Which parts of a man’s suit jacket or blazer can be altered? What can’t be tailored? How much does it cost?
More In This Series
This guide is part of a series of articles about clothing alterations. Feel free to check out the rest of the series:
Oh, and if you don’t have a go-to tailor, here’s how to find a tailor you can trust.
Here at The Modest Man, we talk a lot about fit and how to dress for your body type.
Fit is important with all clothes, from jeans and dress shirts to shoes and accessories. It’s especially important when it comes to formalwear like suits and sport coats.
If you can afford bespoke suits, congratulations! Most guys, however, don’t have enough cash to buy custom clothing (especially young men who are in entry-level positions or even just entering the job market).
Luckily, any off-the-rack suit jacket, blazer or sport coat can be tailored for a better fit.
How Can Suit Jackets Be Tailored?
Suit jackets can be altered in a variety of ways, from basic adjustment that any tailor can handle to full-on reconstructive surgery.
At a minimum, most suits should be altered in three ways:
- The waist should be suppressed
- The pants should be hemmed
- The sleeves should be shortened
These basic adjustments are easy and relatively cheap. Oftentimes, however, you’ll need additional tailoring for that perfect fit.
This graphic will give you an idea of which parts of a suit jacket or blazer can be changed and how much it will cost you:
You might be wondering if a specific alteration is “worth it” or not. Unfortunately, the answer depends on your situation.
How much did the jacket cost? Typically, you don’t want to spend more on alterations than it would cost to buy a new garment unless it has sentimental value.
But only can make this call. To help you decide, here’s a quick rundown on jacket alteration prices.
Suit Jacket Alterations Cost
Keep in mind, pricing varies widely from one city (or country) to the next, so take these estimates with a grain of salt.
Roughly, here’s how much you’ll pay for specific jacket alterations in an average American town:
|Shorten sleeves (working buttons)||$40-60|
|Shorten sleeves (faux buttons)||$20-40|
|Take in sleeves (make them slimmer)||$20-40|
|Take in jacket (make it slimmer)||$20-40|
Let’s look at each alteration in a bit more detail…
Your jacket’s collar can be raised, lowered or reduced to fix any collar gap or bunching, but this is not always a straightforward alteration.
Some tailors will simply take the collar in at the center back, which can result in a better fit but will produce a new seam (something you may or may not care about).
Ideally, you should try to make sure your suit jacket collars fit properly when you try them on.
When you’re buying a suit, sport coat or blazer, the most important thing you have pay attention to is how the shoulders fit.
Shoulder alterations are tricky, at best. They’re often impossible and will only make your suit look worse (and cost you a lot of hard-earned money). Most tailors won’t even attempt to this operation.
If the shoulders are too wide or narrow, don’t buy the jacket.
Jacket length is a relatively easy adjustment to make, but it can throw off the proportions of the garment (e.g., the pockets might be too close to the hem).
So make sure not to buy anything that’s too far off (i.e., more than 2″ too long or too short).
Some jackets can be lengthened if there’s excess fabric available inside the hem, but don’t assume this is the case.
Jacket Sleeve Length
Some suit jackets have a bit of excess fabric for lengthening, but be sure to check (or ask about this) before buying, if you think the sleeves are too long.
Shortening a suit jacket’s sleeves is a common alteration that can be done one of two ways: from the wrist or the shoulder.
Shortening the sleeves from the wrist is easy if your jacket has non-functioning sleeve buttons.
If your jacket has working buttons, it may need to be shortened from the shoulder – a much more difficult and costly alteration.
Jacket Sleeve Width
A blazer’s sleeves can be taken in for a slimmer fit through the biceps and forearms.
This is a fairly common and simple alteration.
Jacket Torso Fit (Slimness)
Getting a suit jacket or sport coat taken in for a slimmer fit is a common alteration that any decent tailor can handle.
Also, many jackets can be let out for a slightly roomier fit, as long as there’s a bit of excess fabric available inside the seams.
