Never under estimate the skill of a good tailor. A true professional can transform a garment from looking cheap to chic, frumpy to fabulous, ill-fitting to something that alludes to custom made!
Garment fit is crucial to looking our best whatever size and shape we may be. It’s a factor between stylish and style-less, provides the ability to emphasize one’s best attributes and camouflage the others. Skillful stitches with a nip and tuck can turn an outdated garment into a current trend or give an old dress nine lives!
My grandmother was a highly regarded tailor. Aside from her professional status as such, she made all our family’s clothes from the basics to three-piece gentlemen's suits, outer coats and wedding dresses all of which materialized from her tiny back bedroom and her Viking sewing machine. The local priests would bring their robes for her to alter… no pun intended! They’d chat to Grandpa in the kitchen, eat Nanna’s home baked scones and drink tea from a china cup whilst the whirring of the Viking drifted downstairs!
Growing up, the pin pricks from rigorous fittings has seen to it that no amount of acupuncture will have the slightest effect on me now! But I learned a valuable lesson, when it comes to style and looking polished, fit is everything.
Not all tailors are made the same. Some are old school like Nanna was. I’m fortunate (well that’s a matter of opinion) to have found a classically trained retired tailor (who’s also very grumpy) but still does the odd job from home if he’s in a good mood! These are the best tailors for intricate work, specialty, re-design or difficult items that require a certain amount of reverse tailoring, i.e. unpick, alter, and re-make - the sort of thing my Nanna always did on the rare occasions she bought something off-the-rack! Then there are those that will do an adequate job on taking-in, letting-out, hemming and some modern-day aesthetics.
I have two tailors that I use, the aforementioned Mr. Grumpy, whose personality is worth dealing with on account of the tailoring miracles he can perform, and Mr. Taylor the Tailor, who handles most of the cosmetic alterations on my off-the-rack garments.
Finding a Good Tailor
Word of mouth is the best way to go. Independent tailors don’t often advertise, but they will have a loyal customer base of mostly stylish people, who likely keep their tailor a closely guarded secret! Ask your fashionista friends during cocktail hour, people like to tell secrets when they’ve had a drink!
Department stores and men’s clothiers often outsource in-house alterations and utilize an independent tailor so it’s worth asking the sales associates or the stylists who work there if they can recommend someone.
Ask Google for tailors in your town. Online, you’ll find those closest to you and reviews, although not all reviews are accurate! A little extra homework wouldn’t go amiss, like a phone call to ask if they can shorten a sleeve from the shoulder of a jacket (one of the hardest alterations to do).
Go to their place of work and check them out in person. If their work area is clean and organized that’s a good sign, you don’t want to leave your clothes in a smelly, less than spotless environment. Also, ask to see some examples of their work, they’re bound to have some completed pieces that have not yet been picked up by the customer.
The difference between Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Taylor!
Mr. T does what I ask, he’ll take a hem up exactly 1.25 inches, or let the waist out exactly half an inch. I provide explicit instructions, usually an example area already pinned in place, and it’s carried out adequately.
Mr. Grumpy knows that if I want ‘x’ taken in here, then ‘y’ needs to be adjusted there or, to achieve ‘a’, then ‘b’ and ‘c’ needs to be altered as well. He’s not trying to up-sell, he’s a true professional, a perfectionist who knows how to achieve what I’m looking for even when I don’t!
A good tailor will charge accordingly which doesn’t mean it will be cheap. It’s time consuming, it’s a rare skill, and if you’ve found a Mr. Grumpy, he’s worth paying for and forging a relationship with.
The Benefits of Tailoring
Inexpensive off-the-rack clothes can be tweaked and altered to fit perfectly achieving a high-end expensive look. I’ve purchased a $16.99 jumpsuit and spent $30 tailoring it, but the result was a custom fitted garment that was both flattering and comfortable.
If you have an odd body shape and struggle to find clothes that fit, find something you love, buy a size that fits you in most places and alter the rest. For example, I have a thick waist and small hips, so I buy clothes that fit my waist and have the hips taken in. It’s always best to fit the bigger proportions and tailor down a size.
Let’s face it, even big label designers only produce clothes that fit one silhouette perfectly and we midlife women come in a myriad of outlines! So, whether it's high-end couture or off-the-rack fast fashion, there's a good chance it needs to be tailored if we want to look our best.
Extend the life of your clothes, turn a long dress into a short dress, a tunic, or even a top. Turn long pants into cropped pants or add a side slit at the ankle for an added style detail.
How many times have you loved a pair of jeans with an uber cool hem, frayed or distressed in some way, only to find they are way too long? Did you know a good tailor can invisibly shorten jeans and retain the distressing at the hem?
One last word of warning, don't ask your tailor to replace buttons! If you don't already know how to do that, you need to learn, otherwise you're not going to hold onto a good tailor for very long!
And remember, there's only one size - yours!
This blog is dedicated to the finest tailor and most gracious lady I am blessed to have called my Nanna. Mary Elizabeth Fairhurst
Karen Serino is a life and style blogger, sharing fashion, fitness and fun for youthful women in their forties, fifties and beyond.
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Click the picture below to see my interview with the lovely Jonet Wooten from Fabulously Chic Over 50