man getting measured for a suit alteration

Suit Alterations and Considerations

So you’re scouring the internet, trying to figure out how suit alterations are supposed to work and how much that waist alterations should cost. You might find yourself in this situation because you just went on an intermittent fasting diet and your suits are a little baggier than they used to be. Or maybe you found a deal on an off-the-rack suit that you couldn’t pass up, but something about the way it fits just doesn’t feel right.

Whatever the reason, fixing your suit and achieving a good fit is important. In fact, professional stylists the world over agree that proper fit is the most important part of any outfit, more than color, patterns or even material. Spending a few bucks to improve the fit of your suits is often a great investment – when done correctly.

So, can you alter a suit jacket or pants? Of course, but caveat emptor, be aware that difference in tailoring skill can affect outcomes to a very large extent. More importantly, certain alterations are simply prohibitively expensive and may not be worth your hard-earned dollars. Geography will also play a role in pricing and access to good tailors.

scissors cutting through paper

Common Suit Tailoring Terms

Before we start, here’s a quick rundown of some tailoring lingo to help set the stage. These will come in handy when you’re working with the tailor too so we recommend paying attention.

Take-in/Taper – To make the garment smaller by re-sewing seams. This typically deals with circumference (e.g. waist, hips, chest).

Let-out/Open – To make the garment bigger by re-sewing seams using extra fabric allowance adjacent to the seams on the inside of the garment. The degree to which a garment can be let-out is determined by how much fabric allowance there is, which differs from garment to garment. This typically deals with circumference (e.g. waist, hips, chest).

Fabric Allowance – Fabric allowance refers to the excess fabric on the inside of your seams that can be leveraged to let out the circumference of specific areas of your garment. You typically cannot see this in jackets but can see it on the inside of your pants in areas not covered by lining. Shirts and vests typically do not contain any fabric allowance since there is no place to hide the extra fabric without creating discomfort for the wearer and consequently often cannot be let-out.

Reducing/Extending – A structure related term that relates to taking away from or adding to certain areas. This typically deals with length or width (e.g. sleeve length, shoulder width).

Hem/Re-hem – The hem defines the bottom edge of a garment – most typically referring to the bottom opening of pant legs or shirt bottoms. Hemming (or re-hemming)your pants or shirt is to reshape this bottom edge (with or without a cuff for pants) to the desired length and sometimes shape.

Chalking – Tailoring chalk is a tool used to mark the planned changes on your garment. Don’t worry, this comes right off (rag with warm water if any chalk marks remain when your garment comes back).

Pinning – Tailoring pins are used by tailors to pin down parts of garments, indicating potential fit post-alterations.

How Suit Alteration Difficulty May Affect Your Options

When it comes to suit alterations, there are a variety of different services that all warrant a particular level of tailoring skill to accomplish properly. So, when you’re considering a particular alteration, take into account the level of expertise that it entails, and whether you have the tailoring resources in your area to get the job done properly.

The Three Categories of Suit Alteration Difficulty:

Easy – Alterations that can be completed anywhere, including mom and pop dry cleaners.

Moderate – Alterations that will take a professional tailor to complete properly. This means the tailoring shop does not moonlight as a cleaners and focuses solely on alterations and repairs.

Expert – The toughest alterations that should be left only to the best reviewed professional tailors in your area. Note: most suburban and rural areas and even some smaller metropolitan areas may not have this level of tailoring expertise available. If you have your doubts on a tailor after doing research, it may be advisable to reconsider this alteration altogether.

Have an alteration in mind? Skip to….
Dress Shirt
Dress Pants

Tailoring Your Suit Jacket

Overview: Suit Jacket alterations can be a tricky task to undertake. This is due to the fact that a great-fitting suit jacket is a delicate balancing act between the shoulders, chest and arms. When one area doesn’t fit well, it can throw off the fit of the entire jacket. Consequently, when one of these three areas is disrupted or altered, it’s very easy to cause a complication somewhere else as a result. If you’re going to buy an off-the-rack suit or blazer: make sure the shoulders fit. Shoulder alterations are the most expensive with suits jackets and not many alterations tailors can truly do the work well.

Reduce/Extend Sleeves

suit sleeve being moved

Estimated Cost: $30 – $45
Difficulty: Easy

If you are dealing with sleeves that are either too long or too short, there are easy tailoring solutions to help alleviate your problem. When shortening sleeves, there is no realistic limitation to how short you can go, however, the amount you can extend is dictated by how much spare fabric exists inside the sleeves itself as the tailor will use that excess material to create the extension.

Note: Though most off-the-rack suit jackets do not have functioning buttonholes, custom-made suits often do. When buttonholes are involved, there are clear limitations to how much your tailor can reduce and extend your sleeve by, and you will want to discuss your options together.

