I highly recommend having clothing altered to create perfect fit. A successful alteration makes the garment look proportional, balanced and flattering, and is well worth the expense. That said, the garments need to approach perfect fit in their unaltered state if alterations are to yield the best results. Sometimes sizing up or down will greatly improve the fit instead of fiddling with an alteration.

Some people believe that all clothing is alterable. After seeing far too many unsuccessful alteration attempts, I beg to differ. In many cases it’s best to abandon the idea of alterations and look for something else in a better fit.

Here’s a rundown of when I think items are worth the time, trouble and expense of an alteration.

Shortening LENGTHS

Sleeve lengths and garment lengths that need shortening are easy alterations when the items already have hems. Frayed hems are an easy at-home hack job. The shortening alteration is more expensive when garments are lined. Knitwear, or items with finished borders can usually not be hemmed, but you might be able to alter the length from the top of the garment. Sleeves or hems with zippers like moto jackets can be shortened at a price.

Reducing WIDTHS

It’s easy to reduce the width on a garment in the torso, legs or sleeves when it has simple side seams and you’re not touching the waistband or armholes. Altering is trickier when side seams have detailing like piping, pockets, ruching or tuxedo stripes, but not impossible. Again, lined garments are more pricey to alter.

I do not recommend trying to alter the shoulder width of a garment because the results are generally below par.

Narrowing ARMHOLES

Sleeveless garments with armholes that are too wide can sometimes be taken in at the side seams to reduce the size of the armholes. The shoulder seams can also be suppressed to decrease the size of the armhole.

I do not recommend trying to narrow the armholes of sleeved garments because the results are generally poor.


Bottoms that need waistband narrowing are a little tricky and pricey, but definitely worth it. It’s awful when bottoms fall down or when waistbands move around the body because they’re too wide. The waistbands on pants and jeans are usually altered at the back. The waistbands on skirts are generally narrowed at the side seams, or darts are sewn into the garment.


Necklines on tops and dresses are hard to narrow, but not impossible. Sometimes they can be taken in at the shoulder seams, or a button can be adjusted to make the fit tighter on the neck. Adding darts at the back of the garment can narrow a neckline too.


Side entry pockets that gape on pants and skirts can be sewn shut to create a smooth fit. Pocket linings that grin through the front of the garment can sometimes be removed to create the same smooth fit.


It’s easy to adjust the position of a button to create a better fit, especially on jackets and coats. You can also narrow the cuff of a shirt sleeve or blouse by adjusting the position of the buttons.

If you sew, you can do your own alterations. If not, you need to find a competent tailor. Some stores offer good alterations services, which is very handy.

I very seldom need to shorten an item of clothing, but I do need to narrow waistbands from time to time because of my slight sway back. If I want a snug fit at the back of a pair of jeans or pants that are high in the rise, I need to have the waistband taken in. Sometimes I reduce the width of dresses and skirts at the side seams. I also adjust the button positions on coats, jackets and cuffs to create a narrower fit. Occasionally if it’s doable, I narrow a neckline on a blouse with some darts.

Feel free to discuss your alterations experiences in the comments section. I’m happy to help you with your alterations challenges.