Get the Perfect Fit: How to Talk to a Tailor

A lot goes into the perfect suit: fabric, lapel style, buttons—just, a lot. But before it can reach its full potential, your suit has to fit. Whether you need to overhaul an off-the-rack jacket or you’re just dialing in the fit of your rental tux pants, that probably means visiting a tailor.

The stereotypical tailor—the one you’re imagining right now—doesn’t say much, doesn’t ask much, and never laughs. None of us were born with experience in talking to a tailor (except the offspring of tailors, of course), so we’re making this easy for you: use this cheat sheet of phrases and make tailor-talk your new second language.

Tailoring Do’s and Don’ts

Before we feed you our best lines, there are limits to what a tailor can do. Unless the suit in question has sentimental value, you’re often better off buying an entirely new garment—one that fits better to begin with—than to have extreme alterations done. The costs of a big adjustment can add up quickly, and the fit may still leave a lot to be desired.

Don’t Tailor
Don’t take your suit in for these alterations
→ Jacket Shoulders
→ Jacket Chest
→ Jacket Body Length

Do Tailor
If the suit seems to be your size but something’s just a little off, do tailor
→ Jacket Sleeve Length
→ Pant Length Hem
→ Jacket Waist
→ Pant Waist
→ Pant Taper

Getting Started
Say: “Who’s your tailor?”

You probably know a someone who always looks like a superhero-slash-model in their suit, and it’s safe to assume they didn’t just get lucky with the fit. Ask them who they use for tailoring, and unless they’re selfish and weird, they’ll probably be happy to share their secrets.

Or, use Yelp. Find a 4 to 5 star shop in your area and browse photos of their work. This may be less a tailor tip and more a general life rule, but note the total number of reviews when considering a rating. Four 5-star reviews < 50 4.5-star reviews.

Note: We use the title of tailor loosely here. If you only need simple alterations like jacket sleeve or pant length hem work, a local dry cleaner will do the trick.

Setting Expectations
Say: “I brought a photo.”

Rather than over-explaining or risking miscommunication, use a photo to get on the same page with the tailor. Save a photo to your phone or tear a page out of your favorite magazine that shows your ideal suit with the fit you want.

Adjusting Pant Length
Say: “My pants are too short/long. I’d like the hem adjusted for a slight break at the top of the shoe.”

Key Terms
Break: The small fold in pant fabric where the bottom of the pant rests on your shoe.
Hem: The edge of a piece of fabric that is (or needs to be) sewn to prevent it from unraveling.

Pant length is a personal choice, but we recommend a small break on the top of your shoe for a modern, polished look. The tailor will probably fold the pant fabric under, pin it, and might ask you if the length looks good. If so, refer to your photo, and if you need to eyeball it, look in the mirror—not down at your shoe. And don’t worry if they only pin or mark one leg.

Adjusting Jacket Sleeve Length
Say: “My jacket sleeves are too long. I’d like my jacket sleeve brought up to show a half-inch of cuff.”

Key Terms
Bring Up: Reduce the length of a garment.
Bring Down: Increase the length of a garment.

A half-inch of shirt cuff showing below the jacket sleeve is just right for a put-together look—both modern and traditional. And when you’re trying to zero in on such a specific jacket sleeve length, you’d be surprised at the difference a dress shirt can make. So bring or wear a dress shirt to the tailor, and likewise when you pick it up so you can check the fit before you leave. No t-shirts, bud.

If your jacket sleeves are too short, ask the tailor to “bring down” the sleeve to show a half-inch of shirt cuff.

If Your Tailor Gets Pushy
Say: “I understand, but…”

Think of that stereotypical tailor you imagined earlier. Many tailors are from another generation. They learned and developed their craft in a different era, and they may not be hip to the modern fit that you’re after. That’s okay—they likely have a good perspective on the classics of tailoring, and they might even rein you in from an ambitious, if ill-advised, runway fit.

Part one is listening to the tailor’s advice—or if they’re the quiet type, asking for it. Part two is speaking up and making your fit goals clear to the tailor. Some tailors can be pushy, bordering on old-fashioned, so stand your ground. Don’t get bullied into an outdated fit.

Tailoring a Rental Suit
Say: “Please don’t cut the fabric.”

You deserve a great fit, whether it’s a suit you own or the one you’re renting. But we don’t want you to spend your time dialing in the fit of our rental suits. For jacket sleeve length and pant length adjustments, you can visit a local tailor (or dry cleaner) for a quick, precise hem. Just ask the them not to cut the fabric.

If your jacket or pants aren’t fitting perfectly, and the problem isn’t the length (think pant waist or jacket shoulders/chest), we’ll send you the right size, right away—for free.