One of the most common complaints about attire that I hear from the Trans-masculine community is the inability to find clothes that fit right. When we find a shirt that fits right in the hips, and chest, the shoulders are too big or the sleeves are too long. Pants that fit in the waist are often too long in the legs. The problems are endless, and vary widely, depending on your body type.
True, these problems are highly individualized, depending not only on your body type, but on your decisions or journey in transitioning (pre-T, no-T, 1 year on T, pre-op, non-op, etc) as well. However, there is one word that I think any gentleman, no matter their gender identity or journey, should know: “tailor.”
Over the years, I’ve had a number of garments tailored: button-down shirts, jackets, suits, pants, and more. A well-tailored garment makes a noticeable difference: it appears more fitted, stylized and professional. Often, shirts or pants that are not tailored appear too baggy or tight, and distract the eye. Simply put, a tailored garment can add polish to your wardrobe.
So, I wanted to address the importance of a tailor, including: finding a tailor, what to expect in a tailor, and, as always, considerations for transmen.
Finding a tailor
Obviously, this is the first step in getting your clothing tailored. Like a barber, I would advise you to first talk to the community. If you know transmen in the area, ask if they have a tailor recommendation. If that’s not an option, think about people you trust and/ or those who look like they may know a tailor: friends, co-workers, colleagues, even a teacher or professor.
When asking for a recommendation, don’t just ask for a name/location; ask why this person recommends that tailor. Are they LGBT friendly, do they have good prices, fast turn-around, or is it just someone that this person has been going to for years and never thought to change? If you’re asking someone whom you are out to, ask them if they think this tailor would make you feel comfortable.
If you can’t find a recommendation, I have found that Yelp.com is helpful. The site has a lot of reviews, however there are more reviews in “metropolitan” areas. It’s good to see what people have to say, the good and the bad. Also, try reaching out to your online communities (TQNation.com, Tumblr sites, susans.org, livejournal.com, selfmademen.com, etc), to see if anyone has a recommendation for your area.
Another important note: if you’re going to a tailor for the first time, bring in only one item, preferably a “stand-by” shirt or pair of pants. That way, you don’t risk sacrificing an entire wardrobe to a bad tailor or experience.
If you’re looking to save some money, and looking for something simple (a hem, or other easy fix), see if a family member or friend sews. You might be surprised to learn who can help you with a quick fix! For the more complicated things – a jacket or suit tailored, taking in a shirt, etc – I would say stick to the pros. But, for the “small stuff” a friend or family member may be a cheaper and even quicker help.
What to Do and Expect When Going to a Tailor
Of course, what a tailor does will depend on what you need: having a suit custom made/tailored involves a lot more than a simple hem on a pant leg. For now, I’ll talk about the simple stuff – but I plan to write a more detailed post in the future about suit shopping/tailoring (so stay tuned for that).
Obviously, bring the clothing item to be tailored, and explain, first, what you’re looking for: explain what DOESN’T work about the item of clothing as clearly as possible. A quick note about the garment itself: wash the item before you bring it to the tailor. We all know, washing an item, especially for the first time, changes various elements; so run it through the wash first. Plus, if this is something you’ve had for a little while, do you really want a tailor to handle your dirty laundry?
The tailor will ask you to put the item of clothing on, so they can assess the situation for themselves. Here, it is important to replicate, as accurately as possible, the average way you will wear the garment. For instance, if you plan to wear a pair of pants with dress shoes, don’t try them on with sneakers. Bring in the shoes (or type of shoe) you plan to wear the pants with. Do this with a shirt or jacket, as well. If you plan to wear the shirt under a particular blazer, bring in the blazer; or if you plan to wear the shirt tucked in, tuck it in when the tailor is looking at it (they may ask you to un-tuck it at some point, but you should show them how you plan to wear it). You want this garment to work for you, and how you want, so help the tailor out, by being prepared.
