A great tailor is just as essential to an excellent wardrobe as your most versatile blazer or your stash of favorite shirts. And especially if you’ve committed to buying fewer pieces and opting for better-quality, longer-lasting clothing, paying a tailor to help you get everything to fit exactly right is a key investment. But how do you find a great tailor? And once you’ve located one, how do you talk to him to get the most out of the relationship? The thought of finding and going to a tailor can be intimidating, but when you’re armed with the right information, it’s significantly easier than you might expect.
The first step to finding a great tailor is to do your research, and lots of it. This is an area where asking around at your favorite local menswear shops, and asking for recommendations from your most stylish friends, will probably serve you better than relying on online reviews. But if your friends or local shops don’t have any helpful suggestions, you can find potential tailors online by searching for “tailor” and “alterations.” Always check out any available reviews online. Bonus points if there are positive reviews about custom menswear.
When you’re making a list of potential tailors, there are are a few you should cross off your list. For instance, skip the tailor who works with your local dry cleaner, since he probably isn’t quite as skilled as a tailor who has his own shop. And don’t rely on a department store tailor, who’s unlikely to take as much care with your clothes as a privately-owned tailor shop will.
Once you’ve identified a few promising candidates, the next step is to test them out. Esquire recommends calling each one and asking whether he can shorten a jacket sleeve from the shoulder, a difficult alteration that only good tailors will undertake. For the tailors that pass that test, stop by the store and take a look around. You’re looking for clean floors, and other signs that the tailor cares about presentation. And if you ask to see a piece that has just been altered, check to see if there are loose threads or if everything is tidy, and ensure that the piece looks symmetrical and the alterations aren’t obvious.
If all systems are go, then the next thing you should do is to go for a test run. Give the tailor a garment that you don’t mind having ruined, like a pair of trousers that are too long for you, and take note of how he assesses the fit. A great tailor will not only look at the changes you suggest, but will notice how the entire garment fits and suggest more changes to make your shirts more comfortable or get your jacket to fit better. Pay attention and determine whether the tailor just wants to add more alterations to your tab, or if he’s really interested in making sure your clothes fit.
When you bring a garment in to the tailor, you don’t need to know all your measurements, but you should have an idea of what you want the piece to look like when it’s finished. Explain, for instance, what kind of break you prefer in a pair of trousers, and only go to the tailor when you know what you want.
When the tailor asks you to stand in front of a mirror for him to measure you, stand naturally. When he folds the trousers up to show you what he thinks is the best length, don’t be afraid to speak up if you’d like them shorter. A good tailor may not always agree with your preferences, but he won’t be offended, and he’ll probably remember what you like for the next job.
If all goes well with the test run, and you like the tailor’s work, then try going back with more difficult alterations. Perhaps take a dress shirt that’s too large in the torso and a little loose in the sleeves and needs to be taken in. Tell the tailor what bothers you about the piece, ask what alterations he thinks it needs. Now is a good time to assess whether you’ll be able to build a good relationship with this tailor. Does he listen to your style preferences, or does he just push you in the direction of the fit that he thinks is proper? Your goal is to find a tailor who can understand your style, while noticing the details that will ensure a better fit.
If he does a great job with the trousers and the shirt, then you’ve probably found a tailor who can handle more complicated tasks. Once you’ve found a tailor you like, work at building a good relationship with him. Offer repeat business, with jobs both big and small, and learn to appreciate how a great tailor can make all of your clothes look better and make your personal style look sharper.