This is a cheap and easy alteration that can be done at any tailor and even some dry cleaners. You can also learn how to do this yourself.
Just be sure to save the extra buttons that come with your suits and jackets so you don’t have to hunt down a close match.
Should you go custom?
If you’d rather not deal with alterations, or if you have a non-average body type that makes suit shopping difficult, you might want to consider custom suits and jackets.
You basically have two options: made-to-measure and full bespoke. Here’s the difference between odd-the-rack, MTM and bespoke.
Download the "Tailoring 101" PDF Guide
Get all three clothing alterations infographics - dress shirts, jackets and trousers - in one convenient PDF file. Print it out or keep it on your computer/phone so you can reference it anytime. Oh, and it's totally free!
Gus collaco says
Jacket is a little outmoded, too much padding on shoulder, is this worth tailoring or should I just chuck it?
I’m having custom(ish) suit jackets made my Indochino. What’s the “right” length for the jacket? Should it hang to my fingertips? Knuckles? Etc. I also have shorter-than-average arms (about 28″ sleeve length.)
The first ones I had made are substantially shorter than off-the-rack I bought at Nordstrom. I’m concerned that the relative dimensions will look off.
Thanks so much!
My question is about the length of the jacket, not the sleeves.
This post is fantastic and I just pulled a jacket from my closet that I’m going to give away immediately. It’s a 38 R and I should wear a 38 S. It is about 3 inches too long based on this picture.
My question is where should that button fall in relation to your belly button? I really like the look of that one.
Wick Beavers says
1”-3” above your belly button.
So I have this sports jacket. It used to belong to my granpa. Its sick material nad has this nice grey finish. I tried it on. and it feels weird. The shoulders are just a bit tight but they arent the problem. I have a bit of broad back. if i can get 1 inch in the back itll be fine. Also the sleeves are like an inch shorter than they should. The length is perfect. And so is the buttons. I could bring them in closer for bit more space.
Can I make it work. Is it possible to get that extra inch of the back? and the extra inch for the sleeves? Is it possible to widen the sleeves somehow?
I am only doin this painstakingly to preserve that heritage sports jacket.
Bill in London says
That jacket doesn’t fit!
Difficult to tell, but it seems as if the shoulder seams are well off the shoulder.
The front button draws the cloth in and ‘bunches’ it upward. No-no.
– Classically, the button should “touch & fall away”, but if it is buttoned, should not pull.
But the lenght is atrocious, far too short. The lower edge of most styles of jacket should be approximately at the knuckles of one’s relaxed, clenched hand.
This guy would look very funny trying to get his hands into his pockets, which are somewhere up near his rib-cage! (Maybe I exaggerate.) OK for the birdie dance, though.
Billy Brandon says
Now here’s someone who knows his jackets! It’s not quite Pee Wee Herman’s but is too short and too tight in the middle.
Joshua Price says
Brock – I know you mention that shoulder work is very expensive, but does it work when executed? My body size has me in a weird position where I fit into a 50 R but the shoulders feel tight, but a 52 is just way too big on me and the shoulders hang off my by quite a bit.
Am I better off with a 50R and getting work done on the shoulders or going to a 52R and having what would likely be even more alteration work done?
it has been a long time you posted however I have an advice for you on this.
It is better of getting a bigger suit and tailoring it in instead of considering of getting the shoulders expanded. When the tailor do the work and expand the shoulders, there are few things at risk that could ruin your jacket:
– The lining in the middle back of your jacket will need to be opened and expanded. There is a risk of getting the stewing marks on the back of your jacket when the fabric is expanded.
– There might not be enough fabric to expand in the back. Even 1cm is risky because there should always be some fabric left inside the back lining to not damage the jacket structure.
Consider buying the 52 and getting other parts shortened. Shortening is always easier. The shoulders are the hardest bit of getting fixed.
I have the same issue and unfortunately, when I buy expensive suits, when the 50 doesn’t fit, I go for the bigger size (52) and I consider the other suit alterations. Usually they are: waist, chest, sleeves and sometimes arms (this is usually are not necessary unless you are a bit of perfectionist like I am).
