comscore Altered states

Altered states

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    At Goodwill's Beretania Street store, Ester Rabusa tries on a top that's too long for her petite frame. We folded it up to show how it might look when hemmed to an appropriate length, which makes her legs look longer. A good fit reinforces the illusion of a more perfect body.

Those who have resolved to look their best in 2011 might be resigned to casting out their old clothes in favor of the new, but before you toss, get a second opinion from a tailor or alterations expert. Sometimes your perfect garment is just a nip and tuck away — and I do mean on your clothes, not your body’s imperfections.

A perfect appearance is largely an optical illusion, achieved by balancing proportions that help deliver the desired effect, whether it’s to look taller, slimmer, long-legged, flatter-chested if you’re busty or fuller-chested if you’re scrawny. Proportions can also work in the opposite direction, making you appear shorter, squarer and more frumpy than you really are.

Although it’s not shown on the TV program "What Not to Wear," show host Clinton Kelly said during an appearance at Macy’s Ala Moana a couple of years ago that one of the show’s secrets is that clothes selected by the makeover subjects are often altered to fit.

The problem with off-the-rack clothing is that "from a designer’s point of view, they want a generic size that will fit a lot of people," says alterations expert Joyce Torrey, of Seams Sew Fantastic. "It’s the opposite for the consumer. They have to figure out how to take this generic size and make it more compatible and comfortable."

She said typical alterations include changing lengths on hems and sleeves, to the more challenging tasks of changing necklines, narrowing collars and tailoring tank tops to flatter.

Her pet peeves are collars that are too wide, hems that are too long or too short, and oversize blouses and armholes that reveal a woman’s bra.

"I don’t want to be judgmental. We don’t know a person’s story just by looking at them, but what we see on other people should serve as a reminder of what we need to do," Torrey said. "It takes time and inclination to look your best, and those who try find it affects their attitude and outlook.

"If you’re at a party, you don’t want to be tugging at your clothes or thinking you’re not looking your best.

"A lot of times, people have something they know isn’t quite right, but they don’t want to throw it away. Sometimes they think their body is the problem instead of thinking something’s wrong with the garment."

She said one client thought her neck was crooked because the frog closure on a designer-made Mandarin-collar blouse wasn’t centered properly.

"When they see the difference, they are so pleased and excited."

Getting a garment altered takes extra time and money, unless you’re shopping at a store that offers free alterations with purchase minimums. Most people don’t feel pressed to make the time.

"When we buy something, we just want to wear it right away, so we live with it," Torrey said.

One of her clients, Luana Perry, said, "I settle for something that’s just OK all the time, thinking it’s good enough. I’m 5-foot-2, so I’m always wearing things that are too long, but since working with Joyce, I’ve found it’s nice to have something that’s the appropriate length."

Just thinking about getting a garment altered can change one’s shopping habits. For one thing, if you’re going to spend the money, you’ll probably choose more classic pieces that will fit with your wardrobe for a long time.

Torrey said she’ll consult with clients beforehand, and if she believes the longevity of a garment doesn’t align with the cost-effectiveness of alterations, she will say so.

She recommends getting dressed up to shop so that you look your best, which could affect your selections. You might also tote a pair of flats and heels to gauge how pant or skirt lengths work for you.

Also, she said, "Look for good bones," which she defines as great fabric, color, design and quality of sewing. "Ask yourself if this is a classic piece I can add to my wardrobe and wear over and over again, or is it a trend piece that will look dated quickly.

"I love cotton T-shirts, but I don’t buy them anymore because they pill. I’ve tried de-pilling but it doesn’t work, and they just look old and worn. If something’s going to look worn quickly or doesn’t look sharp, move on. We all make mistakes but we learn from them. People who don’t learn should find a good alterations person or tailor to give them advice."

To reach Joyce Torrey at Seams Sew Fantastic, call 737-7915 or e-mail


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