When you're focused on finding the perfect outfit, don't be alarmed if off-the-rack choices don't quite fit. Make time for tailoring.
In fact, there's nothing wrong with emulating Jennifer Aniston and Kim Kardashian West, who reputedly even have T-shirts and blue jeans tailored. Really good tailoring can transform even steeply discounted sales items and online buys into wardrobe superheroes that work wonders for your figure and help you look your best.
Wardrobe stylist Stacy London, of TLC's "Love, Lust or Run" fashion makeover series, offers up an analogy.
"If you were the CEO of a company, clothes are your employees, so they need to do what you want them to do," she says.
Start by understanding your body's geometry: broad and athletic, apple-shaped, pear-shaped, slim, etc. "Once you see something you like that generally works for your body type, decide if it needs to be tailored to look perfect," London says. "The look most people want to go for is short torso, long legs and a defined waist."
Not all alterations are pricey. Shareen Mitchell, founder of Shareen Vintage,, offers in-house alterations for customers, charging as little as $8 to $15 for easy fixes, include hemming, shortening or taking off a sleeve, taking in the waist or all-over slimming. More expensive are redoing a lining, resetting a shoulder, retailoring an entire garment, working with heavier fabric, an evening gown or couture clothing.
"For simple fixes, a good dry cleaner with a sewing machine should be able to do it for you at a minimal cost," says Mitchell, adding that most modern clothing is constructed pretty simply. "The more expensively constructed a garment is, the more expensive it may be to tailor, and you'll need to go to someone with reliable experience working on those kind of garments."
It's easier to make a too-large garment smaller than vice versa. Modern clothing generally doesn't have large enough seam allowances to be able to enlarge a garment.
"Dress the biggest part of your body first and tailor down the rest to fit perfectly," says London. "An inexpensive alteration that makes jackets look infinitely more expensive is narrowing the sleeve."
London recommends getting free tailoring advice or inexpensive alterations from retailers where you shop. Banana Republic, Bloomingdales, Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, Macy's, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks are among those that offer tailoring.
Besides ensuring a good fit, alterations can breathe new life into a garment. Mitchell revitalizes vintage dresses by removing straps, lowering necklines, taking off sleeves, adding silk organza or chiffon illusion sleeves, changing collars or cuffs, adding fringe or lace. She also modernizes boxy skirts by taking in side-seams to narrow them and transforms dresses into blouses, skirts or skirt/top combos.
"I want to make vintage clothes useful again. A lot of vintage is very boxy, and I almost always tailor down the side seam for the modern girl who wants to look modern and chic in a way that's affordable whether she's going to the office or a cocktail party," Mitchell says. Look to runways for inspiration, she adds. "Educate yourself. If you're not paying attention to the runways, it could leave you uninspired, but if you are, you can do a lot with your old clothing already in your closet to update it."
Many women don't understand the power of good alterations. "Wearing a tent doesn't make you look slimmer," says London. Even hemming your jeans or taking in the waist can make a huge difference, she says.
When you visit the tailor, communicate your objective: Do you want to look slimmer or add bulk? Define or accentuate a particular feature? Bring the shoes you'll wear with the outfit.
"What I want you to do is dress in a way that makes me not even question how you feel about your body, because you understand it so well you dress it to perfection — you tailor your clothes so they look like they were made for you," says London. "Tailoring is an underutilized service because people think it's too expensive and unnecessary. You know, why bother with the minutiae? But it's minutiae that makes everything look more together."
5 alterations shops in Los Angeles
If you're an alterations novice, ask friends to recommend a seamstress or tailor. Many dry cleaners also do alterations. Here's some alterations shops our experts like:
Crown Cleaners, 840 N. Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, (323) 653-6016
Hans the Tailor, 8116 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 653-2957
Aynur's Custom Tailoring, 1355 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 445-0678
Stitch Alterations & Design, 7306 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 879-9383
Sy Devore, 12930 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 783-2700