Haute couture for a not-so-haute price

Many different colors and types of thread are used for

Clothes make the man
– or woman – as the saying goes, but finding the perfect fit may
require more than simply selecting an item off the rack. To get the
look of truly custom design, a few alterations can make all the
difference and make wearers look like celebrities.
Clothes make the man – or woman – as the saying goes, but finding the perfect fit may require more than simply selecting an item off the rack. To get the look of truly custom design, a few alterations can make all the difference and make wearers look like celebrities.

Personal tailoring, it turns out, is one of the secrets to keeping Hollywood’s elite looking fan-tab-ulous. From disguising figure flaws to accenting all the right lines, well-fitted clothing creates the illusion of a second, stylish skin, and alteration experts are there to help make it happen.

Eighty percent of people don’t realize that we’re not symmetrical,” said Carlos Perez, a custom tailor and owner of Royal Clothiers in Morgan Hill. “Every customer has a different shape to their body, so when they buy a suit off the rack they can have trouble with the fit.”

But suits aren’t the only thing consumers have trouble finding in “ready to wear” lines. Jeans, blouses, dresses and other everyday wear items that look perfect on the hanger often don’t have the same effect on a person in real life, and pulling at a shirt that gapes, exposing an uncomfortably low view, or a pair of pants that are barely hanging on to a slim backside draw attention to the poor fit of an item, no matter how becoming its fabric or color.

For women, a major problem crops up when shopping for blue jeans, said Ignacia “Marie” Palmer, owner of the alteration shop Marie La Beau in Gilroy.

“A lot of people, especially women, have bigger hips than their waist, so they end up having to buy a size that’s too big or gaps in the back,” said Palmer. “When they cinch them up with a belt it gathers the fabric and makes their middle section look bigger, but by bringing in the waist it actually fits the jean to their body and makes the waist look smaller.”

For men, altering jeans may not be a high priority, said Perez.

“Most alterations on jeans equal $40 or $60,” said Perez. “If the jeans cost $40 it’s going to be too much, so most customers just come in to shorten the material on a leg. You can’t buy short jeans (to fit a tall person), though, because there is no extra material to let out.”

And replacing a pair of bluejeans, while sometimes painful, may be a better option than attempting to have them taken in if a significant weight change occurs. This is because both the waist line and the seat of the jeans will have to be altered, and taking in the seat too far will bring the jeans’ pockets together and lose proportion to the wearer’s figure, said Perez.

One example of a tailor-friendly piece is the suit, though. A problem that tailors often encounter is an uneven rise in the shoulders, where one shoulder is higher than the other, said Perez. This can lead to an uneven fit in items like suit jackets and sport coats, so Perez corrects the problem by adding a small shoulder pad on one side if necessary.

Eric Penn and his wife Sherry have both been long-term customers of Perez, and Penn said the clothing he’s had tailored not only fits better, it lasts longer.

“Pants that are baggy wrinkle much more easily,” said Penn. “The fabric rubs, but when they’ve been altered, they just really fit comfortably. They hang properly. There’s no pulling, no tight spots and you can move very comfortably.”

The change the Penns see is more than fit, though. Tailoring, or the lack thereof, can bring out the best and worst in a person’s figure. For a short woman, overly long pants or sweaters can actually make their wearer look squattier, and baggy businesswear can scream borrowed suit, said Palmer. A bit of expert trimming can also bring an outdated wardrobe up to current fashion, she said.

“Back in the ’70s and early ’80s a lot of people had the poofy gathered sleeves at the top of their shoulders,” said Palmer. “If you still want to wear the suit, I can take out the gathers and make it a smooth sleeve or narrow the lapels of a jacket to bring it back into fashion.”

Other tricks for updating an outfit include changing the buttons of a shirt, shortening a long skirt to a more fashionable length, or trimming the width of bell-shaped trouser legs to create straight-legged pants or jeans, said Palmer.

A quick fix for menswear is simply to add another button to suit jackets and coats, said Perez.

“A lot of men have two-button suits in their closets,” said Perez. “Right now the fashion is still a three- or four-button, so we add that third button, make the lapel smaller and change the look of the suit without doing much to it.”

For big-ticket items like evening gowns, owners may consider cutting off a few inches, said Perez.

A quality gown that may otherwise never be worn again can enjoy new life if it’s shortened into a cocktail dress or divided into a chic skirt and top ensemble for use as a mix and match set.

Consulting a tailor or alteration expert can help customers to make the most of their clothing, as well as their figures, said Palmer, who recommends purchasing off-the-rack clothing on sale and devoting the savings to a professional fitting.

Hmmm … sounds like it’s time to go shopping.

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