How to Find a Tailor and What to Pay Him For

Whether you've lost a few pounds or just found a great deal on an off the rack suit, you want to make sure your clothes fit you, not the other way around. Here's how to find someone you can trust with your suit and what you should ask him to do.

A common theme throughout many of my articles is the importance of understanding how clothes fit, and the best ways to find things that complement your body type. More often than not, buying off-the-rack clothing doesn't allow for the best fit since they are made for generic body sizes. This becomes more obvious when talking about pricier garments such as jackets and suits. You can avoid this, however, by taking a trip to your local tailor and getting that garment altered to your specifications.

You'd be surprised by the things an experienced tailor can pull off, and how great a tailored piece of clothing can look. Visit my man Shidi over at Honor Thy Tailor for a prime example of the improvement a tailor's skilled hands can make to your clothes, and ultimately, your overall appearance.

If I've sold you on the fact that tailoring is good but you have yet to visit one yourself, you may be asking yourself questions such as: “Exactly how do I find a tailor?”, “How do I know he or she is any good?”, “What do I need to get altered?”, and “Can he shorten / lengthen / add a cuff / slim this out…”

Trust me, I know how that feels. Hopefully I can clear up a couple of these burning questions.

How do I find a tailor?

Ask the Cleaners

Dry cleaners may be able to recommend a reputable tailor; some may even work directly with a specific tailor to service their clients… but be careful with seamstresses that do their alterations at the cleaners. They are often sufficient for basic alterations (discussed below), but trust your more complicated jobs to a real tailor with years of experience. Finally, finer department stores often have in-house tailoring, though be prepared to pay premium prices.

Yelp

Yelp is probably the most obvious choice when looking for tailors in your local area. You can field tailoring recommendations from hundreds of people. Make sure to read every review objectively, and remember that those who had a negative experience are more incentivized to leave a review than those who had a positive experience… so take them with a grain of salt. On the other hand, give positive reviews their deserved weight, because if a client is happy and takes his or her time to tell people about it, that's a good sign.

Personal Recommendations

Make sure to talk to someone you trust, someone whose style you like or find yourself emulating. Ask where they take their clothing; these referrals are often your best resource. You could also ask stylish friends if they know of good tailors. When you have several leads, research each one on Yelp and see what others are saying.

What Should I Know Before Going? What Am I Paying Him To Do?

Know the basics and standards of fit

How a suit should fit.

The basics refer to your specific body type, and how clothes should fit on you. This topic goes beyond the scope of this article, but if you need a little refresher, go through the archives of Primer's style articles, head on over to effortlessgent.com, or email me (b(a)effortlessgent.com) and we'll talk.

The standards refer to the standard measurements of clothing in proportion to one another. For example, 1/4″ to 1/2″ shirt cuff should peek out from the end of your jacket sleeve, or a medium break on the pant leg (when looking at the back of the shoe) hits halfway between the top of the shoe and the top of the shoe's sole.

Your dress shirt cuff should stick out about 1/2" from your jacket

It is imperative to understand the basics and the standards, and adjust according to your taste. Just because a medium break is most common, you may desire a more modern look to your slim suit, so you would prefer no break on the pants. Go to the tailor only when you know what you want done. If you don't, the tailor may fit you according to what he believes is correct, and will not necessarily be what you want in the end.

Know some common alterations

  • Getting shirt sleeves and suit jacket sleeves shortened
  • Having pants hemmed
  • Adding or removing pant cuffs
  • General slimming of the arms and body of a suit jacket
  • General slimming of the seat and legs of the pants
  • Addition of darts to slim the body of a button-up shirt

Know the pricier alterations

  • Any jacket restructuring involving altering the shoulders—this affects the way the jacket lays, is delicate to handle, and can be costly
  • Shortening jacket sleeves with working button holes—more difficult since the sleeves have to be taken in at the shoulder seam
  • Some leather work—the heavier material is more difficult to work with and doesn't bounce back from hole punctures, which limits what can be done without permanence

Trust the tailor's expertise

Be specific with what you want, but also allow the tailor to give his input if you're unsure. If he's as good as his reputation says he is (and I trust you've done your research), he most likely has plenty of years of experience and knows what he is talking about.

