How to Shorten Suits

Alter your suit for a more flattering fit.
Alter your suit for a more flattering fit. (Image: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Fit is the most important part of a suit, and jacket sleeves and pants can be shortened for a better and more flattering fit. With a proper fitting traditional suit jacket, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of shirt sleeves should be visible at the wrist when worn with arms down at the sides. Suit pants traditionally come unhemmed and hem length is largely a matter of personal preference. Wear shoes when trying on pants and make sure the pants are sitting at the waist line before marking hem length.

Things You'll Need

  • Straight pins
  • Safety pins
  • Tailor's chalk
  • Seam ripper
  • Tape measure
  • Cotton cloth
  • Iron
  • Ironing board
  • Scissors
  • Pinking shears or liquid seam sealant
  • Needle
  • Thread

Try on the suit jacket or pants, depending on which garment you would like to shorten. Mark the desired length of the sleeve or pant leg with a straight pin or safety pin. It may be helpful to have another person mark the measurements, as it may be difficult to do yourself while wearing the garment.

Take off the pants or jacket and turn the garment inside out. Remove the original hem using a seam ripper. Snip stray threads using scissors. Do not cut stitches that are a part of the finished edge of the fabric.

Measure the length from the edge of the fabric to the pin that is marking the desired length, using a tape measure. Mark the sleeve or pant hem with tailor's chalk every inch around the fabric for an even hem. Remove pin.

Fold the fabric inward once at the chalk line to prepare to iron the hem at the fold. Place a cotton cloth on the suit before ironing, to protect fabric from water, stains or burns from the iron -- ironing using a cloth also prevents fabric from developing an undesired shine. Carefully iron fabric at the fold using a low heat setting for cotton and a high heat setting for wool. Repeat on the other sleeve or pant leg.

Note whether the length from the fabric's edge to the ironed hemline is longer than 1 1/2 inches. If so, the excess fabric should be cut. Using a measuring tape, measure 1 1/2 inches from the ironed hemline and mark the folded fabric with tailor's chalk. Repeat the measurement and mark at every inch around the sleeve or pant leg. To keep the fabric from fraying, use pinking shears to cut excess fabric at the chalk line. If using straight scissors, apply a liquid seam sealant at the raw edge of the fabric to prevent fraying, and allow to dry. Repeat on the other sleeve or pant leg.

Thread a needle with a single thread that is 18 inches long. Knot the thread 1/2 inch from its end. Keep the jacket or pants inside out. You'll be sewing the hems of the sleeves or pants by hand, using a blind stitch, which produces stitches that are only visible on one side of the garment.

Start the first stitch at a side seam of the sleeve or pant leg. Hold the threaded needle under the folded hem. Insert the needle 1/8 inch from the fabric's edge. Pull the needle and thread through the folded fabric. Insert the tip of the needle into the sleeve or pant leg 1/8 inch above the folded fabric's edge. With the tip of the needle, grab 1/16 to 1/8 inch of the sleeve or pant leg. Pull the thread back through the folded fabric, 1/8 inch from the fabric's edge.

Continue the blind stitches to complete the hem. The first hand-sewn stitch and the last hand-sewn stitch should meet at the side seam. When finished, double knot the thread, then cut excess thread.

Tips & Warnings

  • Take your time with each step for clean, even, well-fitting alterations.
  • Tailor's chalk comes out with heat or a damp cloth. It will not stain the garment.

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