Unless you’re about to relay a mortgage payment for a pair of custom, bespoke jeans, finding the perfect-fitting pair can be, facetiously, the most fun one person can have during their one life to live. Statistically speaking, you’re likely one of the hundreds of millions of people suffering from poor-fitting jeans. But don’t worry, it’s not your body that’s the issue. You’re perfect just the way you are.
You can get jeans that fit you great off the rack. And with a little bit of tailoring, you can get them to fit you damn-near perfectly. Tailoring jeans, a hard-wearing garment meant for the masses, might sound excessive. But if you live in your jeans every day, even the smallest alterations can make a huge difference.
Altering your jeans isn’t the same as altering a pair of dress pants, though. It requires a bit more finesse and comes with more precautions for each operation. Here’s what you need to know.
Start with a pair of jeans that’s somewhat close to the fit you hope to achieve. Think of this process more like a haircut. You can always take more off, but you can’t really put any back on. So, make sure that the jeans are too big rather than too small.
Wash your jeans before heading to the tailor. Diehard never-wash denimheads might cringe, but washing and drying your jeans will get rid of shrinkage and help get you a more accurate fit when it comes time to visit your tailor.
Jeans that are too long will break up the style’s overall silhouette. The fabric can pool on top of your shoes and creating a bunched-up shape. Even worse, you’re more likely to step on jeans that are too long (and trip because of it).
Bring the shoes that you wear most often with your jeans to the tailor and wear them when the tailor is marking or pinning your jeans at the desired length. This will help you properly visualize the right length you’re after. While trying on the jeans with your tailor, don’t be afraid to ask them a few times to adjust the length before they finalize the measurement and err on the side of too long, just in case. That said, there are a few different ways to have your jeans hemmed.
- Lockstitch: This is the easiest, most common way a tailor will be able to hem your jeans. It’s a simple lockstitch that’s done with the most basic of sewing machines. This goes by different names including topstitched hem or simply “regular hem” — you should get this if you just want your jeans shorter, plain and simple.
- Chainstitch: If you’re a real denim head, a chainstitched hem is what you should get. Though jeans weren’t originally invented with this detail, they have been hemmed like this for long enough that it’s subtly part of a blue jean’s DNA. Not every tailor will be able to do this, so be sure to ask if they can do a chainstitch hem before agreeing. (Make sure you to specify a chainstich hem, not an original hem.)
- Original hem: An original hem is mostly used when jeans are already pre-faded. The tailor essentially cuts off the hem from the pre-faded jeans, shortens the leg to the appropriate length and reattaches the hem to the new length. This preserves the natural puckered fades of the jean which would otherwise be lost in a basic hem.
Tapering jeans is the second most common jean alteration. When your jeans aren’t slim enough for your liking, a tailor can alter your jeans to fit as slim as you like. There are some precautions to note.
Tapering your jeans can really only be done below the crotch. Though it’s technically possible because, well, anything is possible, having your jeans slimmed above the crotch is more effort than it’s worth.
For selvedge-loving denimheads, make sure your tailor can taper your jeans from the inseam. Most tapering jobs are done on the outseam which will effectively alter the width of the selvedge. If you cuff your jeans, hoping to show off your insider knowledge that is your selvedge, you’ll also be showing off the fact that you went to a bad tailor. Getting it done right does come at a higher cost as most jean inseams are constructed with either overlocked stitching or felled seams, thus making them more difficult and laborious to undo and alter. Expect to pay more for this once you find the right tailor who can do the job.
A great- (or decent-)fitting seat is often accompanied by a loose waist. You can find yourself constantly picking up your jeans throughout the day. If both the seat and waist fit too loosely, you’d likely be better off finding smaller pants. While a belt is a simple solution, having the waist taken in is a more elegant route.
It’s possible to have the waist taken in by a tailor, but this is more of a delicate procedure. Because jeans aren’t built with easily-altered seats and waists, there’s more room for error and even less room to let out. A good tailor will take in the waist at the back, directly in the center. This is a tricky operation since both the center seam and the belt loop sit at this point and it requires a surgical hand to undo and restitch them. If done correctly, the center back seam will look the same and the cut that the tailor has made at the waist band will be hidden by the belt loop. Be sure to ask if your tailor can take in the waist from the back and expect to pay around $50 depending on your tailor.
The seat is the trickiest alteration to have done. If you can avoid this, do so. If you’ve searched high and low for jeans without finding one with a decently-fitting seat, be prepared to do even more searching for the right tailor to do the job.
Levi's 501 Original Shrink-to-Fit
The quintessential Levi’s 501 comes in all manner of shades, washes and distressing, but you could do no wrong going the old-school way with the straight-up rigid shrink-to-fit version. It gets better with every wear and every wash, which is really what blue jeans all about.
Todd Snyder Straight-Fit Stretch Jean
The Stretch jeans feature zipper flies, suede back patches and oxidized rivets. They come in a range of indigo watches (from the dark Indigo Rinse to the light Beach Out) and both Slim and Straight silhouettes.