Reducing Collar Roll

suit alterations showing reducing collar roll

Estimated Cost: $35 – $45
Difficulty: Easy

This alteration is one of the least-common, and is required when additional fabric begins pooling at the collar point. This is primarily caused by an incorrect cut when posture is set. The tailor will simply pin around ¼” of excess fabric and cut.

Tapering Suit Jacket Sleeves

suit alterations showing tapering suit jacket sleeves

Estimated Cost: $30 – $75
Difficulty: Easy

Tapering the sleeves involves the process of your tailor reducing from the seams so that the wrap fits comfortably around the shirt cuffs. There are three points that can be reduced, the forearm, the bicep and the shoulder. However, if your sleeves need to be tapered past ½”, the tailor will have to start taking from the shoulder seams, which in turn will drive up the price.

Take-in/Let-out Suit Jacket

suit alterations showing take in/let-out alter suit jacket

Estimated Cost $40 – $65
Difficulty: Moderate

The process of taking in or letting out your suit jacket involves the tailor pinning the side seams based on your desired fit, and taking from either the chest, the stomach/waist, the vents or all three zones. When tailors take suit jackets in (reducing circumference), they will un-sew the seams and re-sew deeper into the garment away from the fabric edge. Many tailors know to not cut away the excess fabric in case the garment needs to be let-out again later (“non-destructive tailoring”) but it never hurts to remind the tailor if you’re so inclined.

On the other hand, letting out the jacket involves making the jacket bigger by un-sewing the seam and re-sewing further out. The only problem with this alteration is that tailors can only let-out an area of the garment if there is additional fabric available under the seams to work with; most off-the-rack manufacturers do not not include this in abundance or do so inconsistently so its difficult to predict what is or isn’t possible until the seam is opened up first.

Shorten Suit Jacket

suit alterations costs showing shorten suit jacket

Estimated Cost: $80 – $120
Difficulty: Expert

Shortening your jacket is a circumstantial alteration. If your pockets rest higher, then you can afford to shorten your jacket around a ¾” margin (no more than 1”). However, this alteration is expensive and not always recommended due to the fact that you also have to replace stitching and rework the curvature of the jacket to it’s new length.

Ease Armholes

suit alterations showing ease armholes

Estimated Price: $40 – $75
Difficulty: Expert

This alteration involves increasing the circumference of your armholes to create a bigger opening for your arms if the area feels too tight. Note however that a properly fitting jacket should actually have higher armholes that you can feel. It not only counterintuitively grant better mobility (defined as ability to move your arms without causing the whole jacket to move with you), but also presents a cleaner silhouette when your arm is raised.

This is an extremely difficult task for tailors to take on properly, and should be avoided.

Reducing or Extending Suit Jacket Shoulders

If you’re confused as to why we haven’t listed this alteration yet, it’s because our opinion on this one is pretty firm.

Dress Shirt Alterations

Overview: Alterations for dress shirts are all fairly common, and in turn, fairly easy.

Hemming Dress Shirt

suit alterations showing hemming dress shirt

Estimated Cost: $25 – $30
Difficulty: Easy

This alteration involves increasing the circumference of your armholes to create a bigger opening for your arms if the area feels too tight. Note however that a properly fitting jacket should actually have higher armholes that you can feel. It not only counterintuitively grant better mobility (defined as ability to move your arms without causing the whole jacket to move with you), but also presents a cleaner silhouette when your arm is raised.

Shorten Sleeves

alter suit jacket showing shorten sleeves

Estimated Cost $30 – $40
Difficulty: Easy

Reducing the length of the sleeves of your dress shirt is moderately easy. The tailor will simply pop off the cuff of your shirt, shorten the seams while maintaining the pleats near the cuff and then pop the cuff back on.

Taper Sleeves

suit alterations showing tapering sleeves

Estimated Cost $30 – $40
Difficulty: Easy

Tapering your dress shirt sleeves is a simple, common alteration. Keep in mind that as you approach the armhole area, you will need to keep your tapering to less than 1 inch as more aggressive alterations in this region will cause the shoulder to have to be reworked as well, which will end up costing you significantly more.

Take-in Dress Shirt

suit alterations showing take in dress shirt

Estimated Cost $35 – $45
Difficulty: Easy

Taking the sides in on a dress shirt is another easy alteration and utilized if your shirt is fitting too loose. Tailors will simply rework the seams around the stomach, waist and sometimes the chest to bring in the sides, and allow for a closer fit. Just remember when the tailor is pinning you up to not suck in your stomach as food and water intake in the course of the day (or even the simple act of sitting down) can cause your torso to expand in circumference. In other words, don’t over do it!

