Why a Good Seamstress is your Wardrobe’s Secret Weapon


Ask any couturier about the importance of a proper fit and they will all agree that it is absolutely essential. No matter how expensive the fabric or beautiful the design, without proper fit neither the garment, nor your figure,  will ever be presented in their best light .

On the other hand it doesn’t take a couture garment to make a woman look her best. Even off the rack clothing can be transformed with a bit of strategic alteration. The importance of flattering fit is absolute for the red carpet crowd and high society, right down to their jeans. After all, the paparazzi is ever present and it only takes one unflattering photo to get tongues wagging!

There was a time when the benefit of proper fit was understood by all walks of society.  But in our era of stretch fabrics and cheap throw away clothing it has become less important for the average person. Vintage clothing, on the other hand, was usually made of woven fabric, made to last and designed to enhance the figure, something that many of today’s fabrics do NOT do for most of us. And women back in the day were very aware of how much more flattering an outfit could be if it was tailored properly.

As a former dressmaker and current vintage dealer it frustrates me when I see a woman pass on a vintage garment she loves over fitting issues that could be easily resolved with a bit of expert alteration. A sagging shoulder line or an unaligned bust point can make a dress look frumpy. Yet a skilled seamstress can adjust these seams to create a more alluring line. She will also have an eye for the best hem length to suit your proportions or your best sleeve length. The majority of figures have different “size zones”…  shoulder width, bust, waist, hip.

In  many cases there is no need to give up on a garment you love just because one area is not fitting when the rest does. A decent dressmaker will be able to tell you what can and cannot be done. Many vintage garments often have enough seam allowance to let out bust, waist or hips and nipping in is almost always possible. Sometimes the fix is so easy you won’t believe it. Magic can happen just by moving buttons or tucking a strap. A customer I once had was utterly smitten with a vintage gown but when she came out of the fitting room she was nearly in tears. The color looked gorgeous on her, the waist and hips fit perfectly, even the length was right,  but the bodice drooped awkwardly. Since the gown had spaghetti straps all I had to do was pull them up a couple of inches and the bodice moved right into place. The alteration was simple but it made all the difference.

Below is a before and after of a dress that was originally a couple of sizes too large for the customer, and was altered smaller to fit her. You can see how a garment can be totally transformed in the hands of a good alteration specialist.

dress altered

So,  if you love authentic vintage, or even retro fashions,  and you want to wear it well,  I highly recommend you take the time to find a good dressmaker or seamstress. Recommendation by word of mouth is usually best.  But you can also call the alterations department at a better department store or bridal salon and ask there.

Here are three helpful tips for when you are having alterations done

1. There should be no guesswork involved. Your seamstress should have you in front of a mirror with the dress on as she pins you on BOTH sides. A proper pinning will give you a good idea of the results. If the garment needs to be let out she should measure how much. If the alteration is complicated a good seamstress knows to baste first which will require more than one fitting.

2. Dress hems should always be measured and marked all around not just in one spot. This will assure an even hemline. If your seamstress does not do this I would go elsewhere.

3. If you are having a garment let out, ask your seamstress if the old seam lines will be inconspicuous. You can’t always prevent all traces but you can usually minimize them enough so they are not obvious. Different fabrics are more forgiving than others and there are tricks of the trade to help. She should have some idea what to expect.

Of course, alterations add to the cost of the garment. But if you find a talented seamstress she can transform your clothes so they look more expensive and enhance your figure in ways you never dreamed possible.  Excellent reasons that certainly make it a worthy investment!


By | 2015-04-21T11:47:59-04:00 April 21st, 2015|Fashion|Comments Off on Why a Good Seamstress is your Wardrobe’s Secret Weapon

About the Author:

Melody Fortier
Since the early 1990s I have been selling stylish, fine quality womens' vintage clothing and accessories at various venues, including the Sturbridge Textile Show and the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show, as well as my own website Tangerine Boutique . I also love sharing my thoughts on vintage fashion on my blog A Vintage Ramble And my book The Little Guide to Vintage Shopping offers a wealth of information for people who are interested in buying, collecting and wearing vintage clothing. My background as a custom dress and hat maker led to my appreciation and love of vintage fashion. And my extensive experience as a custom clothier has given me a keen eye for spotting quality construction when sourcing my vintage inventory.