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Guide to Suit Alterations - Considerations for Jackets

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altering mens suits

It’s no secret that fit is the most important aspect of looking good and feeling even better in a suit. If you buy a suit off-the-rack, alterations are almost certainly necessary to achieve a perfect fit. One of the benefits of  custom-made or bespoke suits is that they save you the hassle of finding a good tailor to alter your garments. A little tailoring goes a long way, and can often dramatically uplift your look without being too expensive. On the other hand, there are some alterations that are just too costly to be worth it, unless the piece has sentimental value to you.

A suit is quite intricate and various alterations can be made, so we’ve broken up this guide into three sections: jacket,  pants and vest or waistcoat alterations. This one here is focused on the suit jacket.

When altering a suit jacket, it’s important to know what can and can’t be done, and the costs involved. In general, the following principles apply:

  1. It’s easier to take in than to let out
  2. The greater the level of complexity, degree of craftsmanship and time required to perform the alterations, the greater the cost
  3. Tailors can do a lot, but they can’t fix everything

In this regard, we’ve compiled a list of the most common jacket alterations to help you know what to expect when you visit a tailor, and what problems to look out for when buying a suit, new or old (some of the best suits are vintage suits that have been altered to fit their wearer perfectly). If you find that there is a constant issue with most or all of your jackets, then going custom might be the best option. As you will see, alterations costs can add up!  

Suit Jacket Length

a suit jacket with the perfect length

The perfect length jacket

Problem: Too long

Price: $60-110

Can it be fixed?: Yes, but shortening a jacket is deceptively easy. It requires extensive craftsmanship to shorten the length correctly on all sides. Shortening too much will also throw off the balance of your suit, and may mean altering the pockets, buttons and vents, increasing the costs.

Problem: Too short

Price: $70-100+

Can it be fixed?: It depends. To lengthen a jacket, you need extra fabric sewn and hidden in the interior lining. Good custom-made suits have a fairly substantial hem that gives a bit of leeway to lengthen. Unfortunately, most off-the-rack jackets don’t have this excess fabric.

Suit Sleeves

suit jacket with sleeves that are too tight and too short

Sleeves that are too short (and other problems: jacket too short and dents under shoulder)

Problem: Too long

Price: $35-90

Can it be fixed?: A sleeve can definitely be shortened. However, if you need to shorten a lot, you’ll have to consider removing or moving one or two sleeve buttons. This is easier if your buttons are non-functioning, but much more difficult if your buttons are working, because it’s impossible to sew up former buttonholes cleanly. In this case the sleeve can be shortened from the shoulder, which is a tough task that requires a lot of unstitching and re-stitching, and hence costs significantly more.

Problem: Too short

Price: $35-90

Can it be fixed?: Yes, but there is a limit. The amount that can be added to a sleeve depends on how much fabric is under the cuff or at the top of the sleeve. Again, you might need to consider moving or adding sleeve buttons. Lengthening from the shoulder is also possible, depending on the amount of extra fabric available underneath.

Problem: Too tight 

Price: $35-100+

Can it be fixed?: Unfortunately, if your arms are bulging against the fabric of the sleeves, there often isn’t much that can be done. This is particularly true if the fabric is cutting into your biceps and armhole. A possible but risky (and expensive!) solution is to deepen the armholes, which involves major surgery to your jacket.

Problem: Too loose

Price: $35-100+

Can it be fixed?: If you have excess room around the arms, it can often be as simple as tapering the sleeves to give a sleeker appearance. However, if you’re working with a significantly oversized suit with low armholes, taking in the arms could restrict your range of motion. Getting around this problem would require a lot of money and a talented tailor.

Problem: Ripples down the sleeve 

Price: High

Can it be fixed?: Ripples starting from the shoulder seam that go down the arm mean that the sleeve’s “pitch” does not match that of your own arm’s. “Pitch” refers to the angle the sleeve rests in relation to the body. To adjust the pitch, the sleeves need to be removed, rotated to a position to accommodate your arms, and then re-attached. 

