One of my young friends on LiveJournal had some confusion about what constitutes a well-fitting garment. This seems to be a common problem among women. Men probably have this dilemma, too, but men are usually able to get alterations made to their clothes when they purchase them, especially when it comes to suits and dress clothes. Places like Mens Wearhouse make alterations when you purchase a garment.
Women are on their own. It's not often a retailer will make alterations to women's garments as part of the purchase. Women usually have to shoulder the expense of tailoring their own clothes to fit, if they are so inclined.
I read in numerous books about the importance of having your clothes altered to get the perfect fit. A good tailor is essential. Ask around among your friends and acquaintances and neighbors, to get a recommendation, or go to Yelp or Google to get a recommendation for a tailor in your neighborhood.
So, here are some tips about fit and what a tailor can and cannot do.
Starting from the top:
- Shoulders: The shoulder of a jacket, shirt or blouse should not extend past the outer edge of your natural shoulder. If it extends past that point, it can be altered, but be aware that it's a difficult alteration to do on a jacket, because of the padding in a jacket; likewise if the shoulder of a shirt or blouse is padded.
- Sleeves: It's important that sleeves fit correctly, because sleeves that are too wide can add weight to a person's frame. Likewise, sleeves that are too narrow make a person look like as if they're bursting out of their clothes, like the Incredible Hulk! Sleeves that are too short have a similar effect; sleeves that are too long make you look like your clothes have swallowed you up. Coco Chanel was known to spend hours working to get a precise fit on the sleeves of her jackets. A precisely fitted sleeve can make a big difference in a garment's appearance and the way it hangs on your frame. The length of a full-length sleeve should come down to your wrist - just at the wrist, no longer, and no shorter. It's relatively easy in most cases to correct the hem of a sleeve, unless there is decoration, embellishment, fancy cuffs or buttons or zippers. I had a DKNYJeans jacket that had zippers at the wrists, and it was expensive to get the sleeves hemmed, and the zippers had to be cut down. Something to be aware of when you purchase a garment and the sleeves are too long.
- Chest: The buttons on a shirt or jacket or outerwear should not gap open. If this happens, you need to go a size up in your tops, jackets and outerwear. If there's a crease across your chest when you wear knit tops, this is a sign that your clothes are not fitting properly, and you need to wear a size larger. If the shoulders of your garment extend past your natural shoulder line, with extra fabric under the arms, this is a sign that you need to buy a smaller size top.
- Waist: Sometimes the waist on a jacket or blouse can be too large. On a blouse, this isn't such a terrible thing, depending on how one usually wears a shirt or blouse - tucked or untucked, and if one belts one's pants or skirts or not. So with a shirt or blouse, one has a bit of wiggle room, unless the garment is too tight in the waist, in which case, you need to go a size up. If the buttons at the waist of the shirt, blouse or jacket are gaping open, it's time to get a larger size.
- With jackets, the correct fit in the waist is important, since having a too-large waist can throw off the whole line of the jacket and make you appear larger than you are. It's usually not too difficult to take in a jacket at the waist, so it would be worth it to have this alteration done by a tailor. It improves the look of a garment, and the entire outfit.
- Waist: With pants, having a correctly-fitted waist is important, as well, because with a properly fitted waist, one can avoid the dreaded "tenting" problem - when extra fabric gathers around the lower portion of your tummy and makes you look bigger than you are. Unfortunately, it can also make you look like a man, if you get my drift, and I don't know about you, but that's something I'd like to avoid. If you're looking for a trim look to your tummy, it's good to avoid pleated pants. Taking in the waist is a relatively easy alteration to make, and if you're handy with sewing, you can even do it yourself, if you can have somebody help you with the fitting.
- With skirts, having a correctly-fitted waist is important, because otherwise you're stuck with "wandering skirt syndrome," where, as you go through your day, your skirt shifts around until the side zipper is at the back, or the back zipper is at the side, and your seams are all in the wrong place. This is also a relatively easy adjustment to make, and can be done at home if you can sew, and have help with the fitting.
- Hips: One way you can tell if a skirt or dress is too tight is if you're experiencing the "shelvy-butt" phenomenon. Does your skirt or dress ride up in the back, and is extra fabric gathered at the top of your derriere? Then you need to go a size up. If you are like me and Mother Nature blessed you with ample hips and booty, and a small waist, you need to get bottoms that fit your hips, and get the waist taken in. If you have a larger waist than hips, then you need to get bottoms that fit your waist, otherwise you get the dreaded "muffin top." In this case, my advice would be to go for a higher-rise pant, rather than a low-rise. You don't have to go into "mom jeans" territory ... the top button at the waist of the pants should be about level with your own belly button.
- Skirt and Dress Hems: With skirts and dresses, unless you have terrific legs and like to show them off by wearing minis, usually the "sweet spot" for a hem is at the knee. The past few seasons, skirt hems seem to be allover the place - the midi, the mini, the maxi, at-the-knee ... anything goes. Just check yourself out in a full-length mirror, or if you're like me, have your co-habitants check you out before you leave the house, to make sure that, wherever your hem lands, it's at a sweet spot ... a narrow part of the leg ... at the ankle, right below the calf, or at the knee. If you have the guts to wear minis, my hat's off to you, and all I ask is that you do the public a service and keep the goods covered.
- Pant Hems: Pant hems should break right across the top of the shoe. You've probably heard this before, but it's a good idea, if you wear both heels and flats, to get pants hemmed for both heels and flats. Decide what type of heel you will be wearing with a specific pair of pants, and get them hemmed accordingly. Hemming is fairly easy to do, even with jeans. There are online tutorials showing how to hem jeans so you can keep the classic "jean hem" intact. Just make sure you get someone to do the pinning, or if you know the proper inseam, pin the hem to the appropriate length and hem the pants yourself.
- If you're going to take the pants to a tailor, remember to bring the shoes you will be wearing with the pants and wear them during the fitting, to get the best fit.
You might wonder where I got all this information, and I'll be happy to tell you: In addition to reading books about fashion over the years, and working in the fashion industry for 10 years, my mom used to sew many of my clothes when I was a youngster. I took sewing in home economics in high school, so I learned to make little alterations, like taking in the waist and hemming pants, but I would never claim to be an expert.
My mom was an expert! From her, I learned what constitutes a well-made, well-fitting garment, and what to look for when I was shopping for clothes. To this day, I hide out in the fitting room, examining the seams, buttons, zippers and fabric quality of any potential purchases before I buy. I'm happy to say, in general, I very rarely have buyer's remorse when it comes to clothing purchases, because all my garments stand up to the test of time. To my dismay, I usually grow out of garments before they wear out.
Also, I have experienced many of the fitting dilemmas discussed in this post. Shelvy-butt? Guilty. Gaping shirt buttons? Guilty. Too long jacket sleeves? Guilty - but remedied by a trip to the tailor. This just underscores the importance of letting go of garments that no longer fit, which I try to do regularly.
If a garment can be saved by repairing it, or by some alterations, then it's usually worth the effort to take care of the problem, unless you a) really hate it; b) it's very cheaply made and won't stand the test of time. In that case, it's usually not worth the effort and/or expense you would put into it to alter it.