From Flat Lay To Reality

Susan B. of une femme d'un certain age wears an IRO fringe jacket, leopard print tee and jeans.

Although I’ve never had any formal training in style, tailoring, or fashion, I can look at an outfit and know whether it works for me or not. But I can’t always immediately tell you why.

Earrings | Jacket | Tee | Necklace | Bracelet |
Bag (similar) | Jeans | Shoes (c/o)

Plus options: Jacket | Tee | Jeans

The “Good On Paper” Outfit

When I get stuck, or am trying to create new combinations with existing wardrobe items, I often find it helpful to create an outfit “flat lay” on the bed to see how details and textures work together. A couple of weeks ago, I came up with this combo, and liked it so much I posted on Instagram:

Outfit flat lay: leopard tee, fringe tweed jacket, French Kande necklace, black flats. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Small Tweaks, Big Difference

But when I tried it on, something just wasn’t working. The first place I always go when this happens is “I need to lose weight.” That’s the old programming, and it’s hard to turn off. My body is harder to dress well than some, it’s true, but it wasn’t a matter of fit, just proportions. (Wish I’d taken some “before” pictures, but I was initially so discouraged I thought I’d probably scrap this combo and start over. You can see the original length of the tee here.)

Eventually I realized that because the jacket and leopard print tee were both the same length, it created blocky, heavy look. I tried tucking the tee in, but didn’t like that either. So I tried one more thing: I had the tee hemmed by about 1½ inches. Bingo! The shorter length works better with everything. The tailor was able to maintain that nice curved hem, too.

Details: Susan B. wears a black fringed jacket, leopard tee, French Kande jewelry and a rattan bag. Info at une femme d'un certain age.

The second thing that wasn’t working was the style of jeans. The pair that I thought looked so cool with the jacket in the flat lay was cropped and wider. That cut needed a bulkier shoe for balance. But I really wanted to keep the shoes as part of the outfit. So I switched out the jeans for a slimmer, longer pair. Much better!

Detail: Susan B wears Viajiyu bespoke Como flats. Info at une femme d'un certain age.

Do you regularly have your clothing altered (or do it yourself)? What tweaks do you find make the most difference?

Stay in touch.

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62 Comments

  1. karen
    June 10, 2019 / 3:06 am

    i honestly never thought to have a Tee Shirt shorten…interesting….i’ve had straps on tanks taken up, but not really sure that the cost was worth it.

  2. No Fear of Fashion
    June 10, 2019 / 4:14 am

    I do it all the time: altering things. Well, my seamstress doesn’t for me. Often “taking hips out of trousers” as I don’t have curves there. But also other things like jackets taken in and sleeves up. It was very clever of you to see the 1 1/2 inches!! Very clever indeed.
    Greetje

  3. Judy
    June 10, 2019 / 4:19 am

    I’m perpetually shortening my pants. I wear a 30” inseam, and most pants are 29” (petites) or 31” (misses), so I always fall right in between! I have also been known to alter a “longer in the back” top, to even up the hemline, if it’s an item I feel is worth the trouble.

    • June 10, 2019 / 3:28 pm

      If I am really fussy about the cut (work in public, as opposed to home office) I’ve had petite jeans hems shortened by about an inch. I’m about the same height (or lack of…) as Sue, but the opposite: “normal” torso and short legs. But this also attacts me to skirts if there are any that suit me – NOT pencil skirts.

  4. Renee Filer
    June 10, 2019 / 4:32 am

    I’ve learned that “flat lay” can be a “flat lie” for me… I make sure sure to try everything on BEFORE my trip to be sure the lengths all work etc. I have also just started to take phone pics of different combos w/in a trip wardrobe that would work for different situations. I’ve had jeans & jacket sleeves tailored but not a t… will definitely consider it!

  5. June 10, 2019 / 4:54 am

    I am 5 ft. 5 inches so all my pants have to be shortened by 2 inches! I sometimes buy crop pants and then those don’t have to shortened. I also buy a larger size and have them taken in since I can be in between sizes for slacks.

