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If your pants, jeans, or trousers don’t fit correctly (in most cases, there will be something that’s off), your best bet may be to take them to an alterations tailor, rather than to buy a new pair.
There, the tailor will be able to perform subtle nips and tucks to your garment, which could take them from looking like a bin bag impersonator, to a categorically lovely pair of pants or jeans.
However, it’s important to know what alterations can actually be done to your pants, and to what extent, because, though a lot can be done, you need to manage your expectations.
Also, having a good understanding of the different pant and denim alteration options may make it easier to purchase pants, as it will likely give you the confidence to get a pair that are ‘nearly there’ fixed.
If you don’t know if your pants need tailoring, I would highly recommend that you check out, probably my favourite post I’ve ever written, on how pants should fit correctly, for the most aesthetic and comfortable outcome possible.
With all that out the way, read on for an all-encompassing guide on the alterations that can be made to your pants, and their limitations, so you will know what to ask for on your next visit to the tailor.
Men’s Pant Alterations: The Complete Overview
Before we get into the nitty gritty of each operation, here’s a list of what can be done:
- Take in/let out waistband.
- Take in/let out hips.
- Take in/let out seat.
- Thigh leg tapering.
- Calf leg tapering.
- Reduce pant leg opening.
- Hem pants (with an without a cuff).
- Excessively adjusting the pant rise.
- Excessively adjusting the pant’s crotch.
- Remove pant pleats
- Add suspender/brace buttons.
- Add side-tab adjusters
- Remove pant belt loops.
- Replace belt loops.
- Replace pant zipper, buttons, or hook.
So, as you can see, there are more alterations available then not.
However, there are caveats with how far you’re able to push most of them, which are usually tied to the amount of extra fabric left in the garment.
Standard Pant and Jean Alterations: Fully Explained
The following sections will cover each of the above alterations in greater detail, to give you full overview of each procedure.
I’ve also included the average price you can expect to pay for each alteration, based on my awesome resource which investigates average tailoring prices, from prices of 30+ tailors. (Not age, there were 30 of them!)
On top of this, you can ALSO find some pointers on how you might be able to change your buying behaviour in the future, to reduce the need for you to get your pants tailored in the first place!
DEFINTION: Your pant waistband.
AVERAGE PRICE: $23.72
LET OUT (Your pant waist is too small): An experienced alterations tailor will only be able to let out a pair of trousers that are too tight if there is extra fabric in the waistband, which isn’t guaranteed.
Checking for extra fabric is a very literal task – you just need to open your trousers, and see if there’s any fabric in the back seam of the trousers.
TAKE IN (Your pant waist is too big): An experienced alterations tailor will usually be able to take in a waistband that is too large by about 2″, without any problems.
If you require any more than 2″ of fabric taken it, there may be a problem, as pants can start to look odd and out of proportion.
Another limiting factor is that if your tailor feels that the trousers are ‘too well made’, they may be reluctant to alter the waistband, from a fear of disrupting the quality.
NOTES: If your pants are made from a stretch fabric, such as most pairs of denim, it’s often advised to wash your pants before you have them altered, so they shrink to their smallest size. This prevents too much fabric being taken out, which could make them impossible to put on. If in doubt, mention this to your tailor.
STYLE ADJUSTMENT: If there’s no extra fabric in the waistband of a pair of pants that are too small, or you’re just trying on the trousers before purchasing, you can ‘fix’ an incorrect waist fit by going up or down a waist size.
DEFINTION: The area of fabric above each thigh, up until the waistband, extending around the side to the buttocks.
AVERAGE PRICE: $20.47/$27.18 (this isn’t usually listed separately, so I’d imagine you’d either be charged for upper leg tapering, or a 2 seam taper, which this price range reflects)
LET OUT (Your pant hips are too small): A tailor may be able to tackle pant hips that are too small by letting out the trouser side seams, or by letting out the trouser seat, which impacts the fit in the entire top half of the trousers. However, again, they’re only able to act on excess fabric in these areas, so if your pants don’t have any (see the below illustration of a pair that does, and doesn’t), you’re unfortunately unable to let them out.
You can check for extra fabric in the hips by turning your trousers inside out, and looking for a strip of fabric at the seam.
TAKE IN (Your pant hips are too big): A skilful tailor should be able to take in a combination of the side seams, and trouser seat, to produce a trimmer fit. However, due to all of the factors involved, it may be a difficult and technical change.
STYLE ADJUSTMENT: If your trouser hips are too tight or loose, it is advisable to move to a pant or jean fit with more, or less, room in the hips and thigh. I’ve written a cracking post on the different types of trouser fits, so you can figure out which type of fit you’re currently rocking, and which you might be best off moving to.
DEFINTION: The area of fabric under and around your buttocks.
AVERAGE PRICE: $21.75
LET OUT (Your seat is too small): An experienced tailor or seamstress will be able to let out the seat, provided there’s enough excess fabric. This will be the same strip of fabric that determines if you can let out your waistband, but will refer to the fabric lower down in the strip.
