By: Revanche

The Economics of Being Oddly-Shaped

September 12, 2011

Technically, the term is “petite” but either I take that a bit further than everybody else in some areas or stores are even vanity sizing their Petites selections. (If the latter: Please, please stop it.)

As an ambitious professional, I’ve long accepted that my inner slob, the comfort-driven woman who prefers to lounge in a We Aim to Misbehave t-shirt and jeans or sweatpants, is never allowed to meet the people I work with if I want to be taken seriously. Sleepy-drunk self would be less infantilizing than me Au Natural. I was just mistaken for 17 years of age last weekend.  Amid all the “oh you should be flattered”s, it’s a bit exasperating because it means I do have to keep trying.

I’ve improved enough, despite hiccups along the way, that current colleagues don’t make ageist comments as former ones did thanks to a combination of make-up assistance from someone way younger than me than I like to admit 😉 and inspiration from our lovely petite style bloggers.

The biggest key in this struggle of finding clothes that make sense, after conquering the basics of what should go on top, what should go on bottom and what scatters in between, is fit.

It’s not enough that you parse the bits about color, layers, seasons if you have them, the culture, and so on. The most paramount decision of all is whether your wardrobe actually fits your body.

Enter, the Tailor

Finding a good fit is nigh on impossible in today’s sizing environment, and that means spending/budgeting extra for the expertise that makes an off the rack piece actually work. Being a frugal dresser already requires tenacity and creativity – adding the cost of a tailor amplifies the challenge to dress professionally in a reasonable budget by a factor of ten.

The tough thing is that my two sides (Budget vs. Career) are constantly bickering over what’s reasonable. They’re like Spy v Spy, locked in never-ending battle. Starting the search for petite clothing that is already in higher demand and lower supply, then adding this Fit Issue, well, the stakes rise even higher.

While combining sales and coupons is the time-honored frugalite’s weapon, the absolute best way to be frugal when it comes to style and fashion is to be stylishly creative: reusing what’s in the closet with a critical eye in thirty bajillion ways so that people think it’s new.

I’m total crap at that.

And then there’s an accompanying caveat that each purchase must have impact – it must be versatile so I can wear it to work or to after-work functions, it must be classic so that cost per wear becomes negligible, it must be the Holy Grail of Wardrobe Additions. *the pressure*  It’s no wonder I hate shopping so much.

A Situation 

Since moving up to the Bay Area, I hadn’t ventured forth to a tailor. Since the COL is so much higher here, I was hesitant to discover the cost of alterations. After my, frankly, cheap cost of labor in Southern CA, I just knew that sticker shock was in my future. Even actively avoiding it, I had a sense of the cost and a shudder ran up my spine. (A dry cleaner could charge $20-25 for hemming trousers?? Seriously?? I paid nearly that much for a full suit alteration back home! No, Toto, definitely not in Kansas anymore.)

With a pending business trip and a big sale plus a 20% off coupon on a really nice jacket from Ann Taylor, I braved my tailoring demons, and in the doing, found myself with even more questions.

The 00P jacket cost $178 originally. With a sale and a combined 20% coupon, I paid $60 plus tax. Upon arrival, however, the shoulders were a little too wide, the sleeves were a couple inches too long, the back was too wide and the sides needed to be tucked in. Jacket quality was high and this would fill the hole in my closet for a fitted blazer. But I was happy to return it if the tailor felt it needed too much work, or it wasn’t possible, to make it fit me.

After my fitting, in a monumental display of stupidity, I left the jacket with the tailor after having all the requisite pinning done, without getting a quote for the work.

I always get a quote for work beforehand so I can decide whether or not I’m going to even commit to alterations or if the clothes are going straight back.  I have no idea why I walked away without one this time. I was even planning to take a different suit with me on this trip, so I wasn’t dependent on that jacket should things not work out.

In any case, when I came back to see the results of this first visit with this tailor, they were spectacular. Like, black eye spectacular. The jacket was really something to behold – it fit so perfectly it looks like a bespoke jacket, but it’ll leave a mark on my pocketbook for a while. The jacket’s tailoring cost more than the jacket: $94.

Total Cost: $156

It was nearly full price for a basically perfect fit.  Was it worth it?  Would I have paid that much for a jacket that fit exquisitely?  I suspect that I still would have tried to wait it out.

Should the question be: “is it acceptable to pay more for tailoring than the cost of the item?” or should it be: “is the total cost of the item that is acceptable?”

For my money, I think the latter is the true question and that has to be part of my whole clothing budget.

::: What’s your experience when it comes to buying off the rack?  Can you? 

19 Responses to “The Economics of Being Oddly-Shaped”

  1. You were lucky to find such a good tailor. Good fit is important. And $90 will not leave a huge dent in your budget!

    I am lucky in that clothing generally fits me–but I’ve never had anything fir PERFECTLY.

