We are often encouraged to alter clothing in order to achieve “perfect fit”, and for the most part I agree with that thinking. But clothing alterations are not risk-free and they can also cost a pretty penny. It’s best to weigh up the options with each item before investing money and effort.

I’m in favour of the following clothing alterations because they are relatively simple, inexpensive, and make a huge difference to the overall fit of the garment:

  • Hem shortening and lengthening
  • Sleeve length shortening and lengthening
  • Tapering waistband adjustment
  • Button repositioning
  • Shoulder strap shortening
  • Sewing closed side entry pockets and removing pocket lining

I also encourage the alteration of formal attire like gowns and cocktail dresses, because a nip or a tuck in the right place can make all the difference. Anything beyond that requires a little more thought, especially when garments are fully lined.

I usually advise against shoulder width and coat narrowing alterations because they are costly and can turn out all wrong. Tapering items at the side seams is also a gamble, but can turn out quite well if the tailor is skilled. The same goes for leg width, sleeve and seat narrowing alterations. Go for it if you trust your tailor and you feel that the garment is worth the expense.

Twice I have paid for alterations that cost almost as much as the original price of the item. I was prepared to do this because the items are extremely difficult to find in the cut, size, colour and quality I was after. So I bit the bullet and luckily the alterations turned out fabulously and were worth it a million times over. However, I have also paid the earth to have a fancy button down shirt altered and the results were disastrous. I never wore the shirt again and ultimately passed it on.

Of course, the first prize is that you have a fairy godmother who magically sees to your alteration needs. Second prize is that you sew and are able alter anything yourself. The rest of us have to find a reliable tailor. Some stores in the US and in Hong Kong will hem for free with a full price purchase. Brilliant!