Old fashioned sewing machine

How to alter a ready to wear suit

A ready to wear suit can be taken from ok to exceptional with a few simple tweaks, but its knowing what you’re looking for and what changes are possible and this is where we can help with our ready to wear, alteration guide:

You love a suit you’ve seen in a shop, the problem is, is that it doesn’t quite fit as well as you’d hoped. The trousers are ok, but the jacket sleeves are too long and after all the good food you’ve been eating recently, the jacket waist is a little snug. Not to worry, as there is something, actually, quite a lot you can do to take it from an ok suit, to an exceptional suit.

Fit is the most important thing about a suit, so once you get this advice, shopping will become all that more easier.

Its not always necessary to go bespoke, or made-to-measure, to get a suit that fits well. If there are too many changes to make and it throws off the balance of the suit, then yes, you may well be better off upgrading to made to measure or bespoke.

Most shops offer alterations at cost and this service should be offered to you. We make suggestions for alterations that are suitable to enhance the look of the suit on you. If its not going to work, then we’ll simply tell you.

Its easier to take in than to let out. Most manufactured garments have minimal seam allowance. This is because every inch of fabric counts towards adding to the initial cost of production. So if you’re looking to let something out, anywhere other than the waist of the trousers, you may struggle.

What am I looking for?

A jacket should slide on and the first thing you’ll notice as a good starting point, is that the shoulders hug you, they neither cling to your shoulders, nor do they drop off the edge. You are looking for an almost perfect right angle.


Shoulders can be altered but its costly and not always the best thing to do. The sleeves would need to be taken off and the excess trimmed and the sleeve put back together, with a new pad to fit the jacket correctly. If you’re going into this territory, its best to go for another size or for made to measure.  A jacket cannot be lengthened with ease, the maximum you can get is around 1/2” which isn’t worth it. A jacket can be shortened, but you need to be aware of just how much, as the distance between the pockets and the bottom of the jacket become closer and you don’t want it to look odd.

Most ready to wear jackets are made with sham button holes (This means they’re not real, working cuffs) which is a bonus when it comes to altering a suit. What it means is that the button holes can be completely taken off, the sleeve can be shortened or lengthened and the, button holes replaced by machine and buttons put back on.

The most straight forward alteration (and my favourite) is to curve the jacket in, by pinning a slight curve into the centre of the waistline. Whether you’re large or slim, this is the most flattering alteration you can make to a suit. For me, a jacket should gently curve into your back and not simply hang or float off the back.

The cost of alterations:

This is a rough guide and is by no means a set bible for the whole tailoring world, but you’ll know where to start at least.

Take in side seams £35-£50

Slim sleeves £30

Take in/Let out trouser waist £20

Take up/lengthen trousers £20

Shorten sleeves £35- £45

Reduce shoulders £50-£75

Taper /slim trousers £25-£35

Check all angles

One important point to make is that its wise to ask the shop if they have a mirror for you to see the front and back of the suit. Its one thing for a suit to look great from the front, but if its a mess at the back, you need to see. After all, its rare that you got to a hairdressers and they don’t show you the back of your head… I also advise sitting in a suit, you need to know that you feel comfortable doing normal activities in it, as well as looking amazing standing still.

When its wise to upgrade

When you’re at around 3/4 amendments, it may be wise to look at the made to measure options available to you.

How to alter our own ready to wear ranges

All of our tailored suits, jackets and trousers have are made with around 1-2 inches of seam allowance.

Our suits aren’t massed produced and are made in the same workshop as our made to measure tailoring, therefore have the same quality as you’d expect from a high end suit.

With more seam allowance to play with, it’s easier to manipulate the suit to exactly how you want it. Our new collection is now available from our online store.

For more information on fit and alterations, please drop us a line on 0203 369 8969 or email us at info@alexandrawoodbespoke.co.uk. A Tailor is always standing by to answer your questions, or simply leave a comment below and we will respond to you asap.

You may also like to read: Ready-to-wear-vs-made-to-measure-suits/