You hit the gym. You finished P90X. You ran your first marathon. For whatever reason, you dropped a few pounds in the wrong places and added a few inches to the right ones. That suit you bought two years ago? The fit is off. Time for a new one, right? Not necessarily. Some suits are worth saving. We asked a few fashion pros to weigh in on when it’s the right time to get your suit altered, and when it’s better to buy a new suit. You worked too hard to look bad in clothes designed to make you look great.
The degree of alterations needed
Get suits altered to accommodate small fluctuations in weight. This means less than 20 pounds of gain or loss. Suits and suit trousers can only be altered so much before the alignment of either goes out of balance. This goes for both taking in and letting out of either a jacket or trouser. Menswear consultant Ken Fleck says each part of a suit is tailored to a specific size based foremost on chest measurement. Sleeve width and shoulder openings are graded to fit a certain size based on the chest. Just because a tailor adjusts the width of the body of the jacket does not mean he can adjust sleeves or shoulders. Same goes for trousers. The size of trousers for an off-the-rack suit usually is determined by chest size. The difference between the chest and waist, which is called “the drop,” should be no more than six inches. A suit with a 40 chest is cut to have a 34 trouser. Six inches is not a hard-and-fast rule – exceptions can be made – but it is the standard. Bottom line: There are limitations to what can be done.
The condition of your suit
Do not alter a suit if it has been worn often and has become shiny, has frayed at the collars and cuffs, has holes or tears or has worn lining, pockets and belt loops. Take an honest look and ask yourself, says style coach Karen Finlayson, “How worn is the suit?” If it has been dry-cleaned often, or has undergone the rigors of travel, it might be time to donate it to Goodwill. Also, make sure your suits are hung on proper suit hangars. Improper suit hangers can warp a suit’s shape and render it unworthy of saving.
The age of your suit
Reason No. 506 it’s better to be a man than a woman: Men’s styles rarely change, with a few notable exceptions. Says menswear designer George Zaharoff, “Three-button suits with wide lapels have to go.” In other words, if your suit looks like something your Uncle Larry wore to prom in 1967, get rid of it, or at the very least, only expose the public to it at Halloween.
Your new body shape
Certain suits compliment certain body shapes. Does your old suit still bring out the best in your shoulders, chest and waist? Says Finlayson, “Exaggerated shoulders may have been necessary to balance an increasing waistline, but now that the six-pack has arrived the wide shoulders may make the suit owner look scrawny.”
Find a good tailor
If you don’t know one, ask around. Two good places to start: your dry cleaner, or the salesperson at an upscale clothing store. When you find a good tailor, tip them well. You want to forge a relationship with this person; they affect the way you look, and how you feel, when you are wearing your best clothes. How can you tell if a tailor is good? Musee-solomon creative director Beverly Solomon says, “Examine the quality of the workmanship — details like the lining of a suit jacket, button holes, the care in properly lining up the pattern on the material, the fineness of the stitching, the alignment of the pleats in the pants, etc. Does he or she charge a fair price and do you think you can develop a good relationship with this person? If so, go out of your way to show your appreciation. It will pay off in the long run.”
Says Claudia Wells, owner of Armani Wells in Studio City, Calif., “I generally prefer old-school tailors who have been at it for 20-plus years. The tailor who understands you need your suit done tomorrow morning, so you can bring it on your business trip, which ultimately means he or she will be up most of the night working for you. That’s a tailor who takes his work to heart and greatly values the needs of his/her clients.” Wells, whom you might also know as Michael J. Fox’s girlfriend in Back To The Future, says to look for small touches, like steaming the suit and removing chalk marks, so it is ready to be worn immediately.
If you have any doubt as to whether or not to get the suit altered, have your tailor give you an estimate. Says Fleck, “My rule of thumb is if it’s over 35 percent of the original cost of the suit, go out and buy a new one. It will probably fit you better and look better on you.”
When to buy a new suit
According to accessories designer Mr. Sato of GENTRY, a man should buy one new suit every one to two years, adding, “If you haven’t thrown away all your college suits, please do so now.” Sato says that men should have suits retailored if they lose more than 10 pounds.
Get all that?
Only get a suit altered if the alterations are not significant — for weight loss or gain of 10 to 20 pounds. Make sure the suit is still in good condition, remains in style and compliments your body. Take your suit to a good tailor, whom you will tip. Do not overpay for alterations. And know when it is time to buy a new suit. Now go forth and get all Don Draper on everyone’s ass.