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Expert advice before you pay to alter that vintage-store find

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Published Monday, Sep. 23, 2013, at 12 a.m.

I’ve never had a piece of clothing altered. Not ever. I’m too cheap. If it doesn’t fit, I don’t buy it.

Sure, I’ve had hems shortened, but that’s it. That’s my only experience with the world of tailoring.

Until now.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been fully immersed in the subject, thanks to my co-worker, photographer Keri Wiginton.

Keri has trouble finding clothes that fit her small frame. And she loves vintage and thrift store finds. When she told me she had bought too-big dresses and was going to take them to a tailor, I thought this would be a fine opportunity to learn about the ups and downs of alterations.

The big questions: Can a tailor make a baggy mess of a dress look great? And, is it worth the expense?

Yes to the first question. As for the cost, based on Keri’s results, I’d say sometimes it is worth it. But not always.

Keri took all her dresses to master tailor Olya Burak, who warned her that the new dress, a flirty, almost backless $51.99 number by Minuet, couldn’t be altered to a perfect fit on top because of the way it’s constructed. And the tailoring would cost $28, more than half of what the dress cost. “She asked me if I wanted to do it anyway, and I said, ‘Go ahead,’ ” Keri said.

Well, the altered top fits better now, but it’s a little bunchy and not great. “I probably wouldn’t do it again,” Keri said, adding that she should have taken Burak’s advice to forget the tailoring and returned the dress.

Lesson one: Believe your tailor if she tells you in advance that the results won’t be so hot.

Burak said she never buys clothes for herself that she’ll have to alter. “No way. No way. If I’m a size 8, I’m never going to buy a 10 or 12. Never. Never.”

Burak’s advice?

Lesson two: To justify the cost of alterations, you better be in love with the clothes. “You have to like the dress so much. If you’re 50-50, don’t buy it.”

After looking at the before-and-after of Keri’s vintage green-and-tan knit dress, a $25 find at a vintage store, I think it was totally worth it to spend $50 for alterations. For $75 she has a one-of-a-kind dress that looks fabulous on her. It lives up to its quaint original label, “Pat Perkins ... a dress to treasure.”

Fit advice from the experts:

Before you buy clothes that need alterations, advice from the experts:

Olya Burak, olyastailorshop.com:

•  If it’s too tight, forget it; highly unlikely it can be expanded.

•  If the garment is lined, it will cost more to alter: “Lining is like a second dress.”

•  Chiffon, lace and beaded clothing will cost more because the fabric requires more care and time to sew; cotton is easiest and cheapest to alter.

Eric Boasmond, thetailorshop.net:

•  Buy what fits in the first place. The salesperson who tells you, “Oh, just take it to your tailor,” is not your friend. It’ll cost you.

•  Men’s jackets are especially expensive to alter because of the complicated foundation pieces inside. Also more expensive to alter: skirts that are pleated or with a scalloped hem.

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