Altering mens clothes for a curvier figure to get the dapper look right is tricky, but possible provided certain parameters are respected.
Firstly, tailoring is a very specific language where the odd millimeter has certain connotations. Learn it. Buy Gentleman, a timeless guide to fashion to learn if your shirt collar is favoured by estate agents , if your trousers should break, and which shoes are for town and which for country. Rules have to be learnt before they can be broken. The DapperQ tailoring sermon is also brilliant.
Secondly, if you can run to bespoke, do. You may find a proper old fashioned tailor on your High Street, although they may be a little particular on the bodies they will work with. Shirt makers are different outfits. Tailoring is expensive because the cloth has to be of a quality to last, the training is a minimum of 7 years and the stitching is phenomenally time consuming. To construct a garment with no visible stitching is engineering rather than craft. The Butch Clothing Company should be called if you can run to it. If you are at the bottom end of the market follow my guide to having a suit made to avoid disappointment. Old Town will make lovely garments to basic measurements.
If you are looking to alter an existing garment choose carefully to make it worthwhile. You cannot change fabric, position of pockets and buttonholes (ie direction of closure), and dying tailoring is not possible. Natural fibres are much more forgiving when it comes to changing shapes, wool being the king of chameleons which looses seamlines and adopts new shapes effortlessly.
Clothes are made differently for men and women. The cut has different amounts of ease put in different areas, canvas and interfacings (which give structure) are different and proportions vary. If you want a “masculine” look, then go for garments made with traditional menswear techniques. Tailoring for women will always retain a feminine edge for the reasons outlined above. The fashion industry is a binary one, blurring boundaries and individuality are alien to it.
Shopping in charity shops can yield lucky results, but I’d go to Old Hat where the suits were often a few grand when made and are designed to be altered (as all good tailoring is), or spend some time on Portobello Market with the vintage specialists on a Friday. Some boys clothes go up to age 14/15. Look out for shops which cater to communities such as the turkish or indian where teenage boys are frequently dressed formally in adult proportioned suits.
Which alterations are possible?
There is good information on this at the Art of Manliness suit school.
The golden rules
•Always make sure the garment fits the largest part of your body. Fabric cannot be magicked out of thin air!
•Men’s clothes close left over right, women’s right over left.
•Armholes and sleeves must be changed in conjunction with each other.
•Shoulders, collars, lapels and vents are adverse to alterations.
Please note that this guide is for alterations only, I have not dealt with repairs, mends, re-lines or any other age related issues.
Turning over a worn collar, or changing it to “Grandad” collar
Darts in side back or front to give shape
Shortening sleeve by putting a tuck in around the bicep
Shortening sleeve by raising at shoulder
Shaping and reducing shirt by taking in side and underarm seam
Reducing shoulder in conjunction with reducing side seam
Removing shirt tails and replacing with chiffon to reduce bulk when tucked in.
(reliable sources tell me this is why Tom Cruise’s rear always looks so tight)
Take in or shape at back darts
Take in side seams
Darts at front
Changing shape of waistcoat fronts/ hem
Coats and jackets
Sleeves shortened (no vent/ buttonholes)
Darts in front (no pockets) or back to give shape
Seams shaped below armhole
Sleeves shortened with vent/ buttonholes or at shoulder
Length shortened/ extended
Fronts shaped at hips
Taking in across the back at armhole level or above
Moving sleeves to take in across the back, reduce shoulder and trim waist. (I know it sounds weird, but they are connected. If you need fullness across the front of the chest, this is the alteration that will make it fit properly and not swamp you)
Reduce or expand waist centre back
Shorten or lengthen trousers (plain or with turn-up)
Move buttons or waist fastening
Add braces buttons
Add belt loops
Alter waist at side seams
Restyle pockets (where possible)
Take leg seams in/ out
Small alterations from £15 (button moving from £3)
Extensive alterations from £35
Most garments need several alterations to fit properly. Once the work is underway the cost is always less than the sum of the alterations undertaken.