As many of us know, tailors get pretty “up close and personal” in many respects. It can be a little unnerving, but remember, they’re NOT doing this to embarrass you, they’re doing this to make sure you get the best fit possible. Just relax, because, if they’re good at their job, you’re going to look great. The tailor will take a variety of measurements, depending on what you’re having altered. While they’re measuring, stand as naturally as possible. If you “suck in” any gut, for instance, then your garment will fit your “sucked-in” measurements. So stand naturally, and the item will fit you well, all around.
Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Just like a haircut, the tailor isn’t doing their job right unless you’re happy. So, if they pin a hem that looks too short or too long, say so. If it feels like they’re trying to make the pants tighter than you want, say something. As I said before, make sure you explain what you want to achieve with the garment: if you want the pants to stay loose in the leg, or the shirt to be tighter in the shoulders, that’s fine, but you need to tell the tailor. They can’t read minds! But also be aware, they may explain something to you that you hadn’t thought about. So be open to their opinion – they are the professional. Have a conversation with them about what you’re looking for, and what they think.
What to bring to your Tailor
Not all garments can benefit from the magic of a tailor. If something is WAY too small, for instance, no tailor will be able to salvage it. Here is a list of things that I generally bring to a tailor, and for what (mind you, there are other options, these are just my most common):
Pants: Generally I look for pants that fit well everywhere else, and go to a tailor for the hem. However, some pants can be boxy in the leg, and so I will have the leg taken in as well. For instance, I had one pair of pants fit great everywhere else, but for some reason, the thighs of the pants were HUGE. I wanted to get that taken care of. It doesn’t help if it looks like your pants have wings. (Take a look at the picture, the pants should look natural from hip to shoe).
Also, if you’re like me, you have that one pair of jeans or pants that you just love: they’re broken in, and they work in every way possible. Sadly, that fateful day comes when a hole appears; but don’t fret! A tailor may be able to patch that! Don’t toss out the perfect pants for just a hole, take it to a tailor and see what can be done!
Shirts: These benefit the most from tailoring. Maybe I have a weird body type, but finding the right fit in shirts, is nearly impossible. The sleeves are always too long, or shoulders too big. Luckily, those are things a tailor can address. I try to err on the side of caution, and get something that fits well, but is maybe a little too big or too long in some areas. Generally, I try to buy shirts that fit well in the neck and collar, but get the sleeves and shoulder tailored.
You can also get the entire body of the shirt tailored, but keep in mind that this will limit any growth (good or bad). I like to keep a shirt relaxed, but not overly loose.
Considerations for Transmen
Remember what I was saying about replicating how you wear the garment for the tailor? This is especially true for us transguys. For instance, if you pack regularly, then pack (with the same packer) when you go to a tailor. If you bind, then make sure you bind the same way, with the same or similar binder, at the tailor.
A note about packing: if you’re getting pants tailored, the tailor will ask you which side you “dress to,” or if you “dress right or left.” This means which side you let it hang. Be prepared to answer this question (preferably without stumbling). Also, personally, I don’t pack on a frequent basis, but I may wear an extra small packer to the tailor just to avoid any confusion. I know this breaks my rule about “replication;” however, it’s personally important to me to avoid any awkward gender situations. Since a tailor will be “up close and personal,” I would rather be extra prepared for any confusion, than caught with my pants down, figuratively speaking. I find that a small packer doesn’t change the fit of the finished product, so it’s worth it for me. You may have a different experience, but this is just my opinion. (and watch out for Joey’s Tailor….)
Also, having recently had top surgery, I have found that I need to take a trip to the tailor, as my shirts are fitting differently, since surgery. So, for those of you who have surgery scheduled in the near future, be aware, a trip to the tailor may, also, be in your future.
Lastly, for those who are just starting T, or still new to T, you may find that your body shape is changing. I know several guys had to go out and buy a new wardrobe, typically in a smaller size, approximately one year (or less) after starting T. If you’re on a tight budget, a tailor may be a better solution to this problem! Getting the waist taken in or shirt body trimmed down will be cheaper than buying all new pants and shirts.
I realize that this is a lengthy post, but I think a good tailor can really give a polished look to your wardrobe. If you have any specific questions or comments, please post them!
Thanks for reading, and, as always…
Cheers – Mason