TAKE IN (Your seat is too big): The seat can be taken in, usually without issue.
NOTES: You may be required to also have the seat altered if you alter the waistband, because, if you let out your waistband, that may lead to extra fabric falling in the seat area, which may have to be reduced.
STYLE ADJUSTMENT: Like with the trouser hips, you can try a pant or jean cut with a slimmer or roomier thigh, hip, and seat, depending on your circumstance. You can access my resource here.
DEFINTION: The part of the pants on either leg between your crotch and kneecaps.
AVERAGE PRICE: $20.47
LET OUT (Your thighs are too small): Though there’s usually some fabric left in the trouser leg side seams in the thigh regions of most trousers, there’s usually never enough to let out to unequivocally fix the issue of a tight thigh.
Also, even if you do decide to let out whatever remains, because there’s usually so little fabric, the alternation becomes difficult, as the tailor only has millimetres of fabric to work with, which they have to precisely let out, while maintaining a stitch that won’t come undone.
If you’re in this situation, sadly, your best bet (in my opinion) is to get a size and pant fit that fits your thigh, and have everything else adjusted.
TAKE IN (Your thighs are too big): Thighs that are too big can usually be easily fixed by a competent tailor through trouser leg tapering.
STYLE ADJUSTMENT: Like with the seat and hips, certain pant and jean fits will work better for those with thick thighs. Be sure to check out my post to help you with this!
However, if you’re in a situation where you simply can’t find any trousers that fit in the thigh – you have real chunky sausages – the best recommendation is to size up until your thighs fit correctly, and have everything else tailored to size.
DEFINTION: The part of the pants on either leg between your kneecaps, and the hem (bottom of the leg).
AVERAGE PRICE: $28
LET OUT (Your calfs are too small): If you calf is too tight, then, like I just mentioned with the thighs, unless you have a (likely expensive) pair of trousers that feature a good amount of extra fabric in the calf to be let out, it’s improbable that there’s much that can be done, beyond what I’ve already mentioned.
TAKE IN (Your calfs are too big): If your calf is too baggy, an alterations tailor can ‘taper’ it in by reducing the circumference of the trouser leg.
NOTES: Taking in your calfs will almost certainly reduce your leg opening, unless you specifically request that your tailor tapers in an inwards curve, which will almost always look a bit strange. More about this in notes for ‘leg opening’.
STYLE ADJUSTMENT: If your calf is too tight, avoid trouser fits with the word ‘tapering’ in them (such as ‘slim tapered’), as the whole point of those styles is that they get gradually narrower in the calf. You’d be best of with a skinny, sim, tailored, straight/regular or classic fit, depending on your body type (which is again detailed in this post).
DEFINTION: The width of the ‘hem’ of a trouser, which is the hole you put your feet through, at the closest point to the floor.
LET OUT (Your leg opening is too small): It’s not possible to widen a leg opening that’s too small, unless there is is a lot of extra fabric in the leg side seams.
TAKE IN (Your leg opening is too big): A leg opening can be narrowed by a tailor tapering in the calf of each trouser leg.
NOTES: Technically, taking in the leg opening is the same as tapering the calf, as discussed above. However, I’ve listed it separately because some people may have more of a want to taper either the calf, if they think it’s too baggy, or reduce the leg opening, in line with the best leg opening widths based on your height and weight (which, surprise surprise, I’ve written an extensive article on!). Consequently, I would consider each case a distinct requirement that you would separately communicate to your tailor.
In reality, both will happen in conjunction, in some capacity, though you’d probably be able to prioritise more of one, if you wanted.
STYLE ADJUSTMENT: If you desire a smaller leg opening, look towards trouser and jean fits with the word ‘tapering’ in them, as they graduate down to the hem. Similarly, a larger leg opening can be achieved through pant fits cut with a straight leg, such as ‘slim fit’, or ‘straight fit’.
Length & Break
DEFINITION: The pant ‘length’ is the length from the crotch, to the leg opening of the trousers. The pant ‘break’ is the way the pant fabric rests against the top of the shoe you’re wearing. You can check out an awesome post I’ve written about pant lengths and their resulting breaks, and which work best for you, here.
AVERAGE PRICE: $14.53 (straight hem), $19.95 (cuffed hem).
SHORTEN (Your leg length is too long): An alterations tailor should easily be able to shorten trouser inseams. If they can’t, then find another tailor! This is the most basic alteration. Even my mum can do it! (No offence, mum)
LENGTHEN (Your leg length is too short): Though there may be extra fabric left in the hem of some, usually higher quality, trousers to allow lengthening, most trousers don’t feature extra fabric for lengthening.
NOTES: If you’re having a nice pair of jeans hemmed, you may wish to ask the tailor to ‘keep the original hem’, which will mean that the pants are taken up, with the original, often expensive, look in tact.
STYLE ADJUSTMENT: Luckily, most pants come in multiple lengths, determined on the label by ‘S’ (30″ inseam), ‘R’ (32″ inseam) and ‘L’ (34″ inseam). If regular length trousers come up too long or short, look to acquire a shorter, or longer pair respectively.
