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Finding a reputable tailor is not sew simple anymore


Getting things fixed isn't easy. Take a toaster or coffee maker or an answering mashine in for repairs, and you're likely to be told it'd be cheaper to buy a new one. And just try to find someone who can fix an old doorknob or 100-year-old clock.
There are plenty of tailors and dry cleaners who repair and alter clothing. But how do you find someone who won't ruin your clothes in the process of fixing them, won't send your pants back an inch too short or return your favorite Anne Klein jacket with its cuffs all puckered up because they've glued the interfacings in - heat-fused them, the way manufacturers make cheap suits - instead of basting and stitching them properly?
There are no easy answers. "The only way I know is by trial and error," says Hazel O. Vandeventer, adjunct professor at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. "Find a tailor, a reputable one, that you can trust." But how do you do that? "Word of mouth," says Eileen Talone of A. Talone, a reputable Philadelphia dry cleaner. "It's like anything else, you have to ask your friends, says Nicolas Fiorilli, who teaches studentsat Philadelphia's Craft Scool of Fashion how to do alterations. And when you take something to a tailor who has been recommended, he says, you should ask plenty of questions: What will it look like when it's finished? Will old seams or creases show? Will it really fit?
Finding someone who knows how to do alterations is only the begining, it turns out. You also need to know what you can reasonably expect - and, since most people don't know how clothes are constructed in the first place, they don't understand what's involved in altering them.
Fiorilli says people commonly assume that "everything can be altered." Everything can't. Once upon a time, clothes were made with generous seam allowances that could be let out if need be. No more. The way most clothes are made today, you're out of luck if you put on weight: There's nothing to let out. Most things, Fiorilli says, can only be made smaller.
And there are limits to how much smaller you can make something. According to Talone, you're asking for trouble if you try to make something more than a size or two smaller. Turning a size 14 into a 4 is like starting from scratch.
Customers often don't understand how much work it takes to fix something, she says. For instance, some people think taking in the sides and shoulders of a jacket is a small job. In fact, it takes hours and can cost $45 or $50.
Another alteration customers expect to be simple, Talone says, is turning a one-button blazer into a two button model. They think you can just add a button and a buttonhole, but you have to recut the lapels, which is either complicated or impossible.
In the 1970s, Fiorilli says, when men often wanted wide lapels narrowed, customers were surprised when he'd quote them a price of $50 or $55. However, particularly if the fabric is striped or checked, you can't just trim off the edge of the lapel - you have to move the whole thing in and reset the stripes so they'll line up with the revised lapel edge.
Fiorilli says the biggest mistake customers make is failingto consider whether the garment they want to have altered or repaired is wirth the investment. "Alterations basically should be done on expensive clothes," he says. "A $1,500 suit, a $1,200 Suit, a $900 suit is worth altering."
But, he says, even when you tell somebody something isn't worth fixing, the customer often wants it fixed anyway. As he says this, he's painstakingly stitching a new satin lining into a well-worn jacket with beatifully small, regular hand stitches. The polyester double-knit suit of which the jacket is part cost maybe $90.
Fiorilli looks down at it and shrugs. People "get attached to their clothes," he says.