Remember that expensive suits are not always about fitting perfectly, but about patented materials and structure (shoulders) that can last.
If your on a budget,or you just don’t have a lot of money and just don’t like to waste your money,this might not be popular to some and I really don’t know why but heres a few great places to get great bargains at rock bottom prices,#1 THRIFT STORES,#2 GOOD WILL STORES #3 SALVATION ARMY STORES and #4 GARAGE SALES…Don’t look down on those places,you will be AMAZED,I KNOW I WAS AND THOSE PLACES STILL AMAZE ME….It’s not necessarily where you shop,its all about how much money can you save buying quality merchandise at these places and still look really really good.Even if a suit or sport jacket is a little big or the sleeves are a little short but it looks GREAT and the price is GREAT,just get it tailored to your liking and you’ll look GREAT.Just always make sure you have a perfect fit in your shoulders when buying a suit or a sport jacket because the cost to tailor shoulders can cost $100 or more.GOOD LUCK…
I can recommend to you from blazers -“Our legacy” they have a very good fit, especially in the arms. They are quite inexpensive, but the quality of tailoring remains high.
I just recently took my new suit to the lady that does my alterations. Macy’s has a group of suits called Bar III that have a more modern fit in slim and extra slim. Extra slim almost fit me perfectly, but being a little more on the athletic build side, the upper arm area was a bit tight, and I haven’t gone to the gym in a while so I needed a little room to grow when I do hit the gym again. So, I had to go to the slim fit.
Pants: Hem Pants, take in legs, take in waist.
Jacket: Take in waist, shorten arm length, take in arms, shorten jacket.
Price: $122 plus tax!
I have to shop for cheaper suits knowing I have get a lot things altered and pay so much.
What was the total cost of this suit with alterations? Might want to consider going custom if it was over $500. Also, if you’re getting this many alterations done, definitely buy a cheaper suit. If you’re spending serious money, it should fit better than it did. That’s a lot of tailoring for a new suit!
$375 will be the total. Suit at $250 with sale + around $125 for alterations. Who can you go to that would custom tailor a suit for less than $2,000? I’ve been wanting to try the online custom tailor, Indochino.com, but even with that you take the risk of needing to get alterations done when you get it back.
I personally always buy cheaper suits or sport jackets because I know I will most likely have to get them tailored to liking,and its been working for me for years,BUY CHEAP LOOK VERY EXPENSIVE,TRUST ME,people will notice and will be asking you,”how can I look like that”…
Hmm.. this suit looks familiar… probably because I wore it today. An extra tip, which I indulged, is if you want an ultra-sleek modern look, get the jacket without pocket flaps. It removes bulk from the lower part of the jacket and is a great way to maintain the lines of your fitted jacket.
I was actually considering that detail (or lack thereof) for my next suit. Seems like it would streamline the silhouette even more.
Thanks, Izzy. I hear ya on the sport coat with jeans thing. I think you just need the right coat. Something without lining, not too fancy, and that fits very well. Even then, it’s not a look for everyone (although most guys look great with sport coats if worn right).
I’m actually doing these diagrams with PowerPoint. I have the Adobe apps, but I became somewhat of a PowerPoint ninja in my last job, and you can actually make good looking graphics with it if you spend a little time tweaking!
Amanda Lee says
Thanks—four years later. As I get older and more mature and vested in my career, I now understand the importance of good clothes.
Brock, this is crazy man!
How long did that diagram take you. I feel like it would take me 10 years to learn all that knowledge and another 8 to develop the diagram. Wow. Seriously awesome man.
I have always strayed away from suit jackets and blazers in any type of casual wear because I see so many dudes try to pull it off and look like for lack of a better word douche bags. So preferring to not enter that realm I have stayed away.
I will say I think it looks awesome when done correctly. I’m just not there yet. I feel like this is an advanced technique that I can build up to.