How a Simple Alteration Can Make a Big Difference


Women are notoriously bad for not altering their garments. We have an expectation that we can walk into a shop, try on a piece of clothing, it will fit us, flatter us and off we go into the sunset.

But when you consider how many different body shapes we have, our variety of body proportional differences, plus all our other body variations (large or small bust, petite, curvy stomach, luscious thighs etc), it’s a wonder that anything fits us or looks good at all.

The reality of buying ‘ready to wear’ is that it may not actually be ‘ready to wear’ for us. We may need to make an adjustment or two to make it work well.

Every time I perform wardrobe therapy for a client I spend time pinning up the sleeves or hems of skirts, dresses, jackets and tops. I remove buttons with my quick-unpick and we may talk about adding in a dart or some other alteration to make the garment fit them like it was made for them, not just the coathanger.

With buttons on the breasts – Without buttons on the breasts

This jacket is an example of just how a very quick and easy alteration can make all the difference. You may notice if you look carefully that it has a button on each breast (as many double-breasted jackets do). Now rather than draw more attention to my breasts (not something I need as they already get all the attention they need), I just removed the buttons in less than a minute, what a difference!

Which alterations do most commonly do to make your clothes work better for you?


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  • I have waists taken in quite often on skirts and pants, as I have a large waist to hip difference. I’ve often had sleeves shorten as I suffer from what I call “T Rex arm syndrome”. Sometimes I have pants and jeans hemmed, but as I love to wear heels I can usually avoid that alteration.

  • Ever since I read that Hollywood stars’ stylists buy designers’s big sizes for their clients and then have them altered to fit, I factor in the tailor.

    I have narrow hips and upper thighs, so there’s always excess fabric in skirts and dresses. Also shoulderstraps tend to be too long so I have shoulder seams taken in a little. I buy second hand clothes and there are often good quality shirts and blouses in XXL that are just too wide but have a nice generous neckline. I’ll have sleeve inset, side seams and some waist definition taken in and get a lovely item.

    There’s nothing like a seamstress’ eye to make a fabric skim the body flatteringly. I highly recommend it, you always feel secure when putting on the garment.

    • I am definitely the same as you with narrow hips and upper thighs. Skirts and some dresses are far too baggy in the hip and thigh area. I amost always need to factor in an alteration after purchases. i recently found a lovely ankle length skirt with fitted waist (almost impossible in a sea of ‘trendy’ maxi skirts) and whilst the waist is fine, there’s a bit too much fabric in the rest of the skirt.

  • My pet hate is ill-advised button placement, like those buttons on your jacket! I always have to hem trousers and skirts to the right length for me, I can’t imagine not doing it!

  • I’m totally addicted to altering my clothes and rarely wear anything exactly how I bought it in the shop. As a curvy hourglass figure I don’t like to add any bulk and usually cut of all kind of embellishment, buttons, sewn-on pockets, ribbons, sequins etc.
    I also shorten most of my skirts and pants.
    Lately I’ve started with a new, easy alteration: I love very vibrant, saturated colours, but often find pastel shades in the shop. I have started to dye those pieces in the washing machine, it’s easy and I’ve mostly had very nice results. It’s important though that things are made of a natural fiber, and I recommend to stay within a colour group (for example dying a light green blouse to a darker green), because the seams are usually polyester and don’t absorb the dye.

  • I have the double-trouble, or the double-blessing depending on my mood, of being short-waisted and yet have a 0.8 hip to waist ratio. I often have darts placed or extra fabric removed from jackets and button down shirts to eliminate the bulk between my shoulder blades and waist. I have tried petites for my tops & jackets hoping to eliminate the problems but my arms are too long. I look as though I have borrowed my little sister’s clothing. I struggle to find pants and skirts (and even dresses) that skim my curves so I frequent my tailor to make the modifications.

    If I could make one additional suggestion it would be to befriend your tailor and treat her or him kindly. They truly have the power to take an acceptable outfit to extraordinary. I have never felt more confident than in a garment that has been tailored to my frame. Talk about empowerment!

  • My favorite thing to do, and I recommend this to everyone because it works for shirts that are too big AND to small, is to turn whole shirts into cardigans, including t-shirts. If a shirt is too tight, I cut it straight down the middle, turn the sides in slightly, hem them, and then add a button below the breast, it still may be a little tight, but since it’s just tight in the area below your breast, it makes a perfect empire waist as it cinches it right there. If the shirt is too big, I do the same thing, cut it right down the middle, but turn the sides in even further, as in a couple of inches, hem them, and add a button in the same place. Perfect for a shirt you love, but has gotten too big.

  • I have all kinds of things shortened, being just 5 feet tall. I am also plenty blessed up top, but do you know it never occured to me to!! Thanks for a great tip.

    I once (only once) bought a t-shirt that I otherwise loved and spent hours and hours taking sequins and beads off it. Why do they insist on embellishing everything from tank tops to blazers with sequins and beads? No thank you.

  • I alter skirts to my “perfect” length and sometimes have to take them in at the waist. I also often change shirt buttons. I like them darker than the fabric and sometimes a boring old shirt can look quite fun again if the buttons are say bright green on a blue fabric. I have been known to cut a collar from a shirt to make it a more casual top.

    • Viktoria – I love that idea of changing up the buttons on a plain shirt to something colourful. I often change cheap looking buttons to something more beautiful.

  • I routinely alter skirts (take in the hips because I buy for my ‘tummy’) and also make them the ‘right’ length at the same time. I find that jackets to fit my shoulders are way big in the body/through my narrow ribcage so I move buttons and/or take in the jacket in along the seams. While I’m not an expert seamstress, I have developed enough skills that I can do these changes myself.


  • I’m trying to figure out why so much more of your shirts are visible in the 2nd photo? I thought you had done something to alter the jacket lapels, but no. ?????

  • I love the idea of turning sweaters and shirts into cardigans! Why hadn’t I thought of this? Also- I love a 3/4 length sleeve—so why haven’t I thought of cutting the sleeves back on sweaters and hemming them? What an ah-ha moments for me. Thanks so much for this blog!
    Oh, I sometimes adds sleeves to a sleeveless dress and sometimes have sleeve length shortened. I have also had to have self-fabric belts shortened on coats and dresses because I am petite and small waisted.

    • Connie – I think it’s great that you realise what needs to be altered to make it work better for you and your unique body. I’ve not thought about turning sweaters into cardigans either!

  • Hi, I was wondering if anyone has tried altering an empire line dress to remove gathers or pleats at the front? So many dresses these days have gathers!
    Also, have any women with bigger busts had success altering a larger dress so it fits the shoulders and waist better?
    I’m pretty much the same figure type as you, Imogen – a busty H with a bit of tummy. I used to be the T&S Boobs on a stick figure until I put on weight with kids.
    Thanks for a great site – I just discovered it – what a treasure trove!

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