How to Turn a $500 Suit into a $2,000 Suit

Know what’s possible, and what to ask for.

j mueser
John Zientek

“You can use beautiful fabric and make a terrible suit, and you can use cheap fabrics and make an incredible suit,” said Jake Mueser, owner of J.Mueser Bespoke in New York’s historic Greenwich Village. Mueser presides over the realm of bespoke and made-to-measure suiting and shirts, but he also understands that the need for well-tailored suiting reaches far beyond his client list. For most men, that means altering a new ready-to-wear suit. But Meuser counters that the best value comes from altering older suits from Brioni or Anderson and Sheppard, for example. “I think you can take a suit that wasn’t made directly for you, might even be vintage, and create a suit that looks and feels like it was custom made,” he said. Here’s how.

Before You Start

Be Informed

Find a suit you like. Before you even begin your search for a tailor, Mueser recommends looking at suits featured magazines and finding silhouettes and fits you like that you can bring in for reference. “Tailoring is very visual, and bringing in examples like that helps give them a sense of what you’re looking for,” he said.

Know what’s possible. “There are things that are impossible,” Mueser said. “If something is too small for you, there are limitations in terms of fabric.” If you find yourself asking whether or not it can fit your body, “the answer might be no,” he added. On the other hand, there are almost no limitations with a suit that’s too big. “A really good tailor, on the absolute farthest spectrum of this, could take your suit apart, recut it, and reassemble it, which would be even more work than making a suit from scratch,” Mueser said. “This would be very expensive. But, they could do incredible things with the fit and rework it.”

Ask, “Is it worth it?” “If you want to do real reconstructive surgery on your suit, you have to be prepared to spend upwards of two-hundred dollars,” Muesuer said. “If you bought an H&M suit or a Topman suit, it might not be worth spending more than the value of the suit on tailoring. But if you found a Brioni suit at a secondhand shop that’s in good condition, spending $300 to make that look and feel like a $5,000 suit is totally worth it as far as I’m concerned.”

Find the right tailor. “If you have the option to find a tailor shop that does alterations and not dry cleaning, it says something about their business and business model,” Mueser said. “If they’ve built a business on only altering clothing, they’re probably better on it than a place that built their business on dry cleaning and then added in one tailor. Because, really, that tailor is there to sew buttons back on shirts and hem pants. Not to reconstruct a jacket.”


For the Jacket

The waist, the bicep, the sleeve length

Try to find a jacket that fits in the shoulders. “Shoulders are also the most expensive alteration,” Mueser said. “So if you find the jacket that you like the way the shoulders fit you, everything else is going to be easier from there on down.”

How’s the shape? Any good tailor should be able to add more contour to a suit jacket. “This is a simple alteration that any tailor should know how to do,” Mueser said. Just make sure they take it in from the sides. “A tailor that’s trying to rip you off might try to take it in from the center back,” he added. “And if they just pull it in from the center back and take it down, they’re going to make it fit you like a sausage. If you take it down on the side seams — which is twice as much work — you add more shape and more contour, and that’s ideally what you want in your silhouette.”

Look at the sleeves. “Generally speaking, most ready-to-wear garments should be built a little bit bigger, so you might want to have that tailored in a little bit,” Mueser said. “Next is sleeve length. You want to show about a quarter-to-a-half inch of cuff, so maybe the sleeve needs to be brought up a little bit or lengthened a little bit if it’s pulling up above your wrist. Also when you’re doing this, make sure that the shirt you’re wearing fits properly.”

For the Trousers

The waist, the seat, the break

Start with the obvious. Does the waist fit? Are they too tight, or falling off? “That’s an easy thing any tailor can do,” Mueser said. “To just pull it in at the waist.”

Make sure the seat fits. “Make sure that the seat — across the butt and back of the thigh — fits, that it’s not baggy or sloppy down there, and that it’s not breaking or collapsing in the back,” Mueser said. “Turn sideways, look at yourself in the mirror and make sure that it’s a nice clean silhouette. A suit shouldn’t fit like tight jeans, but it should be tailored with a crisp, clean line. Make sure it is tailored through the knee and down to the bottom.”

Look at the legs’ break line. Mueser asks his clients if they want to have a full break, a single break or no break? “That’s just something that you need to look at with your shoes,” he said. On that note, Mueser recommends his clients wear the shoes they plan to match with the suit during the fitting. “Don’t go in with gym sneakers,” he said. “Wear a dress shoe. If you go in with dress socks, a dress shoe and a suit you like the fit of, it’s going to make their job a lot easier.”

About the Expert

While attending New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Jake Mueser discovered a passion for tailored menswear. In 2009, Mueser opened Against Nature — a neo-Victorian boutique that also housed Mueser’s workshop — in Manhattan’s Lower East Side with jeweler Ryan Matthew and denim tailor Simon Jacob. In 2010, Mueser opened J.Mueser Bespoke in Greenwich Village, a shop focused on bespoke suiting, shirting and accessories. Learn more here.

Additional Illustrations by Silvana Volio de la Fuente

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