Suit Chest

suit jacket with lapel buckling

A buckling lapel!

Problem: Lapel won’t lay flat

Price: High

Can it be fixed?: This is a common issue and unfortunately, one that is most likely irreparable. If your lapel is popping out at the chest, it can have several underlying causes, such as the chest is too tight or shoulder sloping issues. However, with a lot of money and a very skilled tailor, you might find your way around this problem.

Problem: Too tight/loose

Price: $45-100

Can it be fixed?: Adjusting the seams of a jacket will make it fit more comfortably if it’s too tight or loose. This is a key alteration when it comes to looking sleek and polished, and you’d be surprised how much a difference just 1 cm on each side makes. In order to keep perfect alignment, your tailor will need to take into consideration which seams, side or back, or even both, need to be taken in or out.

Suit Waist/Stomach

Problem: Too tight/loose

Price: $20-100

Can it be fixed?: The solution to adjusting the jacket’s waist or stomach area is the same as for the chest, i.e. taking in or letting out the seams. If only a very minor adjustment is needed, you could instead get away with moving the front buttons for better closure (and pay far less). Beware - this will result in a different alignment of the lapels and can be very noticeable and bizarre if the button is moved too much.

Suit Collar

suit jacket with a collar gap

A collar gap between the shirt and suit jacket (Brendan Gallagher of Primer Magazine)

Problem: Bunching below collar AKA collar roll

Price: $45-75

Can it be fixed?: There can be several reasons to blame for the roll of fabric that appears at the top of your back, such as square shoulders, a short neck or strong back muscles. If there’s only a small amount of bunching, it’s a relatively easy fix to remove the collar and recut the neck hole and front and back panels. When there’s a lot of excess fabric, however, your tailor will need to do work on the shoulders, making the procedure more difficult and expensive.

Problem: Space between the back of the shirt and suit collar AKA collar gap

Price to fix: High

Can it be fixed?: A suit jacket should always hug your neck. If it doesn’t and instead there’s a collar gap, whether or not it can be fixed depends on the cause, severity and make of the jacket. There are many things that can cause a collar gap, such as your shoulder slope not matching the jacket’s, a chest that’s too tight or stooping posture. A skilled tailor will be able to diagnose the problem, but many of the root causes of collar gaps are fundamental pattern-cut issues that are difficult and costly to fix. 

Suit Shoulders

suit jacket with dent or divot under the shoulder

Unsightly dents under the shoulder

Problem: Dent or divot under the shoulder

Price: $100+

Can it be fixed?: A sleeve should fall straight down from the shoulder. When there is a dent under the shoulder where the shoulder seam meets the sleeve, there could be several underlying reasons. The most likely one is that the jacket shoulder is too narrow. Whilst the shoulders can technically be extended to a certain degree, it is a major procedure and the outcome cannot be guaranteed. Other reasons could be that:

  1. The shoulder has poor inner structure and adding padding may correct it, or
  2. The sleeve’s pitch is not aligned with your arm’s natural resting position. Altering the pitch will be costly.

Problem: Jacket extends beyond your shoulder

Price: $90-120

Can it be fixed?: An oversized jacket with sleeves that drape off of you is definitely not a good look. Though it’s easier to reduce a jacket’s shoulder than extend it, it’s still a tricky operation that requires significant deconstruction and reconstruction.

Problem: Creasing or bunching around the shoulders

Price: High

Can it be fixed?: Unsightly creasing around the shoulders, for example when there’s bunching near the seams, is never a good sign. Any shoulder alteration involves a lot of deconstruction and reconstruction. Most problems can be traced back to your posture or natural body alignment and the jacket’s inability to accommodate for it. Remedies, where possible, will be expensive.

Want to find out more? Check out our guides on suit  pants and vest alterations.

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