I've said it before. Well-fitting garments and the need for a tailor are some of the most crucial aspects of nailing your style. To read about my thoughts and opinions on style for men, see my separate article here.
Not every man can wear clothing right off the rack, and this is one of many reasons why finding a quality tailor that you can learn to trust and build a relationship with is essential. It is what separates the boys from the men when dressing well.
In this article, I will break everything down for you so you know what to do in five easy steps.
STEP #1: GOOGLE IT
It's the 21st century, and Google has cemented itself as the most reliable starting point for almost anything we want to know. Search Google for tailors in your area, see if reviews are written on the internet (i.e., Yelp), and get an idea of the general location of a prospective tailor you might be interested in working with.
STEP #2: PAY THEM A VISIT
Make sure to visit your prospective tailor. This might sound "old-fashioned," but if you want to build a relationship with your tailor, you need to see their workspace, shake their hand, and converse with them face-to-face. Everything that follows may very well hinge upon this first impression.
When meeting for the first time, here are some questions to consider asking to gain an understanding of what kind of tailor you're dealing with during your initial visit:
- How were they initially trained?
- How long have they been practicing?
- What are their thoughts on traditional alterations/measurements versus what has become popular today?
- What's their turnaround time?
- What do they charge?
Some tailors may be pushy when you ask to have specific alterations done. This behavior may be for several reasons. It is essential to understand that being a tailor is not so easy nowadays, and depending on where you live, they could be challenging to find. For instance, if you have a more traditional tailor, then s/he might not be open to hemming your suit pants to show a little ankle or sock but instead follow the one-inch break rule, which has remained the standard for men's formal wear for the better part of a century.
Regardless of where your prospective tailor falls on tradition and formality, it is good to know if they are willing to work with you. It might sound hard to believe, but some tailors won't ever break from tradition and what they feel to be proper, and that's okay because it can be a sign for you to move on.
But if you like the initial disposition and opinions of the prospective tailor to whom you've paid a visit, then it's time to move on to the next step.
STEP #3: TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT (AND BE SPECIFIC)
Once you've gained an idea of what your prospective tailor is about, you must be upfront about what you want from them. They may be formally trained in traditional practices but willing to deviate from those to meet your preferences.
We want to make sure that we never waste any tailor's time, so having an understanding of what you are looking for will help to save each of you precious time and money as well as set a standard for what kinds of alterations they can expect from you in the future (if you decide to make them YOUR tailor).
STEP #4: PUT THEM TO THE TEST (BUT REMAIN DISCREET)
Now it's time to test your prospective tailor. I recommend you navigate this stage with a healthy amount of caution; after all, like all relationships in life, we need to make the other person feel comfortable with us.
Remember to be polite and professional. You are requesting assistance from this person and attempting to build a relationship with them. Start small and know this relationship should be founded on trust and mutual respect. Remember, you're still deciding if they can be YOUR tailor from here on out.
I recommend beginning by bringing in a pair of jeans. Request that they be hemmed and ask to keep the original hem.
Shortening them and maintaining the original hem, which is commensurate with the classic style, is something an experienced tailor will be familiar with. If you want to restore the length to its original state, you can do so as long as s/he can keep the original hem intact.
This shouldn't be too difficult for them to accomplish, but if they push back on it or do not know how to do it, this is a sign for you to move on to someone new. If they accept to do this for you, try the pants on and wear the footwear you would typically pair with those pants to help them get it right for you.
Just because someone is a tailor doesn't mean that they are good at what they do (it is what it is). Hopefully, you can determine this from your initial face-to-face with them and the answers to your questions from Step #2 or their reviews (assuming you found some). But if not, you should have your answer after requesting this initial task to be done.
Assuming that they could successfully hem your pants and keep the original hem, it's time to take in a few more items, such as a shirt that perhaps needs to be taken in or even a suit jacket that doesn't fit you well. The idea is to have a dialogue with the prospective tailor so that, even if they cannot help you (depending upon what is possible with your garments), they can still showcase their expertise by discussing options with you.
Again, we want to build a relationship that will pay dividends to us in the future. Having an accomplished tailor, we can trust will help us remain stylish for years to come because they can transform garments we once considered giving away, donating, or selling off into wardrobe staples that get continual use.
A good tailor who knows what s/he is doing can explain to you which alterations are possible and which ones are not. Here are some examples:
- Pants can be hemmed so that you can keep the original hem but not notice.
- Shirts can be altered to maintain the fit in the shoulders but trim up the waist and torso.
- Suit jacket sleeves can be removed and rotated if your shoulders sit too far forward or back.
- A suit jacket's length is about proportionality. Therefore, the arms shouldn't be the determining factor in the length of the jacket because men of specific ethnic backgrounds might have longer torsos.
These are just a few talking points that well-trained tailors should be able to speak through or even demonstrate, depending on your particular needs. Just remember to be polite!
STEP #5: TIP THEM WELL & BRING THEM MORE BUSINESS
Assuming your prospective tailor is doing good work for you and you enjoy the results, always tip them generously. It's easy to believe they are just "doing their job," but we should always reward quality performance. In doing so, they will grow to trust and appreciate you more. This inevitably leads to them having a quick turnaround time (for you) and even ensuring that their level of quality holds up in future dealings.
In addition to rewarding quality performance with tips, you should also help to bring them more business. This means leaving great reviews online or helping to spread word of mouth. Again, this will pay off in the long run, guaranteed.