February 29, 2012

The Art of Fit Pt 5 – Trouser Alterations

Following up on Pt 4 in the series, I wanted to demystify the process of altering pants a little bit. Many men simply buy their clothes off the rack without a thought about tailoring them for the best fit. While not everyone will have the skills and knowledge to do their own alterations, my hope is that I can show the ease with which it can be done. Often times a simple alteration is the difference between wearing your clothes and your clothes wearing you.

I will focus on a particular pair of John Varvatos pants that I thrifted for about $40. The price was right, since they likely retailed for over $400, and the material and construction is really great. The main problems were that the legline was about 4” too wide and the previous owner had turned the hem under and taken it up by 4”.

Some readers may be horrified by the thought that I am about to destroy a really expensive pair of pants. My take on it is that if I buy a piece of clothing, I want to be able to wear it. If something doesn’t quite fit but I am able to alter it to what I want, then I am going to do it. I think that clothes are made to be worn and enjoyed and that is exactly what I intend to do.


The first step was to let out the hem. Next, the pants were turned inside out and the leg pinned to the desired line. Since so much material needed to be removed, they needed to be taken in at both the inseam and outseam to maintain a clean look.


Once one leg was pinned, the other could be done on a table with the assistance of a hem gauge (essentially a tailor’s slide rule) to match up the legs exactly.


Once pinned, it is time to get to stitching. A straight stitch along your pin line will do the trick. After the straight stitch is done, you have a few options to prevent the edges from unraveling. If you have a serger, it will simultaneously cut off the excess fabric and stitch the edge. This is usually the most polished and professional but also the most time consuming.

Another option is to cut the excess off and use a zig zag stitch on the edges. This is a standard option on most sewing machines and while it will get the job done, it is definitely not the most secure.

I chose to use pinking shears, which are scissors with a sawtooth blade that cuts in a zig zag pattern. While they don’t completely prevent fraying, they limit the amount that the fabric can fray thus preventing it from unraveling.


After the leg was taken in to where I wanted, it was time to move on to the hem. Taking up a hem is pretty straightforward, simply turn the cuff under, pin to your desired length, and stitch by hand. You definitely need a second person to do the pinning for this, because if you bend or do not stand straight, it will alter the way the pants break. Also make sure to wear the style of shoe that you will want to wear with the pants, because different shoes will affect how the pants fall.

On trousers, a hem will require a blind stitch, which needs to be done by hand to prevent a stitch line from being seen on the outside. You could use a special blind hem foot on a sewing machine, however you’ll still see every few stitches on the outside (or “right side”) of the fabric which is why I always recommend having this done by hand. On chinos, a double straight stitch is often used, while denim usually features a chainstitch (which requires a special, usually vintage, machine).


When it was all done and pressed, I ended up with a great new pair of slim, wool trousers. You can see them featured here in my recent post on wool trousers.


What experiences do you have with alterations?

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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