Made To Be Tailored – How To Design Garments That Are Easy To Alter

The goal with development is to arrive at a pattern that fits well on as many people in the target market as possible, but even the best-fitting pattern can’t always fit everyone perfectly. People come in all shapes and sizes and one pattern can’t always fit them all. For styles that are more tailored or fitted without stretch – especially ones that are for more formal occasions or at a higher price point, the customer may need to get them altered with a tailor in order to get the perfect fit after purchase. Because of this, it is worth considering how your designs might be altered so you can design with ease of alterations in mind.

So how do you go about designing for possible alterations? Let’s consider some common alterations: hem length changes, shortening/lengthening waists, taking in/letting out side seams, shorten/lengthen straps, taking in back rise of pants (getting rid of back waist gaping). 

First let’s talk length alterations. This is most important with floor-length styles and pants. An easy way to design for length alterations in mind is to include extra seam allowance in your hems. This isn’t always possible depending on your fabric and design, but often you can do a deep hem (2-3”) allowing for an inch or two to be let out to make the garment longer. Shortening a hem is usually more straightforward unless there is a special trim or border on the edge. One thing I like to do to accommodate shortening tiered styles is I like to design the bottom tier to be taller (longer) than the others so that if it has to be shortened, it doesn’t look weird. A taller bottom tier looks good proportionally, but a shorter bottom tier looks funny in my opinion. 

A petite person may need to have the bodice length shortened as well as the hem length. Designs with a waist seam make this way easier than ones that don’t. Without a waist seam as a clear point to make the alteration, the whole waist and hip area would have to be altered to accommodate a shorter frame which is a much more complicated alteration. Again, your design may not be what you envisioned with a waist seam, but if it works, you will make a tailor’s job much easier (and save your customer money). You will probably get a better yield for your design with a waist seam and smaller pieces nest more efficiently on the fabric than long, big pieces do.

Taking in or letting out side seams is another common alteration. Like with waist seams, if the design has clear side seams, the alteration is easier. Also, moving any zippers or closures to the center front or center back instead of one side can make this alteration easier. It is more common to alter the sides to change the width than to change the center, so not having to adjust a zipper or closure within a side seam alteration makes it easier. Special occasion dresses often include extra seam allowances in the side seams to allow for the garment to be let out. If your style is more formal and lined, larger side seam allowances is a convenient feature.

Straps often need alterations – usually shortening. When you are designing the style, you can either design the strap with adjusters built in or have a clear seam either at the shoulder or where the strap attaches to the bodice on the front or back at which to alter. Like side seams of formal garments, leaving extra seam allowance length for straps is a nice way to allow for the straps to be lengthened if needed. 

Have you ever had a pair of pants with a big gap in the back waist where the hips fit, but the waist was way too big? Taking in the back rise or sometimes side seams is a commonly needed alteration for denim and pant styles. A way to make this easy to alter is to include a seam at the center back waist or at least at the side seams. Some waistbands are one straight piece that goes all the way around, and without any seams, the whole waistband needs to be removed in order to take in that waist gap. With some seams on the waistband, a tailor can take in the waist at those points without having to change the look of the design and add seams. 

Even the best-fitting patterns and styles don’t always fit everybody like a glove. Designing with alterations in mind for more tailored or high-end pieces will save your customer money, make a tailor’s job easier, and ensure your design will stay consistent even after alterations.

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