Tuesday, November 13, 2012

5 Lies and a Truth

I don't own anything that doesn't fit perfectly. Everything in my closet is in good repair and there's nothing about any garment I have that I would change. I also don't have any clothes I don't wear. I'm getting the most wears out of the pieces I spent the most money on.

And the moon is made of cheese.

I've just told you 5 lies...ok, 6 if you count the moon thing, but I like to imagine a yummy Emmental ball in orbit. Now for the truth: if any of the above statements are lies when you say them, you need alterations.

But, that's expensive.

I like to think of it as an investment that's cheaper in the long run. If you have clothes you don't wear because they don't fit quite right, you aren't saving any money. They take up valuable space in your closet, and on the rare occasion you DO wear them, you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. I've often fallen into the trap of hanging onto something for YEARS, unworn, because it's "brand new". The worst of these culprit outfits are the ones I got on sale. In the dressing room, I talked myself into buying this or that because even though it wasn't perfect, it was cheap. Well, a $15 pair of pants still costs $15, and if you wear them only once, that's $15 per wear, and if you wear them never, you've just purchased a $15 closet-ornament that sucks away your space and lavishes you with guilt and buyers' remorse. Alterations on a pair of pants are usually between $10 and $35, depending on what needs to be done and how fancy the pants (ha-ha). Yes, in the case of the $15-sale-rack-pants, the alterations cost more than the pants did... but would you rather have a $15 closet ornament, or a $40 pair of pants you look great in and wear all the time? Plus, wear 'em 4 times and you're down to $10 per wear, which is actually CHEAPER than wearing them that one fateful time in their unaltered state.

Train your brain to expect alterations

The decision to alter should be made in the dressing room (or in your bedroom if you're evaluating clothes from your current collection). Ready-to-wear clothing is made for no one, or rather, it's made either from an average of lots of measurements (so really, no one), or it's made for one person's measurements, which are then scaled up and down for different sizes. Unless you happen to be the lucky 1 in a million that an item of clothing fits, you'll need to have it altered. If a garment fits your largest dimension, chances are it can be taken in to fit your smaller measurements. Sometimes if you need a little more room in areas, a garment can be let out a bit, but often it isn't much and certain fabrics are unforgiving as far as showing needle-holes and press-lines. Do your best to ignore the size label (they're totally made-up, un-standardized numbers, anyway), buy for your largest dimension, and have smaller areas taken in. If you're less than average height, you're obviously going to need hems on pants, but beyond that, you need to consider scale - you won't believe what a difference the right length of jacket or skirt can make!

If you don't know if a piece can be altered convincingly to meet your fit, flattery, and budget expectations, check the store's return policy, and bring yourself and your purchase to a skilled alterationist to get his or her expert opinion. Most items can be made better, but there is a limit to what can be done. You want to be sure the alteration maintains proportions. If you have the seat taken in on a pair of pants, the pockets can begin to converge too closely and start to look odd. As I mentioned before, some specialty fabrics like leather, certain silks, velvet, or beaded and embellished fabrics don't lend themselves to being let out. If fabric needs to be added to accomplish the correct fit, matching colors, weights and textures can be a challenge.

Once you get comfortable in the routine of having regular alterations, think about going a step further to customize your clothing to your STYLE as well as your body. How about that jacket with the weird pockets...what weird pockets? They've been replaced by AWESOME pockets! You can have details and embellishments added, buttons switched out, collars reshaped or downsized, belt loops put on or taken off, long sleeves traded for short, bra carriers installed, and more. If you're up for a full-on remodel of a piece of clothing, chat with your alterationist about your ideas and he or she can suggest an approach.

Now that you're convinced 

that alterations are going to make you look and feel better, prolong the life of your wardrobe and your sanity, save you money and help you win friends an influence people, here are some tips for how to go about your first foray into getting a good fit. WARNING: Super-shameless promo ALERT

  • Find a skilled alterations shop, such as sewBoise (Caledonia Sewing School) and make an appointment to come in with your items.
  • When you go, make sure all the clothing has been laundered (it's the law), and be sure you have proper undergarments, shoes and coordinating clothing (if any), so the alterationist can get the best big-picture information possible.
  • Please ask questions. Technical questions should always be welcomed, as should pricing questions. Most alterationists will share guidance and opinions about fit and flattery if asked. Use the expertise available.
  • Share your goals for the item - where and how often will it be worn? Fill in blanks about your lifestyle that may be helpful - do you always wear heels? Never? Is it typical for your right jacket elbow to wear out, but not your left? Do you have a budget for the garment? i.e., "If it costs more than $35 to alter this jacket, I'd rather not." or "Is there anything you can do to improve the look of these pants for $20?"
  • Are there alterations you can do yourself (or would like to learn to do yourself)? Some alteratonists will pin and mark your alterations for a nominal fee and then you can sew them yourself if you know how. Alterations and general sewing classes are available at The Sewing School.