Many custom suits will have adjustments made upon arrival but, anecdotally, I've taken custom suits straight home without a round of alterations. Off-the-rack options are more likely to need a few tweaks as every size can't fit everybody the same way unless you're the lucky sort for whom a pair of 32x32 trousers or a 40R jacket fits perfectly. "If you are buying a suit off the rack and you match the measurements of their fit model, the suit shouldn't need alterations," Tam concurs. However, he says, "As our bodies are so different, it's likely that there will be some measurements that don't perfectly match which would then require alterations for you to achieve the same silhouette as the brand intended."
Suit alterations are a great tool for those looking to make a suit fit a little better, but they aren't always a necessity and you should never get them out of a sense of obligation if you're already happy with the fit of a suit. Sometimes it's best to just let a good thing be.
How to Find Suit Alterations Near You
Wondering where you can find a reputable business to alter a suit in your town? You've come to the right place. The Knot's Vendor Marketplace is a great resource for finding any and all wedding services, including suiting specialists.
Additionally, many retailers provide on-site alterations at brick-and-mortar stores. Men's Wearhouse, Macy's, and Brooks Brothers are among the most common of these. You may have to pay for alterations to products that don't come from the retailers, but the services are still available (and alterations tend to be free with purchases).
To find an alterations specialist in your area, Yelp or other similar resources are your best bet. The most common and accessible alterations specialists tend to operate under the same roof as dry cleaning services. Not every single one will have employees on site to handle them but it's worth a phone call or a quick Google search to find out for sure before bringing your suit in.