Last year I wrote about how I solved my problem with ready to wear shirts but did not discuss alterations in detail. Alterations aren’t as easy and straightforward as they seem to be. It requires an understanding of tailoring as well as human anatomy. This is my approach to shirt alterations.
No Major Alterations
Whenever I alter a shirt I follow one rule: no major alterations. This is for two reasons.
The first reason is that you do not want to dramatically change the intended silhouette of the garment. A good example are shirts from American brands that have a boxy fit. They’re intended to look that way that it doesn’t make sense to make them too slim.
The second reason is taking apart an entire shirt and putting it back together drives up the cost of alterations. And yet you are nowhere close to achieving a bespoke fit. It would be better to get measured and have your own shirt pattern drawn up by a shirtmaker.
Top Down Approach
I like to approach shirt alterations from the top going down. The first thing I look at are the shoulders. The shirt shoulders should not be too wide i.e. they should not go past where your natural shoulders end. If they are too wide then the shoulders can be made narrower, however, it will also shorten where the sleeves end. If it will shorten the sleeves past a certain point it would be best to keep it the way it is.
If the sleeves are too long but the shoulders do not need altering they can still be shortened. It involves unstitching the placket and the cuff, shortening the sleeve and re-attaching the placket and cuff. Unstitching the placket is a laborious task that some tailors charge a lot for this kind of alteration.
The next thing I look at is the chest and armholes. Excess fabric on the chest near the armholes can be removed. This is usually accompanied by making the armholes smaller and the sleeves narrower. Making the armholes smaller is necessary if you intend to wear the shirt with a tailored jacket. But before doing these alterations ensure there is enough fabric in the chest and back or risk having a tight fit.
It follows that altering the armholes will also take in the sides of the shirt. I ask the tailor to start adding pins to the sides so I can see how the shirt will fit after the alteration. After the pins are added I move around my arms to see if the shirt fits tight. If it fits tight I ask the tailor to adjust the pins so there is room to move.
You May Need To Add Darts
Depending on your body type you may need to add darts to the back of the shirt. Think of your body as a circle when viewed from the top. The upper half of the circle is your stomach and the lower half is your back. If you have a belly but the back is not as big as your belly you can remove the excess fabric by adding darts to the back of the shirt.
Shirts that are intended to be tucked inside trousers should have enough length and room around the hips so they don’t get pulled out during wear yet short enough not to bunch inside. The rule of thumb is the shirt should cover your buttocks. If the shirt is too long the excess fabric can be trimmed off.
Applying My Approach
The photo above shows a shirt before I had any alterations done. The shirt was huge for me despite having the right collar size. This is a problem I often encounter with American brands. Usually I fit Large based on chest size but I require an Extra Large based on collar size. A size up in American brands means the shirt clearly needs to be altered.
Half an inch was removed at each armhole and sleeve while an inch was removed from each side of the body. The sleeves were shortened by an inch. The back length was shortened by two inches while the front was shortened by an inch. Quarter inch darts were also added to the back. You can see the results of the alterations below.