Style + Beauty

Looking Good vs. Looking Great: What Tailoring Can Do For You


Buying new clothes is one thing — looking your best in them is quite another. The difference between the two?

A great tailor.

"Fit is everything," says Sanford Bryant, a New York City-based custom designer with 30 years of experience in the garment industry.

According to the designer, if you paid a lot for a piece of clothing that doesn't fit well, it will look cheap. Bryant says the same is true on the opposite end of the spectrum: "An inexpensive garment can look expensive if it fits well."

But if you're like a lot of men, you can probably think of plenty of reasons to avoid the hassle of getting your clothes altered: "It's too expensive," "My clothes fit fine," or "I don't have time.”

That may be true, but if you're looking to up your game in the style stakes (Job interview coming up? A date you’d like to impress?), it never hurts to know how to get the most flattering fit.

We asked Bryant to share some of his insider tips. First and foremost, stop sticking your arms out in front of you like Frankenstein and proclaiming that your sleeves are too short. (They're not.)

How Should It Fit?

When it comes to jackets, Bryant says to stick with a literal rule of thumb. That is, the bottom edge of the jacket should never be longer than the tip of your thumb. Even better, keep it shorter than your first thumb knuckle.

An armhole that is high, but not binding, is more comfortable and offers a greater range of movement, adds Bryant, so say good-bye to the arm swing test. In other words, trying on a jacket and swinging your arms in circles is not ideal for determining whether or not something fits properly.

"'Roominess' is not necessarily comfortable,” Bryant explains.

And while many men fear that their pant legs are too short, Bryant assures us that not only is it OK for people to be able to see your socks when you are sitting down, it is preferable to having extra material bunched up around your ankles. “Nothing looks dopier than overly long pant legs,” he adds.

Shirts may be a bit more difficult to fit properly when bought retail, because companies are manufacturing in bulk and therefore tend to make the shirt waists as big as possible in each size.

However, “the key to dress shirt fit is a waist and hip circumference that doesn't pull when seated, but doesn't look like you are hiding love handles when you are standing (even if you are),” Bryant explains.

“It’s not about the waist, it’s about the girth,” he adds, because “the area under the ribcage gets bigger when [you are] seated.”

To that end, Bryant recommends investing the $20 to $25 to have shirt waists taken in when necessary.

“If there’s a dollar for dollar thing that gives you the best benefit, it’s taking in the shirt waist,” he explains.

How Much Will It Cost?

Of course, there's no doubt that tailoring costs can add up. As a point of reference, average prices in New York run from $18 for a trouser waist to $55 for a jacket waist, while pant bottoms will set you back about $15 and a shirt waist alteration can run about $30.

Bryant recommends keeping these costs in mind when shopping and factoring them into the total amount you want to spend on your wardrobe.

To get the perfect fit, "you might spend as much on alterations as the cost of the garment," Bryant says. "This is why today's modern, custom-made alternatives can make a lot of sense — because a proper fit is built into the cost."

Another option is to take advantage of any stores that offer on-site alterations. "If you can get the store to do it when you’re buying it, that’s best, because then the store is invested with you," Bryant says.

If you do opt to go the tailor route, be clear about what you want and establish a good relationship with him or her. “When they learn your tastes and preferences, it becomes much easier," Bryant says.

"They might also give you a break on prices if you are a good customer."

Good to know.