Move Collar Button

suit alterations showing moving collar button

Estimated Cost $1 – $3
Difficulty: Easy

Moving your collar button is a tailoring “hack” that can be used to alleviate tension at the top of your shirt if your neck is feeling the squeeze or to achieve a more snug fit if the collar is loose. You can move the button slightly to achieve the desired fit, although more than half an inch is not recommended as it can alter the outline of your placket and look unsightly.

Adding/Opening Darts

suit alterations showing darts being opened

Estimated Cost $25 – $35
Difficulty: Moderate

Adding darts to your shirt can serve an aesthetic purpose if you’re used to seeing them, or be used to reduce your shirt size by cinching the back via the hidden pleat (i.e. the dart). The darts allow you to take in the torso of your shirt without cutting away fabric which means it is a non-destructive process and is reversible.

Alternatively, if your shirt already has darts, tailors can open them up to allow your torso to be let out despite not having any fabric allowance in the side seams.

Suit Pant Alterations

Overview: Suit pants, much like suit jackets, achieve an ideal fit by balancing a few different parts of the garment. For suit pants, the balance is created in the waist, the hips(or seat) and the crotch (or rise). When you’re buying suit pants, make sure first and foremost that the crotch (or rise) fit best, as this will be the hardest alteration to do.

Take-in/Let-out the Waist

suit alteration showing pants being taken out

Estimated Cost $25 – $35
Difficulty: Easy

Although an easy alteration, there is a threshold as to how much the waist can be opened depending on fabric allowance in the waist and the area where it adjoins the center seam in the back of the hips. The limit here is typically around 1.00 – 1.50 inches in either direction. After this margin, even if you have extra fabric allowance, you may run into complications with the positioning of your back pockets.

Hemming Pant Legs (With/Without Cuff)

suit alterations hemming pant leg

Estimated Cost $30 – $40
Difficulty: Easy

This alteration involves either lengthening or shortening the hem of both pant legs. During this process, your tailor can create a pant cuff if that is more your style. We typically forgo cuffs for a more modern look (and streamlined to make your legs look longer), however, we acknowledge that they’re a classic feature and are always “making a come back”. If you do ask your tailor to create (or resize) cuffs, get cuffs with a height of 1.50 inches if you’re below 5 foot 10 inches tall, and a height of of 1.75 inches if you’re taller. That way, the width of your pant cuff will be proportional to your body.

Note, this can actually sometimes be considered a moderate level alteration. The reason for this has to do with your personal expectations. While any tailor can do this alteration, only a skilled tailor can do it without showing visible stitching on the outside of the pant legs from where excess fabric is secured on the inside of the pant leg. This may not be your concern, and if so, you can safely ignore this caveat.

Take-In/Let-Out Hips

suit alteration showing taking in hips

Estimated Cost $30 – $40
Difficulty: Moderate

This alteration involves reducing or expanding the size of your pant hips (the seat). To take your pants in, the tailor will simply pin along the outseam based on your desired fit. To let-out the hips, the tailor will un-sew and re-sew the seam based on fabric allowance.

Taper/Let-out Pant Legs

suit alterations showing how to taper or let out pant

Estimated Cost: $40 – $50
Difficulty: Moderate

Taking in your pant legs involves a tailor re-sewing the seam of the leg below the pocket line to reduce the overall circumference.Letting out your pant involves a tailor re-sewing the seams to open up the circumference of your pant legs. However, this is only possible if there is enough fabric allowance for the tailor to use and most pants come with less than 0.75 inches.

Most alterations in this area should be done to improve the silhouette of your pant legs when standing to minimize disruptions while securing enough taper to not have your leg openings skirt out when you’re walking. An optimal leg opening size is typically 7.00 to 8.00 inches when measured flat (half of the circumference).

Crotch/Rise Adjustments

suit alterations showing crotch rise adjustments

Estimated Cost $40 – $65
Difficulty: Expert

The most difficult pant alteration, crotch/rise adjustments have the smallest margin to work with, and will usually throw off the balance of your pants in more than just one way. They become necessary if your rise is too high (visibly riding up on your crotch) or too low (reducing your mobility and placing extra stress on the seam when you’re in motion). Most off the rack pants have a rise that extends too low.

Note that “low-rise” as fit terminology for casual pants like jeans assumes that the jeans fit snug in the crotch and are referring more to how high the waist of the jeans go up. With dress pants, you should always wear them at your natural waist, which means when we refer to rise, we’re referring to how far down the crotch of the pants sit relative to your body.

Vest Alterations

Overview: The vest has its own simplicities and complications when it comes to tailoring. On one hand, there are no arms to complicate the shoulders, but on the other hand, the bottom is cut with a unique shape that is costly to have redone. So, when buying a vest, make sure first and foremost that the length is set properly where the hem just covers the pant waistline by 0.50 to 1.00 inch.