  2. Lisa says:

    Wow! So, expensive to tailor an item. I usually will not purchase clothing that does fit me right, this way I avoid tailoring completely. I did get a pair of suit pants tailored once, it was not too outrageous, but I think I get more annoyed with having to go to the tailor and wait for it than I do the cost of tailoring.

  3. I curse the people who doesn’t believe in making clothes for oddly shaped woman. I’m 5’1″ short although I have a few off springs I still get the are you still in high school question on a regular basis. Having to fix my clothes after buying them makes me want to go towards the cheaper items in the store but I know after a few washes I would regret doing so. In short I feel ya pain girl.

  4. mOOm says:

    It cost me more than $A300 to get a suit refitted here (Australia)… And more than $A600 to buy the suit in the first place. I’m at the giant end of the spectrum though 🙂 (6′ 3″)

  5. Shelley says:

    The shoulder area and sleeve length are generally where my fit problems start. The shoulder of a jacket is the most complex tailoring issue to address, so it will always be more expensive. This is one reason I’m determined to learn to sew. Hemming trousers is not a hard job, just a small step up from sewing on a button, really, so I suggest you learn to do that for yourself.

    It sounds as if you rely on your work clothes to supply a lot more than body covering. Given this, is it feasible to simply come up with a ‘uniform’ of sorts and turn your back on variety? It’s boring, sure, but it would free you up quite a bit and let you focus on other things; also no more decisions to make and it could be a form of being ‘lazy’ if you look at it that way. It could be your ‘signature’ that you wear a uniform. In the old days men only had one or two suits and a few shirts and no one ever said they weren’t well dressed.

    Just a thought.

  6. I’m rather tall – 5’9″, 5’10” – and wear a size six on top and a size 10/12 on bottom. I guess you could call me pear-shaped, but due to my height I don’t visually come across that way. I can only buy A-line dresses – on others, the bottom stretches to an obscene point or the top gapes.

    I like the idea of going to a tailor, particularly for work-pieces, but I am currently in academia (and will hopefully work there once I graduate) so our dress codes are a bit more lenient than the business world. I don’t necessarily need suits – skirts and nice tops will work just fine, so that’s what I’ve been working with for a while.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I think the $20-25 hemming is because it was at the cleaners. I paid that much one time in a low COL area when I took it to the cleaners.
    I can buy very little off the rack. I decided that I will start tailoring things more when needed so I look more polished/adult lol

  8. SJean says:

    I can buy quite a bit off the rack, fortunately.

    I have the same issues with people thinking I’m young, even though I’m not petite at all. I really really would not like to cut my hair, so I suppose I should work the wardrobe angle as much as possible.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I’m short as well (5’3″) but definitely curvy, which makes things difficult. I also have figured out that my body is not made for low-rise jeans. I am always happier when I have things altered. There’s a reason why so many people swear by having everything tailored, although I have a big pile of stuff that I haven’t taken in yet. My other problem is that every item I like seems to have ‘Dry Clean Only’ on the tag. 😛 –Bonnie

  10. So far, my only experience with tailors is getting bridesmaid dresses altered. Still, I think about it more and more, especially since I hear that most celebrities tailor everything, including stuff like jeans and even tee shirts or camisoles.

    As a fellow oddly-shaped person (although I admit that from my side of the fence, your grass seems MECH greener), I think the blazer was probably worth it.

  11. Kellen says:

    I have 3 pairs of pants from Goodwill that I keep insisting I will hem myself since I don’t want to pay a tailor. But instead I have been surviving with only two pairs of work pants for months because I never have the time to hem them.

    In october I want to really re-build my warddrobe before busy season this winter, but I barely know how to start.

    Do I just buy cheap stuff that is stretched and losing buttons by the end of the year? Or do I buy more expensive stuff that might get ruined over the year anyway? If I buy cheap stuff that will definitely only last a year, tailoring doesn’t seem worth it.

    But I am small two (5′) and young (24) but I want to go to clients alone and not have them think that a high school kid is running their audit. So, I feel your pain. Sigh.

  12. oilandgarlic says:

    A good tailor is definitely important. A very good tailor once told me that if you need to do A LOT to an item to make it fit, however, it’s not worth it (usually). I think over time you start finding that some brands “fit” your body type better.

    I’m not sure if you feel like you had to get too much done or spent too much but enjoy a perfectly fitted suit!

  13. A perfectly fitted jacket in a good fabric is well worth what you paid for it. Wear it a LOT. Get ideas of how to remix it from bloggers online. Be like the French and wear it at least once a week. Read The Vivienne Files blog. Just my suggestions because you said you aren’t good at creating new ways to wear things in your closet. Good luck!

