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.
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.
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.
I recently purchased a suit and it seems that the sleeves could be narrowed slightly. Is this advisable?
Yes it should be perfectly possible to change. It won’t be the cheapest alteration but it should be fine. Make the adjustment slight to maintain the style of the suit though.
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.
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
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??
It sounds like they have taken in the waist too much, throwing out the skirt over your backside. You need to take the alteration back in so that doesn’t happen. But I also wouldn’t have much confidence in them if they made that alteration in the first place, and it sounds like the jacket might just be too big overall to get the waist shape you want.
I have to have a suit by next Friday and I was wondering how long it takes to have a suit altered?
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.
Certainly worth doing Joe, and a good alterations tailor should be able to do it
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!)
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
Afraid not – that would mean remaking the whole lapel, or ruining the fit.
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.
Absolutely, that should be easy.
Really like the blog Smon. Great read and will continue.
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.
It’s possible, just expensive and risky. You have to take all the shoulders apart and what you’re left with might not be perfect. If you find a good quote from a good place and you really like the suit, might be worth a go.
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.
There are certainly no different rules for tweed jackets. Then again, there are no rules, it’s just an aesthetic people like. It would probably look a little better if it was longer, yes, but it’s up to you whether you want it changed or not. Wear it for a bit and see what you think.
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?
Yes, this sounds dangerous. You could end up with a very odd position for the waist button and the hip pockets.
I’d never shorten by more than an inch.
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.
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?
It’s certainly possible, but not recommended. Make sure it is done by a tailor, not a simple alterations seamstress
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.
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?
The sleeves can be extended, but not by that much probably in a ready to wear suit (it all depends on how much excess has been left inside by the manufacturer).
Positioning of buttons is an issue. If the lengthening is only by half an inch or less, it won’t be an problem. If it’s more, look to move the top button down (if there is no buttonhole or the hole is uncut, so the thread can just be unpicked). Or, as a last resort, you can add a fifth button on the bottom – it’s your judgment which is the lesser evil.
Hope that helps
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.
Absolutely, as with the other questions above, a large alteration would be a problem. Two inches is about the limit in the chest
Shoulders fit fine but chest is a tad narrow. How much can the chest be let out?
Similar answer, depends a lot on the suit. Two inches max
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?
Not in that time frame I’m afraid, no
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?
No I wouldn’t I’m afraid. It’s major work, certainly expensive and could ruin the jacket.
is it possible to reduce the length of the suit? i’m 5’5″. 40 shoulder ready to wear seems longer.
Yes, though it’s not that easy or cheap.
Don’t do it by more than an inch.
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?
I use Graham Browne – bespoke tailor. Plenty on here about them…
how wide do you think trouser bottoms should be for a classic conservative look.
It’s personal, but I’d go 15.5-16.5 inches
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.
Absolutely Henry. It’s a question of putting your values in order, and then spending accordingly. Fit first, for me. Then a floating canvas. Then other aspects of make
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).
Not a bad rule of thumb, though obviously it depends on the style of jacket as well. I wouldn’t shorten most modern, bum-freezer jackets at all.
And yes, working cuffs are a frustration. They just need to stop being trendy again…
Can anyone recommend an individual or business where I can have my suit jacket sleeves shortened, in Epping?
Les Groves in queens rd, Buckhurst Hill (not far from epping).
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.
Hi Marcus. I’m not sure why there would be a difference between bespoke and RTW – it’s more the type of garment rather than the make. Eg some alterations tailors do a lot of alterations on shirts and are very good at it, others do less. Graham Browne have done some for me and been OK. However, a polo shirt is always going to be harder given the fluid nature of the pique cotton. And knitwear another level again
Hope that makes sense
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.
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!
yes you do, sorry! you’d need a bit to turn up inside the leg to finish it in any case
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?
C E Neville
Not really, no. Pretty much impossible with any cloth, but particularly with corduroy as there will be a mark where it has been sewn and pressed
Is it just me or are the pictures broken?
Hmm, yes not sure what happened with this old post. I’ll look into it
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.
Hi Peter. Oh good, I am pleased.
That ridge is usually there because your posture is slightly more upright than the standard body shape the jackets are made to. If you were slightly more hunched, there would be a gap between the collar and your neck instead.
It can be altered, but it’s not an easy thing to change, and will be harder on some jackets (particularly something garment washed, like most Boglioli, as it might leave a mark where the seam was)
So yes, you’re just lucky if there isn’t one I’m afraid. It’s one of the reasons people start to look at made to measure.
Hi Simon. I wonder if taking the sides of a loose jacket can sometimes make some other issues with the fit or with one’s posture more manifest? And is there a chance to loose proportionality with other parameters of the jacket?
If you take the adjustment too far, yes it can affect the proportions. But a good adjustments tailor should warn you about that and not take it too far. Also have it pinned and see for yourself.
It shouldn’t affect other things like the balance as it’s not touching the top of the jacket and only affecting it in two dimensions. But again, it can if taken too far