Take-in Vest

suit alterations showing how to take in vest

Estimated Cost: $30 – $40
Difficulty: Moderate

A vest can be taken in, although it can sometimes be tricky. This is due to the fact that tailors have to compensate for how the armholes will lay once the tailor has finished to ensure they don’t flare out during wear with too aggressive of an alteration. Like with shirts, don’t over do it here as vests aren’t unbuttoned in the course of the day and need to allow for the wearer to eat, drink, and be seated comfortably.

Shorten Vest

suit alterations showing how to shorten vest

Estimated Cost: $25 – $40
Difficulty: Moderate/Expert

The vest is typically shortened via the seams atop the shoulders. This is done due to the fact that if it were to be taken from the bottom hem directly, you would have to pay a pretty penny to have the unique shape of the bottom of your vest re-cut and finished.

Reshape Armholes

suit alterations showing reshaping armholes

Estimated Cost: $60
Difficulty: Expert

Reshaping the armholes on vests is hard, but not impossible. Since you don’t have to worry about messing with any sleeves (unlike your suit jacket), there is more room to work with. However, make sure you are working with a trusted tailor, as this type of alteration is destructive and cannot be undone.

button and sewing pin

Miscellaneous Alterations

Repair Pocket Lining

Estimated Cost: $10 – $25
Difficulty: Easy

Holes in your pockets typically are just a matter of sewing up the gap or patching it with more fabric. This should be relatively easy unless you have to mess with the exterior seams which will start to run the price up.

Add Shoulder Pad

Estimated Cost: $50 – $75
Difficulty: Expert

Adding a shoulder pad to your suit jacket is somewhat of a hack solution for off-the-rack garments that don’t take your posture into consideration. Shoulder pads can help offset posture that may have one shoulder be naturally slightly lower than the other, causing an imbalance which is typically seen in ripples in chest/back fabric or a lapel flare only on one side of the jacket.

Re-sew Jacket Buttons

Estimated Cost: $2 – $6
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

A simple tailoring job that is sometimes included for free when other alterations are being done concurrently. Keep in mind, while most dry cleaning operations know how to re-sew fallen buttons, a quality suit jacket should have fabric shanks to give the buttons some vertical space away from the fabric to allow for easy buttoning. This fabric shank is harder to produce and typically requires greater skill and effort.

The ‘Avoid at all Costs’ Alterations

Reduce Shoulders

Estimated Cost $100 – $150
Difficulty: Expert

This alteration is not recommended due to the fact that it’s extremely expensive, tough to predict success, and will likely end up costing you even more than this. This is because a suit jacket fit depends upon a delicate balancing act that is often disrupted by shoulder adjustments. Basically, if you’re going to touch the shoulders, you’re possibly going to have to pay for an alteration somewhere else on the jacket as well (e.g. front chest, half back, biceps, armhole, etc).

Close Jacket Vents

Estimated Cost $40 – $50
Difficulty: Moderate

Though not as expensive an alteration as relining or recutting your garments, closing the vent of a jacket is incredibly rare, and can also run you a fair amount of money. It’s also uncommon to close these, as the only jackets that are typically sans vents are tuxedo jackets. On rare occasions, you may want to reduce the length of the vents however and so we’ve included this here for inquiring minds.

Recut Pants

Estimated Cost: $160 – $200
Difficulty: Expert

Recutting the pant is necessary when a pant doesn’t fit in the seat and is beyond any other tailoring measures. If an entire pant cut is needed to have your pants fit you properly, we suggest just getting a nice pair of custom-pants for around the same price.

Re-line Jacket

Estimated Cost: $200 – $500
Difficulty: Expert

Unless you’re re-lining a jacket that has some special meaning to you (a hand-me-down from a relative for example), this is often a fairly pointless alteration that will just end up wasting you money. Not only is it expensive, but it takes expert tailoring to accomplish and often, requires you to secure your own lining fabric for the tailor to use (around 2 yards worth).

piggy bank

Suit Alteration Preventative Measures

Stop Wasting Your Money

First, *cue commercial*, go with custom made clothing. This is by far the easiest way to prevent the need for alterations since they’re made to your measurements (duh). If you choose to buy off-the-rack, at least learn how a suit should fit before you hit the store. This will help you understand the warning signs to look for and help avoid the pesky trips to the tailor.

Lastly, no matter where you shop, choose a company that won’t nickel-and-dime you for every little alteration detail. Many off-the-rack retailers will charge you extra for alterations on that suit you’re considering. On the other hand, there are custom suit makers like Black Lapel where not only are you starting out with custom made, in case alterations are needed to fine tune your fit, up to $75 per suit will be covered so you can rest easy in knowing you’ll get to a perfect fit without breaking the bank.