Shirt Alteration Guide: 5 Tailoring Upgrades for a Perfect Fit

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For men who actually care about the proper fit of clothes (and everyone should), buying off-the-rack shirts is not an easy task. Ready-to-wear shirts and most mass-produced clothing, for that matter, are usually produced on a wide, industrial scale based on the rounded off dimensions of the average consumer.

As such, a garment may not drape as perfectly on your body as it is meant to, even if your build falls squarely within the average measurements. And even if you manage to find a great-fitting shirt from your favorite shop, factors such as weight loss may change circumstances. This is where shirt alterations come in. If you don’t already have a tailor you regularly visit, any reliable neighborhood shop that does alterations can give you a close-to-perfect fit, if you know what to get done.

Before we get to the specifics, it’s important to manage expectations. First of all, the best shirt for alterations is one that already fits your body well. This will minimize costs and the actual repair. You don’t want to spend more on the alterations than on the actual garment, so assess how much work needs to be done.

Also, it is far easier to size down than to size up. Shortening the hem and bringing in the torso for a slimmer fit are more doable tasks than, say, opening seams up, which really depends on the type of seam and the amount of fabric available. Holes that are larger than one and a half inches in circumference will look even more worn out when stitched back together. And please don’t even think about having burn holes stitched up—they’re already beyond repair.


Below, five shirt alterations that will create a more perfect fit.

1| Take in the sides

Remember: Anywhere there is a straight seam is a chance to create a closer fit. Shirts normally come with this type of seam on each side, so to avoid an overly baggy or billowing appearance, ask your tailor take these in. Be vigilant when you’re getting pinned by your tailor though. A good rule of thumb is that the shirt should drape against the skin without showing any bulges—you don’t want your torso to strain against the fabric after a heavy lunch or dinner.

2| Add darts to the back

If your shirt is suffering from a boxier fit, ask your tailor to add darts to the back. Darting is the pinching or puckering of fabric to follow your body’s contour. This is especially recommended for guys who never skip a day at the gym as the result will highlight the upper body. Even men who are a little more rounded on the edges can benefit from darts for a more flattering silhouette.

3| Taper shirt sleeves

Any reparations involving the armholes tend to be pricey and rather complicated, but it is possible to narrow baggy shirt sleeves without burning a hole in your pocket. Instead of detaching the sleeve from the armhole, ask your tailor to pin the underarm seam closer to the body. Around half an inch to two inches of alteration is recommended. How to know if it is too tight? You should be able to bend your arm at the elbow comfortably.

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4| Shorten the hem

If the hem of your shirt reaches your knees, it’s too long. Shirt hems are typically taken for granted as they’re usually unseen when the shirt is tucked into pants, but what many people don’t know is that an excessively long hem causes the shirt to bunch up, making the whole look sloppy.

The rules: Hems of dress shirts should fall below the belt line or just by your rear; you should be able to raise your arms fully without the shirt budging in any way. Rounded hems are better for shirts that are meant to be tucked in. If you’re having a button-down shirt hemmed so that it can be be worn untucked, make sure that the hemline just about covers the belt area. If your belt shows, it’s too short.

5| Shorten sleeves

For long sleeves, the cuffs, when buttoned, should fall on your wrists and not extend any further. If it’s too long, take the shirt to your tailor to shorten the sleeves. Be especially vigilant with dress shirts; the length of its sleeves should be consistent with the length of your suit jacket’s sleeves, so that the shirt cuffs show about half an inch of fabric when worn under a suit.

If you’re thinking of completely altering a long sleeve into a short sleeve, do it with an experienced tailor. Just remember to take note of the shirt’s fabric and style before making this drastic change. Cotton and linen might be your best bet as these fabrics are more casual.


How Do I Know If My Shirt Fits Well?

It goes without saying that your shirt should fit your body as perfectly as possible, meaning it should be neither too baggy nor too tight. The shirt should look streamlined and well-proportioned: The collar should stand up and be firm, the armhole shouldn’t ride against your pits, and the sleeve cuffs should sit on your wrists.

The shoulder seams should fall exactly where your shoulder begins—go beyond that and the shirt is too big. Even with your torso tapered, you should be able to fasten the buttons without straining the button holes. Ideally, the shirt shouldn’t show any unsightly bulges.

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Sam Beltran
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