  14. I think it is money well-spent. Tailoring a fitted jacket is not cheap (um, duh) because it’s so complicated. The lining, all the different seams, it’s a ton of work.

    And you have already been impressed with the quality – to say it looks bespoke is high praise! And you have started with a classic piece from a reputable merchant known for good quality, so those are all great things.

    I tailor things. I spent more money tailoring my wool winter coat than I spent on it – and I got it at Lane Bryant, of all places! So it’s not even a high-end item. But it has great bones, wool is a great fabric, and it was worth it to get something to fit nicely.

    My vote is for looking at the total cost, and also to consider that cost in terms of the life of the piece. My coat ended up costing $100, but I expect to get another 4 winters out of it. $20/winter seems like a bargain to me.

  15. Serendipity says:

    I think a good tailor is important, especially when you need to look very professional in an industry. As for buying things off the rack, it’s a hit or miss for me. Dresses are hard because I’m so disproportional regarding my body. I’m so small on top and so big on bottom, I look like a huge pear, lol. A line dresses are my friend.

  16. We’re all made to think we’re “disproportional,” as though it were something wrong with us, when in fact few women can fit into the ready-made clothes that fill acre on acre on acre of racks. When you go into the discount outlet of a large department store, where they practically give away stuff they couldn’t move in a few weeks, you realize how little manufactured clothing actually fits real, living women. What amazing wastefulness!

    My Polish former sister-in-law and her mother had tailors who made all of their clothes. They would buy copies of Paris-Match, Vogue, and the like, select outfits that appealed to them, point them out to the tailor, and shortly an exact copy would come forth. Both women looked like the proverbial million dollars, and they certainly didn’t pay what it cost to buy high-end designer clothing.

    After Talbot’s stopped selling well made clothing that fit properly (Talbot’s was one of the last chains that carried clothing I can wear), I actually thought that if I could find a tailor, I would hire the person to make clothing for me. Never did find such a wonder, though. Now about my only choice is J. Jill, when I’m not wearing Costco jeans.

  17. Revanche says:

    @frugalscholar: In the total NW it’s not an enormous dent but it certainly was a big dent in the monthly monies. Remember, most of my salary is not my own.

    Also, I’m just starting to build a core set of a real professional wardrobe, I mostly have been using a hodgepodge of “it’ll do” pieces over the last year but they weren’t actually very well fitting or good core composition pieces. I’m still learning how to make wise choices.

    @MommaStar: So true, buying the quality pieces takes so much time & energy you almost want to buy the cheaper stuff except you know you’re going to be upset when it falls apart.

    @mOOm: Holy. Mackeral.

    @Shelley: That’s very much what I’m aiming to do. As above, I’ve been getting by w/”sorta” pieces but I’d like to build my week of good long-lasting uniforms and then be done with it.

    @graduate living: Usually full suits aren’t needed, I just keep one on hand for interviews and meetings. I have a couple pairs of slacks and am on the lookout for good tops. I can also do trouser jeans so those are in the rotation.

    @Karen: Oh, maybe you’re right, I’ve never used a dry cleaner for tailoring so I assumed they were market rate.

    @SJean: I’m having trouble with the hair getting too long and unruly, I may lose my mind and lop it off. But that’s neither here nor there. 🙂 Wardrobe it is!

    @Bonnie: I avoid dry cleaning only like the plague, in most cases. And low rise, as well. That’s a danger zone.

    @paranoidasteroid: Meh, only greener for the tailor and the retailer. You need to tailor EVERYTHING pretty much. Or pay full price if you want nice things. There’s a lot of competition and they don’t make many things in the Petite range, not all the good stuff also comes in petites.

    @Kellen: Nice stuff and be really really really careful? I’m a total klutz AND I have a dog who sheds everywhere now, but I can mostly manage to keep it together when wearing nice stuff.

    @SewingLibrarian: Thanks for your suggestions. I’ve been wearing it once (sometimes twice!) a week and will check out that blog!

    @Dogfood Provider: Yes, I’ve paid a LOT for two coats, and they’ve lasted 5-10 years, respectively. I always forget to factor in longevity.

    @Serendipity: Dresses ARE hard. I can only do a couple types.

    @FaM: I used to dream of having bespoke clothing. I *couldn’t* hate getting dressed half so much!

  18. Kat Skull says:

    I will definitely buy pants that fit correct but happen to be too long because I know my sewing skills are good enough to do the hemming myself. Jackets or vests or dresses, on the other hand, I don’t buy unless its a perfect fit. I will shop the entire day until I find something within my budget.


  19. […] some consideration: I haven’t bought and fitted a solid piece since last year. This year’s purchases have been a bust or one off pieces, totaling around $50.  My black […]

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

This website and its content are copyright of A Gai Shan Life  | © A Gai Shan Life 2017. All rights reserved.

Site design by 801red