A Real Girl's Guide to Tailoring: What's Worth It (and What to Skip)

If there's one trick many well-dressed women keep up their exquisitely hemmed sleeves, it's tailoring. While ready-to-wear pieces are technically ready to be worn (duh), getting your go-to pieces tailored can make a world of difference. More than fixing small rips or slippery straps, a great tailor knows exactly how to fit everything from jeans to ball gowns exactly to your frame.

Since the idea of sending out your entire wardrobe may seem to be a bit much, we enlisted the help of tailoring expert and custom designer Kiya Tomlin to break down what’s really necessary. From what to look for in a good tailor to the right way to nip and tuck your go-to items, Tomlin makes the art of tailoring simple. Read on for our tailoring guide, complete with all her tips, and to shop the staples to consider tailoring yourself.

“When mass-produced clothes first emerged, they were not created as a complete replacement for custom-made clothing, but more of an economical and convenient shortcut. People at that time understood ready-to-wear clothing was not supposed to fit you right off the rack, and there would still be a need to tailor these pieces.

“As styles became looser in the ’60s and ’70s, less tailoring was required, and eventually fewer people learned to sew. We came to think of tailoring anything beyond a hem as unusual. For the last few decades, we have been trying to make our bodies fit the clothes when, in reality, we should be making the clothes fit our bodies.”

“The first step to finding a good tailor is to ask around. Ask other well-dressed men and women. If they look that good, they are probably getting their things tailored. Ask local upscale boutiques where they refer their customers for alterations.”

“You should expect to try on the garment for the tailor so they can examine the fit for themselves. Be sure you are able to communicate exactly what you want the finished garment to look like. The tailor should be able to discuss the fit with you, explain how an alteration will get you the look you want and whether they can do it successfully. Expect them to pin and mark the necessary adjustments.”

“Ignore the size! Look for something that fits your widest body part, and then tailor everything else down.

“All women, especially those with a large bust line, should avoid sizing down into too-small shirts to get a snug fit at the waistline. You almost always want a garment to contour your waistline, but achieve it through tailoring.

“For the most flattering skirt or cropped pant length, whether a mini, knee, midi, or ankle length, always hem to the point on your leg that begins a taper.

“Pants should fit nicely through the hips, not too baggy and not skintight. They should be hemmed specific to the shoe height you will be wearing. Hem pants so there is a slight break in the front and no more than 1/2 inch from the floor in the back. This will create the illusion of leaner, longer legs.”

“Invest in staples, and have them tailored to fit. They should be classic cuts (meaning timeless, not boring, but not overly trendy), well made. and from quality fabrics that will last you for years.”

“Do not bother tailoring cheaply constructed garments, garments made from cheap fabric, or of-the-moment trends that require more than a hem or simple waistline contour. It is not worth the money, as these items will most likely be gone from your wardrobe in a season or two.”