  6. Kelly
    June 10, 2019 / 5:03 am

    I’m not a seamstress and I usually don’t want to pay for alterations but I am great with a scissors! Can’t tell you how many jeans I have cropped and fringed with the new raw hem look…skinny, straight leg, bootcut with my handy scissors. There are brief videos online that show you how to fringe the edges. One pair I cut off was a pair of high waisted Mom jeans with wider legs I found in a drawer (long forgotten). Now they are my most stylish wide leg, high rise cropped jeans!

    • Anon
      June 10, 2019 / 6:38 am

      I need to shorten the straps on a tank top and move the waistband for the drawstring on my utility jacket up to my natural waist, about 1 inch higher than it is currently.

    • Linda
      June 10, 2019 / 12:20 pm

      Any links on hoe to do this that you can recommend?

  7. Kellie
    June 10, 2019 / 5:10 am

    Susan, you always look great! If an outfit isn’t working for me, it’s usually about proportion. And yes, I tweak the fit of my clothing quite frequently. I can do simple alterations myself, but am also on a first name basis with a good seamstress. I find alterations and small tweaks are worth the expense. When pieces fit properly, you feel better in them, wear them more frequently, and that reduces cost per wear. Sometimes a simple alteration can take something from frumpy to fabulous!

  8. Denise Cummins
    June 10, 2019 / 5:26 am

    Altering is the way to go for my short torso! Hemming shirts, nipping at the waist, narrowing flare on skirts and pants all make a huge difference in balance and proportion for me. A good tailor/seamstress is invaluable!

  9. Leslie
    June 10, 2019 / 5:32 am

    I’m the Queen of Tweak. I keep pins in a dish in my closet to try a tweak all the time. Like many of you above, I have to shorten pants. If there are pockets, I sew them down. There is nothing like gaping side pockets in pants to make you look more hippy than you actually are. Sew ’em shut and the look is much smoother.

  10. Colleen
    June 10, 2019 / 5:37 am

    I constantly have the problem of shirts being too long and I’m 5’7″, size 12, 36D with broad shoulders. Why oh why are shirts made so long now? I do the front tuck often but honestly, don’t love the look. I never thought of spending the money to have a tee shirt altered but it would make more sense to have fewer tees I love because of the length than so many I don’t. Great post. Thank you!

    • Rondi
      June 10, 2019 / 7:28 am

      I too find that most shirts are too long and I’m 5’3″! It’s especially problematic with tees. If a tee is too long it tends to hug the wrong places. Petites are not always the answer because my arms are relatively long for my height. And I, also, am not crazy about the front tuck. It just looks like your shirt is too long! LOL

      • Cynthia
        June 10, 2019 / 11:54 am

        Both of you are better off than I, I believe. I am one of those people with a long torso, and therefore, proportionately short limbs. I frequently have to have pants shortened (or I roll them up if possible, or tuck skinnies into boots, or sometimes cropped are just the right length). The same thing with sleeves, although the proportions of my arms seem to work out better with sleeve length and I just push them up. Finding shirts that are an extra 3 inches long, or more, if I want more than normal hip length is a chore. Hard to fit doesn’t even cover it. It’s also sad, because I’m a fan of Ralph Lauren and his shirts are notorious for being too short on me, even before they shrink lengthwise in the wash (and you can’t dry them, ever.)

  11. Pamela
    June 10, 2019 / 5:45 am

    I’m able to do alterations like shortening hems (rare) or letting them out (more likely, but man! The SKIMPY hems in clothes these days!), and hemming t-shirts.

  12. Jill
    June 10, 2019 / 5:57 am

    Great thought…..I am 5’8”, 132 pounds…..busty, and certain outfits make me look heavier, and I’m not really heavy, with a low BMI reading. LOL. However, you hit the nail on the head by shortening that T. Balance is what I seek when in the dressing room or at home putting outfits together, as you have with the Leopard T and jacket. When things flow, you get that long lean line and not cut in half look. As always, enjoy your posts. Have a lovely day.

  13. June 10, 2019 / 5:58 am

    All the time! Wherever I live I always find a good tailor right away. Since I buy a lot of secondhand clothes I’m usually tweaking them.
    When I was a teen I’d have things made from scratch. It was actually cheaper than buying clothes at a shop because there was no such thing as fast fashion back then. Besides I started working full time age 16 so I had income. It also meant I had a very unique wardrobe albeit a small one.