As I stated earlier, the first essential step is understanding how clothes should fit your specific body type. When you know this, you can easily recognize an ill-fitting garment the second you put it on, and you will know how to direct your tailor.

Still have reservations about visiting a tailor? Do you have lingering worries or questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Barron Cuadro runs The Effortless Gent, a site dedicated to better equipping the everyday man by helping him find his own personal style. You can find him on Twitter @effortlessgent, Facebook, and at http://effortlessgent.com. He lives in San Francisco.

31 Comments

  • Reply August 23, 2010

    Erik

    Timely post! I picked up a suit jacket this weekend at a thrift store, and while it fits “well enough”, I would love for it to fit better. What I’d like to know, is how much can I expect to pay for a general slimming of the arms and body. I’ve never been to a tailor before, and I don’t want to pay $50 to fix up a $6 jacket.

  • […] out our new article on Primer Magazine! We discuss how to find a tailor, and what to pay him for. Let me know if I missed anything in the […]

  • Reply August 23, 2010

    Brad

    Ditto, on Erik’s comment…I thought you were going to talk about what to pay him for. You essentially wrote an article that says “if you need something tailored, go to a tailor”. Insightful

  • Reply August 23, 2010

    Andrew

    Brad, Sorry for the confusion with the title, it’s intended to be read as How to find one, and what to pay him to do, not How much to pay him for his services.

    From my own experience, pricing of a tailor’s services has as much to do with your research. You can find a great tailor who is very reasonable with his prices, or easily be overcharged for average work. It depends on your location and the type of establishment you’re going to (one in a mall, a boutique, a bespoke clothier, etc.)

    Perhaps Barron will shed some more light on this area.

  • Reply August 23, 2010

    Joe

    If I may, it varies Brad. A lot. So easy with the stereotypical internet comment snark. It’s good to see a list of the more expensive alterations (anything with the shoulder), so guys will know they should avoid those at all costs. Nice work Barron.

  • Reply August 23, 2010

    Alterations Inc

    I think this advice is quite good. Alterations are an art and not always cost effective. When you purchase a suit jacket for $6 but you need sleeves shortened and thinned and the jacket taken in, your are looking at something that can run well over $50 and possibly up to $100. So was that $6 jacket a bargain? Maybe? Where can you get a custom jacket for $100? Your call. If you bought off the rack and got alterations it would run much more.

    As for the comments to look at Yelp, I would recommend Google, local.com, insider, kudzu instead. Yelp seems to remove reviews unless you actively advertise with them and there is an active lawsuit to try to correct this practice.

    Alterations Inc
    Phoenix AZ
    http://www.alterationsinc.com

  • Reply August 24, 2010

    Barron

    @ERIK,
    As the folks at Alterations Inc. mentioned, you may be paying upwards of $50 to tailor the $6 jacket you purchased, but if you think about it, you have a made-to-measure jacket for $56. You can expect to pay much, much more if you were to buy new and have it altered.

    That’s precisely why I used Shidi at http://honorthytailor.com as an example, because he does that exact thing. He finds great pieces at thrift stores and takes them straight to his tailor, which results in a one-of-a-kind piece.

    @BRAD,
    I did mention what services you will be paying a tailor for, under Know Some Common Alterations, and directly below, Know The Pricer Alterations.

    Did you need more information on something else? It’s difficult to address specific pricing, since alterations in downtown San Francisco, for example, will cost significantly more than the same set of alterations in Missouri City, Texas. Hope that makes sense.

    @ANDREW,
    Good point that location as well as type of establishment can affect pricing. I’d like to think that you get what you pay for, and if you’re doing many adjustments on a suit (as I did with my LLBean suit here: http://bit.ly/bCM88m) you’re better off spending a little more for a skilled tailor’s expertise.

    @JOE,
    Thanks Joe! And definitely, any work involving the shoulder should be avoided; in many cases, it may be more cost-effective to just buy a new jacket… wouldn’t you say? That’s assuming we’re not talking about a Tom Ford suit or something similar. :]

    @ALTERATIONS INC
    Good suggestions with the other places to search for a tailor. Not sure why I didn’t mention the obvious places like Google. Google is especially helpful because if you search for something such as “tailor san francisco ca”, you will get a bunch of local business results with a map pinpointing their locations. It’s a great place to start researching. Thanks for the tip!

