basic_suits

Fit is the most important thing about a suit. It can be cheap, it can be threadbare and it can be hideously patterned. But the man wearing it will always look better than his contemporary if it fits him well– and his contemporary’s does not. Knowing how to get a suit altered is a must for every man, be he a casual suit wearer or every day formal dresser. Continue reading to learn about how to get a stylish, ready-to-wear suit altered to fit you and no one else…

You don’t need to go bespoke, or even made-to-measure, to get a suit that fits well. Most quality stores that sell suits will offer alterations at a decent price. At Ralph Lauren, for example, the policy is to do alterations at cost; the store makes no money off it. This service won’t necessarily be advertised, so ask.
The key to getting a well-fitting suit off the peg, therefore, has two elements: buying the right size, and getting it altered. To buy the right size– look at the suit’s collar and its shoulders.

Pretty much everything can be altered in a suit except the shoulders. Obviously the jacket cannot be lengthened; but the sleeves can be lengthened or shortened, the waist taken in or let out (both trouser and jacket), the crotch taken out/in and the trouser legs lengthened/shortened.

So when you try on a ready-to-wear suit, look at the back of your neck (in a mirror) and the shoulders. The back of the suit should neither stand away from your neck, nor wrinkle up and create a little ridge behind the collar. The first shows the cloth has too much slack, the second that it has too little.
Equally, the shoulder of the jacket should go straight out and not dip; and your shoulder should not be visible pushing at the cloth of the sleeve. These are signs that the suit is too big and too small, respectively.

winter_stripes

Another good thing to look at is the cloth across your back. Check for lines of tautness (probably across the shoulders) or slack under the arms (indicating drooping shoulders). Ignore everything else about how the suit fits. Get the neck and the shoulders right first, but they are difficult and expensive to alter.

Then take the suit to the in-house tailor (or an external one if you have had it recommended). The trousers will be relatively simple to alter – you’ll know what feels comfortable around the waist, as is pinned or examined by the tailor, and what you prefer on the length. The safest option on length is one break in the front crease of the trouser, none in the back.

The first things to have altered on the jacket are the waist and the arms. The fit of the waist is very much a matter of personal taste, but there should be an obvious suppression in the line of suit at your side, going in where your waist button fastens (middle button on a three-button suit, top one on a two-button). There should be no folds radiating from the waist button, which again show the cloth being stretched. And when you pull the waist button away from you, it should pull out easily an inch or two, but no more.

If the chest or hips of the jacket are also a little big, make sure the suppression the tailor makes at the waist has a long tail, finishing high up around the chest and low down the vents.

Lastly, sleeves. Suits are generally manufactured with longer arms than average because few men notice that their sleeves are too long. They’d notice if they were too short, as there would be a startling excess of cuff. But an inch or two too long goes unnoticed.

the_brown_striped_suit

So it’s worth having them changed. The rule is they should end at your wrist bone, no lower. Your shirt should then fall to the base of your thumb (when your arms are at your sides) so that there is around half an inch of short cuff showing. The shirt sleeves should also have enough slack not to ride up when your arms are extended.

That’s how to have a ready-to-wear suit altered. It’s unlikely to cost more than 10% of the suit’s price, and will always be worth it.
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oskicat

I recently purchased a suit and it seems that the sleeves could be narrowed slightly. Is this advisable?

Anonymous

Is it possible to make suit tighter? I tried smaller sizes, but they are all too tight. The size I wear is a little too big.

clark James

Anoymous,
It depends on what areas it is a little big in. AFAIK the neck fitting can’t really be changed, but the waist/hem/chest in an easy alteration, the sleeves can be slimmed down and shortened but not by too much or the sleeves will look cone shaped, also if you get them shortened you might have to do it from the shoulder rather than the cuff (expensive), the shoulders can be lifted to pull them in a little and I think this can also pull the arm hole a little higher.

Take it to a tailor and ask, find the best tailors in your city- preferably somewhere that also makes suits so they will really understand construction. Expect to pay for the best quality work though

Anonymous

I recently bought a suit which was a little big but the store told me they would alter it so would fit me better. This they did and it was a good fit but the alterations made the tail stick out and even after they pressed it the tail was still protruding. Now they say the only options I have is to undo the alterations (makng it too big again) or stitching the tail to the bottom of the suit! They won’t exchange he jacket…..Any idea what I can do??

Anonymous

I have to have a suit by next Friday and I was wondering how long it takes to have a suit altered?