  14. Ainsivalavie
    June 10, 2019 / 6:01 am

    Flat lay is a great idea to see what works with what in the closet but as the comment above pointed out can be a ‘flat lie’ once we try it on. Certainly altering can change the look for the better but I think taking the time to try items on and making sure the garment fits from the get go is the best advice. Many stores offer free or inexpensive alterations ( my outer wear garments are often altered at purchase) I find it funny that most men’s stores offer alterations to their customers automatically but in women’s stores one has to ask….:( sleeve length is my issue and pant length so I buy petites and seek out manufacturers who offer correct length for me. True though that a good fit can take a garment from frumpy to oh là là!!

    • June 10, 2019 / 3:36 pm

      The Canadian (originally Québec City) firm Simons always offers alterations at a reasonable rate and sometimes free of charge. I know someone who is about 4’10” – extremely short, I feel “tall” near her, and she gets them free there.

  15. Victoria D.
    June 10, 2019 / 6:26 am

    I’m definitely on “team tailor” since I find that the cut and fit of an item is one of the most important factors in whether it is flattering or not. For the relatively small cost of the alteration you can take a garment from being okay to being perfect. Most of my alterations are relatively simple and involve shortening or “streamlining” pants, but I do have a terrific seamstress who has remade a beautiful silk jacket from the 90’s so that it looked fresh and new, magically lengthened items that seemed to be impossible to add to (one via adding a rim of black leather that matched existing trim on the upper portion of the dress) and much more. She’s a treasure, and I’m grateful.

  16. Linda
    June 10, 2019 / 6:36 am

    Gosh even petite tee shirts are too long on me and have had several shortened. Wish I could sew to alter my own. Alterations are expensive.

  17. Sally
    June 10, 2019 / 6:54 am

    Hey this was really helpful Sue! I’m short waisted and find that many tops (especially Tees) are too narrow and too long for my aging figure (I’m 72 1/2). I look for looser fits but really love Tees — the idea of tailoring them never even occurred to me! You have a very discerning eye and I think it would never occur to me to switch out the jeans either. Well done!

  18. Karen
    June 10, 2019 / 7:29 am

    I frequently shorten tops. They look sloppy to me if they are too long. I really like the second pair of jeans that you put into your outfit. With the fringe on the jacket fringe on the pants seemed to be too much. Love the top!!

  19. June 10, 2019 / 7:38 am

    The fringe of the jacket with that tee is perfection – shortening it was a great idea. I think once you go beyond basic style it is all about these small details, the perfect proportions, the leopard balanced by fringe, referred to by the basket color, contrast from the point of the shoe, etc.

  20. Lyn
    June 10, 2019 / 8:01 am

    I am surprised so few of our age group know how to do their own alterations. Didn’t we all take Home Ec? Sewing machines are cheap, and some alterations, like hemming pants, take minimal skill. (In fact, some can be done by hand with just a needle and thread — just like haute couture.) I am surprised by the number of people who can’t even use a seam ripper to remove a scratchy neck tag. The main requirement is patience, which seems to be in short supply these days.

    • Susan B
      June 10, 2019 / 8:06 am

      Hi Lyn, your comment seems a bit judgmental. Not everyone prioritizes their time the same way. I used to sew quite a bit when I was younger, but have no space in the house to keep a machine set up. And in this case, a curved hem on a knit fabric would have been beyond my skill comfort level.

      • Lyn
        June 10, 2019 / 10:16 am

        I supposed it is a bit judgmental – my children accuse me of that all the time! Nevertheless, you have a lot more options when you can do things yourself. I guess it comes down to how you prioritize your time vs money. (And how much of a control freak you are. One of my additional faults!)

        • June 14, 2019 / 9:55 am

          Lyn, although I took home ec in high school, I had to have the instructor finish my dress. We even had to model them, LOL! I just don’t have the talent or inclination to do my own alterations. I have to shorten tops quite a bit since I am short waisted. I just figure the cost into the item to decide if it’s worth it. We all have our own priorities.

      • June 10, 2019 / 3:41 pm

        I mend a lot, re-dye things and make other corrections. My mother shortened polo tops and t-shirts even at an advanced age (living in a retirement community). She also tailored suits (she was a teacher) and even reupholstered furniture. But I didn’t keep up machine alterations. I had other “art” priorities. Now I regret that a bit.

