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The Style Expert You Need to Save Money on Clothes

This person on your style team is a game changer. Here are 4 reasons why.

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Woman Seamstress adjusting a garment on yellow background
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When I realized I could change my wardrobe without buying new clothes, it changed my life. And I’m not exaggerating. Much.

I’m about 5 foot 10 and on the smaller end of the size chart. But finding clothes that fit my waist (small) and my hips (not as small) can be a struggle. You know this issue, right? Clothes either would be too loose around the waist or too tight around the hips. To the point where I’d do that wiggle thing and hope my pants would shimmy up expeditiously. (Spoiler: They didn’t.) Finding pants that extended the length of my legs also took work.

You might understand these kind of fit issues if you have a larger bust, are on the thick side or if your sizes fluctuate across brands. In my case, I’d buy “tall” brands and expensive designer jeans. Until I realized I didn’t have to.

The thing that changed everything? Finding a good seamstress. Notice, I say “seamstress” and not “tailor.” Though I imagine it would be great to have clothes custom-made for my form, I’m not going to throw down stacks of money every time I shop. So when I found a seamstress at my local drycleaner who could let out my hems, and more, it was helpful.

Don’t get me wrong. I still buy tall clothes and shop beloved brands. But a seamstress can be clutch when off-the-rack items don’t quite fit. And when I want to save money by updating clothes in my closet.

So before you walk away from that dress that always bunches, or those clearance-but-slightly-too-short pants, consider a seamstress. Alterations can start under $10 or $20.

To find good service, get referrals and read online reviews. You can start at your local budget drycleaner, like I did. One tip: First start with one item (probably not your favorite) and see how it goes. If you’re satisfied, try another. Here’s how alteration services can help.

Accommodate weight fluctuation. Instead of giving away your favorite frock if you lose weight after working out, ask if the seams can be taken in. If yes, you can save yourself a shopping trip and keep the item you love. This trick also can work the opposite way if there’s enough fabric. So if you’ve gained a bit, and think you’ll stay there, ask if the garment can be let out.

Make clothes fit better than gloves. Our bodies won’t all fit the off-the-rack silhouette. And do we really want them to? This past summer, I ordered a romper from a beloved online retailer. It was a bright beachy print and, surprisingly, long enough to not be R-rated in the back. But, and this is a big but (separate from my rear situation), the shoulder straps were way too long. So I consulted with a seamstress, who measured where the straps should have fallen. In days, she modified the straps to fit, and the romper appeared made for me. These kind of alterations are especially helpful if you’re different sizes on the top and bottom, or if brands fit you inconsistently.

Make bargain items look luxe. One of my favorite pairs of jeans is a high-waisted score from Forever 21. Even though I haven’t been 21 for a minute. But the size I needed to fit my hips was loosey-goosey around my waist. Solution? The seamstress at my drycleaner nipped the waist for less than $20, making the total cost of the jeans between about $40 and $50. Today, that pair stands up to others that retail for double or triple. A seamstress also can upgrade cheap-looking buttons (dead giveaways for a bargain buy) along with other small, but impactful, adjustments.

Shop your closet — and save your favorite items. You know that blazer you wore half to death, so much that the lining is ripped in multiple places and the buttons are loose? Wait. Just me? If you’ve ever worn a piece of clothing so much you think you’ve ruined it, or need to otherwise update items that appear outdated, a seamstress can give a sartorial boost. (This service can be common knowledge, but how often do you use it?)

If you take time to get rips repaired, hems stitched up and more, you can benefit twice over. First, you can spend just a few dollars on alterations instead of spending more for a new item. Plus, you won’t lose time trying to find the twin of your favorite trousers. Instead, you’ll just repair them.

Working with a seamstress also is great if you’re a consignment- or thrift-store shopper —pure treasure can be found in those stores — because second-hand items can be altered to appear to be made for you. Thereby putting change back in your pocket … while changing your closet.