Joe Barton

I have a suit which I wore to my wedding two years ago, and due to two factors: my former cleaners may have accidentally washed the jacket once, and combined with two years of lifting weights, has caused my shoulders and back to broden which has thus caused the sleeves of the jacket ride high on my wrist. I really need to take the sleeves down an inch but due to the way the sleeve is cut it’s not possible to do at that end. I have heard you can have the sleeve lengthened at the shoulder – thoughts? The suit was only $450 so maybe it’s just not possible or even worth doing.

C B S

Hi Simon

As an avid reader of your excellent blog, I thought I’d let your readers know about the alteration tailor I use. His name is Les Groves and he is based in Queens Road, Buckhurst Hill in Essex. He trained at Henry Poole and I can honestly say the man’s a genius!
I have a penchant for buying vintage suits from eBay and buy way too many… My first port of call as soon as the suit arrives is to take it to Les and to see what he can do with it. The best thing is that Les will say exactly what can and can’t be done and whether it’s actually worth doing. His advice has been invaluable.

I cannot speak highly enough of him.

(And no, I’m not related!)

Anonymous

Hi I have an old dolce gabbana suit but dont like the collar as it is a very small collar high on chest. Could I get collar made larger so the fold comes down to around solar plexus area? Hope this makes sense

Anonymous

Can the legs of trousers be made more narrow? Most off the peg trousers are too wide and I was wondering if I took them to a Taylor can they make them slightly more narrow.

Tailor Dan

Really like the blog Smon. Great read and will continue.

Anonymous

Hi Simon,
I’m just wondering if it is impossible to get a suit jacket taken in at the shoulders or is it just expensive? I bought a Cerruti suit a couple of years ago and I’ve lost weight since I bought it so the jacket looks pretty big now, kind of 80’s style. It’s a really nice suit other than that so if it was possible I wouldn’t mind spending the money to get it done.
Thanks

Kevin Hutchison

Hi there,

I bought a lovely tweed jacket online from Brook Taverner, a company I have bought a few things from now as they offer excellent value for money. This time, my 46L tweed jacket was noticeably more “fitted” in style, which I like, but am undecided about whether to have the sleeves slightly lengthened. I’ve been researching all angles on the “1/2 inch rule” re. how much cuff to show, and with a correct fitting shirt sleeve, my tweed jacket exceeds this to show about 3/4 or even a full inch of cuff. Do you consider that the rules are a bit different for a tweed jacket, and the jacket sleeve should be a bit longer? I don’t want to end up having it fit like an overcoat, more like a suit jacket.

Thanks,

Kevin

Greg Hao

I didn’t notice any comments or anything in the original post about potentially shortening the length of the jacket. Most of the measurements all seem to be acceptable (and certainly none are bespoke, so sleeves can be shortened without fear of losing the working buttonholes [FWIW]). But while my usual measurement from the back of the collar to the bottom of the tail is 30.5″, I’m looking at playing around with some suits through ebay that are either 33″ or 32″. Would potentially taking off 2 or almost 3 inches alter the look of the jacket too much?

AB

Simon,

Any thoughts on being between two sizes for online purchasing? I run on the slimmer side, a 38R usually, but my tailor has suggested a 39, if available. Naturally, the styles I’m looking toward are only available as a 38R or 40R. Is it better to buy larger and alter to slim? Or does the opposite hold true? Thank you in advance.

Jeff E.

Mr. Crompton,

I seem to recall that years ago, a suit jacket would have a center seam on the back of the collar to allow for correction if it stood away from the neck. Of course, that is no longer the case.

If a collar is standing away from the neck, can a good tailor create a seam, or is it something you wouldn’t recommend?

Thank you.

cipher

Thanks for your reply. If you don’t recommend it, I won’t try to have it done. The only reason I was even considering it is that it’s been years since I tried on a suit, in any price range, that didn’t stand away from my neck.

Gemma Beresford

I ordered my boyfriend a super slim fit suit recently – the trousers fitted perfectly but the sleeves were just too short (even though it was a long jacket) (he has really long arms) can the sleeves be take down at all? I did mention this as a possibility to my boyfriend but he was worried that the sleeve buttons would then be in the wrong place – do you have any tips on whether this can be done successfully?

Anonymous

Hello, I would think that if you take a jacket in too much, in the chest, say more than 2″, it would require a number of other alterations also. So is there a limit to how much you can cut down a jacket chest size without creating such additional problems? Many thanks.

