Suit Alterations: Your Complete Guide
A good suit will see you through years of celebrations and events. The definition of a “good suit” will differ from one person to the next, though. For some, it’s a well-priced article of clothing that fits the bill; for others, it’s a bespoke garment that fits to perfection. In all cases, suit alterations may be required over the life of the ensemble.
Here, we’ll walk you through what can and cannot be altered in a suit, how much men’s suit alterations cost, and how long it may take for the suit to be right-sized and returned to you.
What Can Be Altered in a Suit - and What Cannot?
Before getting into the details, let’s establish the 4 basic rules to keep in your back pocket:
It’s always easier to take in (make smaller) than to let out (make bigger).
Alterations are all about seams and hems. The amount of fabric available to a tailor along any seam or hem will dictate what they can and cannot do to create a better fitting garment.
Pockets and buttons are critical to consider.
Alterations that require changes to working pockets and buttons are either a no-go or not worth the expense. Patch pockets and non-functional buttons on the other hand are generally easy to workaround.
Proportions are everything.
Just because you want to reduce the width of your sleeves or shorten your jacket, does not mean it’s a good idea! Some alterations won’t look right once complete due to the proportions being off. Trust your tailor!
Know when to cut your losses.
Some alterations are worth it; others won’t see the ROI. You can generally alter trousers and shirts down by as much as two sizes. Suit jacket alterations are much more involved, making only one size down a realistic endeavor. Sometimes you’re simply better off buying new.
How Much Do Suit Jacket Alterations Cost?
Suit jackets get their structure from fused interlining (least expensive), canvas, or horsehair canvas (most expensive); padding, and lining.
Depending on the suit, minor alterations can be made without having to interfere with the inner elements too much. Major suit jacket alterations, though, require a great deal of reconstruction and are usually cost prohibitive.
Sleeve alterations are among the most common. Adjusting suit jacket sleeves for length may or may not be possible, depending on the garment, and is usually expensive.
In some cases, sleeves are altered from the top so as not to interfere with the cuffs, which means reshaping the sleeve head (where shoulder and sleeve meet, also known as the crown) and the arm holes. Sleeve alterations may also require adjustments to the fit of the chest, adding to the expense.
Alterations to the width of jacket sleeves is more easily accomplished. Although, it should be noted that while taking sleeves in is doable, it is difficult - if not impossible - to let them out. When jacket sleeves are too tight, it’s better to consider sizing up and altering down, or else experiment with different styles.
Suit jackets cannot be lengthened, but may be able to be shortened - just watch the proportions. Functioning pockets and buttonholes are a major factor when it comes to shortening a jacket; patch pockets, though, can be moved.
Adjusting the fit of a suit jacket at the shoulders is no small feat. There are hours of hands-on work required to dissect, recut, and reconstruct each shoulder, and may call for alterations through the front and back panels too. Like sleeve alterations, shoulder work is costly.
It’s not possible to change the number or position of buttons on the front of the jacket as the buttons and buttonholes will no longer align. Non-functional buttons at the sleeve, on the other hand, can be moved without issue. Well-made or bespoke jackets often have no buttons so the wearer can determine their position.
Note, changing buttons is an inexpensive and highly effective way of upgrading a tired or somewhat dated garment.
The vertical slits at the back of the jacket - the vents - may be able to be closed, but vents cannot easily be added nor can the number of vents easily be changed. Better to shop for the look you want than to attempt to create it.
[ Curious what Tuxedo Shirt Style would fit your suit? Read our Guide! ]
The Skinny on Trouser Alterations
Altering suit trousers is far more feasible and straightforward than jacket alterations! Taking trousers in is typically a sure bet, and the likelihood of successfully letting them out depends on by how much and, possibly, the quality of the trouser.
Fine or bespoke trousers typically have more seam allowance throughout the garment so they can adjust with the wearer over time. As a cost-saving strategy, inexpensive suits typically have less extra fabric to work with at the seams.
Waist bands are usually generous and can go up or down by 2” or 3” at the back center seam. Changes to the waist will likely require changes to the seat and, potentially, the repositioning of the pockets for the sake of proportion.
Pleated pants can be transformed into flat fronts, but it’s rarely done as it is labor intensive and, therefore, expensive. For this reason, it’s advisable to simply purchase new trousers.
Trousers are easily shortened and taken in, with the standard opening at the ankle being 8”. Making trousers bigger and longer depends on the particular pant. Top quality or bespoke trousers will have plenty of fabric to work with at the bottom so that the wearer can determine the length, and whether or not to create a cuff.
The rise is the one suit trouser alteration not worth pursuing. Adjusting the rise essentially requires rebuilding the pant. Buying new would likely prove a better investment.
That being said - gentlemen who prefer a high-waisted trouser are known to opt for a bigger size and alter every other element down in order to achieve their desired look.
[ Should you wear a bow tie with your suit? Find out when it's most appropriate. ]
Are Suit Alterations Worth the Cost & Time?
If the alterations you have in mind will add up to less than $150, it is likely a worthwhile investment, even for an inexpensive suit.
But, if you see yourself settling for a garment that still won’t be up to snuff once back in hand, it may be time to consider a new suit that will check more of your boxes right off the rack.
How Long Do Suit Alterations Take?
In terms of turnaround times for suit alterations - these can vary widely. They can go anywhere from a few hours to a few days for simple alterations, and up to four weeks for major changes.
Of course, timing will vary according to the tailor’s capacity too. If you anticipate needing alterations, build in plenty of time ahead of your event - especially around wedding season between late Spring to early Fall.
There’s nothing more dapper than a well-fitting suit paired with handsome fine accessories. Spend some time with our extensive selection of bow ties, neckties, and pocket squares - and be sure to look for more of our helpful Style Fundamentals guides across our blog. If we can be of any help, connect with us or look for us on social media; we’re on Facebook and Instagram.