Difficult/Not Possible Pant and Jean Alterations: Fully Explained
DEFINITION: The ‘rise’ of a pair of pants is where the waistband sits in relation to your hip bones and ‘natural waist’.
For further information, you really should check out my, yet again, definitive post on trouser rises, for more detailed descriptions of each pant and jean rise, and which will work best for you.
AVERAGE PRICE: No price data, as this alteration is not usually offered.
NOTES: Though it’s unlikely a rise will be outright ‘incorrect’ (at worst, not 100% preferable for your body type), it’s not really possible to retrospectively adjust the rise of a pair of trousers.
You can’t really make the waistband lower than it is, without cutting off the waistband, moving it down, and disrupting the proportions of the piece.
Also, it’s not possible to magic up extra fabric, to increase the height of the waistband.
You could potentially let out the crotch, to give you more room to pull up the waistband. However, as we’ll discuss, crotch alterations aren’t the easiest, and you’d likely need to have the pant waistband taken in for it to sit correctly at this new height as well, adding to the complexity.
If you’re looking for a certain rise, they really should be intentionally purchased in the first instance.
STYLE ADJUSTMENT: If you want a higher rise in a particular product, sizing up in the length of a pair of pants or jeans could help. For example, from going from a 32R, to 32L, you get a bit of extra depth in the rise, which you can then use to wear them higher on your waist. However, you may have to have the waist taken in.
DEFINITION: The area of fabric above each thigh, up until the waistband, extending around the side to the buttocks.
AVERAGE PRICE: No price data, as not usually offered.
TOO SMALL: It’s possible to increase the crotch size if there’s extra fabric in the inner leg side seams. However, it’s likely that the inclusion of any extra fabric won’t make much of a difference.
TOO BIG: It’s difficult to reduce a crotch area that is too big, as it’s an integral part of the trouser.
NOTES: Like with the trouser rise, it’s not possible – or, at best, very difficult – to adjust the crotch of a pair of trousers, so it’s best to purchase with this in mind.
STYLE ADJUSTMENT: If you have a problem with the trouser crotch, my best recommendation is to check out a different brand. I find that most brands are fine in this respect, but some consistently have a very high, uncomfortable crotch.
Alternatively, if you find there’s too much room in the crotch across all brands, try moving towards a lower rise trouser, which has less fabric distance between the waistband and the crotch seam.
If there’s too little fabric consistently, look at introducing higher rise trousers into your rotation. For this, I’d, again, recommend that you check out my awesome guide on trouser rises.
REMOVE: Though I’ve heard some people talk about doing it, I don’t think it’s really possible to remove a pleats from a pair of pants. If it is possible, it’s definitely a difficult alteration to get right, without screwing up your pants.
However, in my opinion, there’s nothing at all wrong with pleats… they look great, and are more comfortable than flat front pants on most men. I’d just make sure that the rest of the pants fit perfectly, and reserve them for certain occasions that call for a more dressy, and classic attire.
ADD: There’s no way to add pleats to a pair of pants that don’t have them.
Add Suspender/Brace Buttons: If you’re looking to start wearing braces/suspenders properly (that is, not wearing the ones with metal clasps, and opting for button loop fastenings), a tailor can easily sew buttons onto the inside of your pant waistband to facilitate this.
To ensure that they get the distance between buttons, and the button placement, correct to your preference, it’s highly recommended that you bring your braces with you when you order the alteration, and discuss these points.
Add Side-tab Adjusters: One of my favourite alterations is turning standard pants that have belt loops into majestically stylish pants with side adjusters. Though not all tailors will likely offer this service, if you find one who does (I’ve previously used Esclot London, via Charles Tyrwhitt), they will take extra fabric from the garment, and sew make-shift side adjusters on to the sides of your outer waistband.
I must caution, however, that, though the finished result is great, it’s likely not going to look as seamless as if the pants were made with side adjusters on them natively.
Moreover, in able to do this alteration, the tailor needs extra fabric to work with. For this, I move to the next leg length up in the particular trouser I’m looking to get adjusted, and then have them hemmed, with the excess fabric being made into side adjusters.
Remove Pant Belt Loops: In the case that you don’t wear a belt for whatever reason (good waist fit, or a allegiance to suspenders), a good tailor can unpick belt loops from a pair of pants, to help create an uber streamlined look. This is usually also done in conjunction with adding side tab adjusters.
Replace Belt Loops: If your belt loops are frayed, or have come undone, your tailor can usually easily sew them back on. If they’re beyond repair, or have fallen off and gotten lost, like with adding side adjusters, they may be able to take some length out of your pants (or other spare fabric), and use the it to create new belt loops.
Replace Pant Zipper, Buttons, or Hook: If the metals on your pants or jeans are looking a bit worse for wear, or have broken, any tailor should be able to replace them.
The Low Down…
Knowing what a tailor can do to your pants can save you a lot of time, money, and effort, compared to finding a new pair that fit perfectly off the rack. In many cases, it will be the best route to go down.