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Keep em coming, I’d be happy to clarify points that I’ve made, or answer any questions you may have.
    .-= Barron´s last blog ..How to find a tailor- and what to pay him for =-.

  • Reply August 24, 2010

    federal grants

    Good tailors are definitely hard to find and are very expensive

  • Reply September 13, 2010

    Solanum

    I have a good relationship with my tailor, but how can I tell whether he’s good at what he does? We spend most of the time chatting about other things.

  • Reply September 26, 2010

    Barron

    @SOLANUM,

    Do you like the way your clothes fit after he’s finished with them? Are the clothes more flattering on you now than they were before you brought them to your tailor? Are his alterations professionally finished, as if they were never touched at all?

    Lots of factors can be used to determine how good a tailor is. To me, if the finished product fits better after than before, and the fit achieved cleanly according to what I requested, that’s usually all that matters.

  • […] The price of the suit isn’t as important as the way it looks on you, so no matter the price, always take it to a tailor. […]

  • […] when we’re not training with kettlebells, selecting the perfect weapon for home defense, or find the right tailor to fit our jackets, we’re quite possibly watching Back to the Future or debating the stability of […]

  • […] the wrong size, you’ll still look terrible. Conversely, you can buy a $180 suit from H&M, spend $50-$100 on a tailor, and look like a million […]

  • […] We could get into a whole discussion of how suits should fit here, but let’s save that for another time. We’ve discussed proper fit a few times on this site (complete with examples) and why you should go to a tailor. […]

  • […] Fill up ONE garbage bag with clothes you know you no longer wear. Set it aside to take to Goodwill this week. Buy that ONE pair of straight-leg, inky blue denim you’ve been putting off. Finally take that new blazer to the tailor. […]

  • […] wider than you prefer. (This advice applies to all pants, by the way.) You have two options: Take them to a tailor to get slimmed down, or petition Bonobos on Facebook to start making more slim fit pants! […]

  • Reply March 15, 2013

    WideEyesTightWallets

    Great post. We wrote about how important having good fit is – arguably the most important factor in how good one looks (http://tmblr.co/ZJ6yAtebsUIz), and this is near impossible to ensure without having a good go-to tailor (and knowing what to ask for). Thanks for the tips!

  • Reply July 18, 2013

    Luke

    Tailoring vs. Alterations. Discuss?

  • […] has been said many times in many places: it’s important to find a tailor you vibe with. It’s very rare to find a suit that fits well right off the rack. Even if you […]

  • […] or express places, you will save time and money in the long run. I speak from experience. Here is a great article I found which can help you to find your tailor. If you would rather watch a video on the subject, […]

  • Reply September 30, 2014

    Caleb

    I’m turning 29 in a couple of days, I have owned the same suit for about ten years ago, and I’m just beginning to find myself wanting to dapper-up on a more regular basis. That being said, I am still completely unsure of how to go about suit shopping on a ramen budget. The thrift store is my only go to. I’m also a stocky guy (read: barrel chested, broad-shouldered, lumberjack, etc), which makes find anything that fits tremendously difficult. I’ve begun to realize that tailoring is the only option available for me.
    I would love some guidance on how a man can find the best bang for his buck. To me, it seems like a suit is like a good tool. Yes, it’s worth investment, but it’s worth care. The more you care, the longer it lasts. It seems to me that tailoring is a huge part of the care process. If anyone has any thoughts I sure would love to hear them

    I took AlterationsInc’s advice, and googled tailors near me. Wouldn’t you know it, I found a website called http://tailornearme.com/ Not a lot of reviews but it’s definitely a start!

  • Reply March 7, 2015

    HBH

    I honestly think most tailors have no clue. Every time I get fitted for a suit, it ends up being baggy as hell.

    • Reply December 26, 2016

      Jill

      I’m terribly saddened by this. I’m a tailor who’s very young for my skill level, and I pour my heart into my job, so I can’t imagine this. If something’s not right, I rework it until it is. Then again, I had a great teacher with a strong eye for diagnosing fit issues, and I think having the eye is every bit as important as being able to use your hands to sew well. I hope you find someone in your area who understands this.

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  • Reply November 27, 2018

    Jay Dhawan

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