6 Tips for Tailoring Your Jeans

How to Get the Look of Made to Measure Jeans

Many women have no hesitation about taking a pair of wool trousers to the tailor for alterations, in order to get a customized fit. So why do most of us expect to find jeans that fit us perfectly off the rack, no nips and tucks required? While it's important to shop for jeans that generally fit your figure well -- especially in certain, hard-to-alter areas such as around the hips -- there's plenty you can do to customize an almost-perfect pair of denim and create a made to measure look in jeans. 

We've created this practical, money-saving guide to everything you need to know about altering jeans. You'll learn what it's possible to have tailored, how to hem jeans so they flatter your shape perfectly, and the one thing you should do before taking your jeans for alterations. We'll also tell you what you can expect when you take your jeans to a tailor, to prevent surprises. Plus, find out when it's better to buy a new pair of jeans, then spend your money trying to change a too-challenging pair.

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Tailoring Jeans: What's Difficult to Alter

Woman trying on jeans in fitting room
Know what you can tailor in a pair of jeans - and what you can't. Holger Winkler/Getty Images

When you shop for jeans, it's great to know you can have them tailored if they don't fit perfectly. Just a word of caution, though -- there are some things it's not easy, or worth your money, to have altered when it comes to denim. A pair of jeans should already fit you well in these areas:

  • Rise (where the waistband sits on your body)
  • Hips
  • Crotch

If jeans sit too high or low on the waist, don't cling to hips (or squeeze you too tightly), or don't fit properly at the crotch, it's best to leave that pair on the rack and keep shopping for a generally better-fitting pair.

However, many other fit issues -- including a too-long length, a pair of jeans that gaps slightly at the waist, or overly baggy legs -- can be fairly easily addressed by taking them to a tailor to take in (or remove) excess fabric. You'd be surprised at how doing so can make a pair of almost-perfect jeans conform better to your body, and create a made to measure jeans look.

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Tailoring Jeans - The Length

Cuffed boyfriend jeans and high heel shoes
Hem your jeans for a clean finish and the perfect length. Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

Shortening too-long jeans (hemming jeans) is generally the easiest alteration you can make to your denims. A tailor or seamstress can shorten or hem jeans, either by cutting off some fabric and redoing the hems, or by taking up the hems in a way that doesn't involve cutting the fabric. Here's how to ask for either treatment, to get the best results:

Cutting Jeans Shorter - The Original Hem Method

You'll try on your jeans at the tailor shop, so the tailor can mark the correct length with chalk or pins. (Be sure to bring or wear the shoes you'll wear most often with the jeans, so you get the right length).

Ask your tailor to give you an "original hem" (also called a "European hem"), which involves removing the original hems of the jeans and re-attaching them after the excess fabric is cut from the legs. While this can add cost to your alterations, this will ensure your jean hems look right -- and can be much less difficult than having a tailor reproduce the right thread, stitching method, original spacing between the stitches, and so on. If you've invested in designer jeans, which are often recognizable by the unique fading or stitching on their hems, you will definitely want to hem your jeans using this method.

Talk to your tailor if you're looking to hem jeans by more than an inch or two, about whether they'll need to change the leg shape, which can be a factor when it comes to bootcut or flare jean styles. As well, if your jeans are faded or distressed, they'll need to be cut at a place that doesn't look wrong with the styling.

Taking Up Jeans - The Inside Hem Method

If you'd rather not cut your jeans, you can ask a tailor to do an "inside hem". This involves folding under the extra length and stitching it in place, without cutting the fabric, to make jeans appear shorter. This is a good method to hem your jeans when you're not sure exactly how long you want jeans to be. Since it doesn't give you a finished hem look, though, it's better as a short-term solution -- as when you're borrowing a pair of jeans from a friend and will need to return them.

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Tailoring Jeans - The Legs

Boyfriend jeans and high heel sandals
Taper baggy jeans for a slimmer fit. Zara

Sometimes you'll find a pair of jeans that fit well through the waist and hips, but the thighs are a bit too baggy for your liking. Or maybe you've got an old pair of straight leg jeans, and skinny jeans are more your style now. Lucky you -- tapering the legs of jeans to make them slimmer is a pretty straight-forward alteration for a good tailor, as long as you're not drastically changing their style. (Going from flare to skinny, for instance, isn't worth the money it will cost to pull that off -- you're better off buying a new pair). 

Here's how you can taper jeans for a more streamlined leg look. Typically, the tailor will have you try on the jeans, then pin them along the inseams (the line of stitching running down the inner leg). They'll then be turned inside out and sewn to create a more slender ("tapered") leg opening. The extra fabric on your tailored jeans may be cut away, or just sewn inside if there's not too much of it.

If you're taking in the calves of jeans, as well as thighs, the bottoms may need to be re-hemmed. You can ask the tailor for an "original hem", as described earlier in this article, to give jeans an unaltered look.

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Tailoring Jeans - The Waist

Jeans with extra fabric at waist
You can tailor your jeans to take in extra fabric at the waist. Tetra Images/Getty Images

Women with an hourglass figure (small waist, curvy hips), often find it a challenge to find jeans that fit perfectly, without gapping at the waist. While it's best to shop for jeans made to fit your figure, an experienced tailor can alter a waistband to nip it in a bit.

However, it's not advisable to take in jeans by more than one to 1.5 inches at the waist. Doing more can change the pocket positioning and front shaping of the jeans, not to mention making it necessary to alter the hips as well, to maintain the proper line. It's often easier -- and less expensive -- to either wear a belt or find a pair of jeans that suits your body better.

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What to Do Before You Take Your Jeans to the Tailor

Man taking jeans off before putting them in laundry
Wash new jeans a few times before having them tailored. Rubber Ball Productions/Getty Images

Before you take a new pair of jeans in for alterations, always wash them a couple of times first. To wash jeans the right way, turn them inside out and launder them in cold water on the delicate setter of your machine, then hang to dry. Putting your jeans through a few wash cycles will ensure they're not going to shrink further, so the tailor is working with their "final" shape and length.

When taking jeans to a tailor to get them hemmed, be sure to bring (or wear) the shoes you'll wear most often with the jeans. This will help the tailor mark the jeans at the right length, so you'll be happy with the result of your tailored jeans.

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Where to Get Jeans Tailored

Women in jeans looking at mobile phone
You can find tailors and seamstresses online. Image Source/Getty Images

If you're buying a new pair of jeans that will need some altering, ask where you shop. Some stores, such as Nordstrom, offer free or discounted hemming. (Shops may charge more, though, for original hems, so be sure and ask for detailed information about the service and cost being provided). You can also ask friends for recommendations, ask about alteration services at your dry cleaning shop, or look up Tailors or Seamstresses on your favorite search engine or app that offers reviews.

Do try and determine if a tailor has experience in altering denim fabric in particular, as tailoring denim can involve special stitching techniques and sewing equipment. You'll want to have a good sense that the service provides is aware of current denim styling, too, so you get a fashionable end result that you'll feel good about wearing.