Anonymous

Shoulders fit fine but chest is a tad narrow. How much can the chest be let out?

Anonymous

I’m in transit through the UK (London Heathrow)and want to take advantage of the 12 hours layover to have some suits altered. Is there a place you can recommend: in terms of expertise, proximity to the airport and friendly to the pocket?

Thanks

Anonymous

I have a tweed herringbone sport coat that has a rope shoulder with a divot at the upper sleeves. I workout but I comfortably fit in the shoulders and upper-arms. Can a tailor alter the shoulder to a knockdown and soften it by removing some or all the padding without ruining the structure of the coat? Do you recommend this alteration?

smath

is it possible to reduce the length of the suit? i’m 5’5″. 40 shoulder ready to wear seems longer.

Rory Smith

Any recommendations for good alterations tailors in London?

Most cleaners advertise alterations services but I’m assuming it’s worth finding someone who knows what they are doing?

joseph

how wide do you think trouser bottoms should be for a classic conservative look.

Henry

I have been a follower of you and your blog for some time. Being however of limited means, I am always on the lookout for articles (such as the above) which show people (such as myself) how to look good on a budget.

Your article above got me thinking: given that, as you say, the fit of the suit is the most important factor when it comes to looking good, how cheaply do you think “looking good” in a suit could be done for? Considering you could buy a ready-to-wear suit pretty cheaply and given that, depending on where you live (more in London, less where I live in Newcastle upon Tyne), the alterations you describe in your article could also be undertaken relatively inexpensively, then would it not be possible to “look good” in a suit for less than £100 – 150 (incl. the price of the suit)? Perhaps a challenge/experiment for you…?

Price then needn’t necessarily be a barrier to a good suit, rather it is a question of buying a suit with the best fit and knowing who to call when going to a local tailor/seamstress for alterations.

boswell

If you are shorter than average then even a ‘short’ size jacket may be too long. But the length of a jacket cannot readily be altered without affecting the balance of the jacket, especially in relation to the closing button and pockets (chest and hip pockets). I have read that a jacket length should only be shortened by no more than an inch. The other bug-bear is the trend towards suit jackets having functional cuff buttons. That is so annoying as it means the sleeves cannot easily be altered (has to be done from the top, which is costly).

John

Can anyone recommend an individual or business where I can have my suit jacket sleeves shortened, in Epping?

Anonymous

Les Groves in queens rd, Buckhurst Hill (not far from epping).

Marcus

Hi Simon,

Can you recommend an alterations tailor for more casual wear (e.g. polo shirts) – I already use a tailor for bespoke suits but need someone who would be trustworthy in altering luxury ready to wear garments.

Thanks.

Marcus

Yes I agree. I think I was assuming that bespoke tailors who specialise in suits would be less willing (and able?) to adjust something like a polo shirt which they’re not used to working with. There are obviously lots of people out there who will do alterations (most dry cleaners for example) but I’m nervous about entrusting a high end polo shirt to someone I don’t know – would be an expensive mistake if they got it wrong. I could also try the London store I suppose (the polo in this case is from Kiton, but ordered online from a retailer in Capri). Unfortunately I’ve had a bad experience from the London store so am reluctant to use them. I will look into Graham Browne but if you have any other name let me know. Thanks again.

Anna

Hello Simon, great advice for suit buying which my partner is currently engaged in. I have a probably ridiculous question: we have seen a fantastic, immaculate vintage 3 piece suit in brown worsted that really stands out, but the trousers measure 28.5 inside leg and my partner is a 31 usually. Apparently there is about 1.5 inches of material to spare on the hem. We have no options do we, ad have to let it go? As you can see, I’m struggling to!

C E Neville

Dear Simon

I have a single breasted notch lapel corduroy suit, the lapel width is slightly too narrow for my taste and ideally I’d like to have the lapel width extended, only by a cm or so. Is this possible for a good tailor to do?

Thank you

C E Neville

Tim

Is it just me or are the pictures broken?

Anonymous

Dear Simon,
Reading your website takes away at least some of my ignorance in tailoring. Thank you for that.
A little ridge below the collar like mentioned above is exactly what has bothered me several times when trying on unconstructed RTW jackets that would fit well in the shoulders. More so, even websites like Mr Porter’s do not seem to mind showing jackets on models with this type of ridge for example some Boglioli. Is it very hard to alter then? Is one just very lucky if it is not there? Should it be taken for granted to some extent? Thank you from someone that loves beautiful clothes but does not have a large budget.
Peter