    • RoseAG
      June 10, 2019 / 4:47 pm

      I took sewing in Junior High and I earned a badge in Scouts, it was something that girls in my community were taught. The summer after I got out of college I made 3-4 different outfits for my winter work wardrobe, but once I got to working full-time I didn’t have time or the space to do that. After my children were born I got a new sewing machine and made some quilts and curtains. It’s handy to have for home projects.
      Although I wasn’t real successful with my sewing projects I can do small alterations and it’s very helpful.
      I’m no less a woman because i can sew a little bit, and in many regards I feel it empowers me.

  21. Ann
    June 10, 2019 / 8:10 am

    Great idea Susan. Don’t forget that for a simple alteration, where you know exactly what you want, your local dry cleaner can likely do it faster, and cheaper than your talented tailor. I too wish you had posted before and after photos. Maybe the start of a series? Drilling down to what makes an outfit work is my challenge. I can see it is not right, but struggle to identify the problem area.
    Thanks Susan!

  22. Tracie
    June 10, 2019 / 8:32 am

    I will alter for fit because no matter your shape fit is the most important in making an outfit look good!

    I love this look and am totally going to copy using pieces from my closet!

  23. Kathleen O'Brien
    June 10, 2019 / 8:42 am

    I’m lucky that I’m a sewist and do it for a “living” (I’m a costume designer). I do quite a few of my own alterations, but also use the talents of my dry cleaners alterations person when I don’t have the time. I think it’s smart to take the time to do alterations, because it takes your outfits to the next level. I’m also able to make something I’m thinking about or have seen.
    The alteration that helps me the most is usually lenght. Proportions, like you showed us, are the make or break of an outfit. And just that few inches can make all the difference between frumpy and fabulous.
    I love reading your blog – always learning something new. Thanks Susan.

    • Téa
      June 12, 2019 / 6:10 am

      Kathleen – I am a volunteer “costume mom” for my local HS theatre troop. Do you have a website, or any sewing blogs you can recommend? I love to learn!

  24. June 10, 2019 / 8:45 am

    Yes, I tend to keep my clothes for many years so often have them altered into new silhiuette.

  25. Betty Goldberg
    June 10, 2019 / 10:12 am

    All my pants have to be shortened since I am only 5 ft 1/2 inches.
    I am a petite with wide hips and busty, so fitting is a real problem.
    I have a wonderful seamstress that does the alterations.
    I really enjoy all of your posts.

  26. Peggy
    June 10, 2019 / 10:33 am

    I don’t understand why people don’t want to use a tailor. I have friends who won’t buy anything that needs to be tailored because it adds to the cost. If it’s a GREAT piece, a classic and better yet, if it’s on sale, you’ll get a lot of wear out of it and it will be totally worth it. A good tailor is worth their weight in gold. I inherited two leather jackets and had the sleeves let out (she was 4’11”) It wasn’t cheap, but totally worth it for two classic leather jackets. The sleeves were also let out on her mink shortie. Love, love, love a tailor!

  27. Candy
    June 10, 2019 / 11:13 am

    Susan, tailoring a favorite tee is a great idea! My daughter and I frequently get jeans and dresses altered so they fit better. Even a relatively cheap find can be transformed by some basic tailoring to make it fit right, but i hadn’t thought about doing it for tees too. Thanks!

  28. Ivm
    June 10, 2019 / 12:30 pm

    Just wondering, does the jacket close?

    • Susan B
      June 10, 2019 / 1:02 pm

      No, it’s an open-front style.

      • Ivmfox
        June 10, 2019 / 4:32 pm

        Thanks, I am never sure, must jackets always close? I have 2 jackets, both silk which do not close. Weight gained, , they may have never closed. . Thanks, your reply helpful.

        • Susan B
          June 10, 2019 / 4:42 pm

          Some jackets are meant to be worn open. I think if the jacket fits well through the shoulders, it will often look fine worn open.

  29. Daniella
    June 10, 2019 / 12:33 pm

    Not only do I have items tailored all the time but I also wash most silks, linens, etc.. by hand and hang outside to dry, then press them while sitting on a chair! Great relaxing time for me as I am always in constant motion. (Years spent working the ER!) And yes, I even iron the tea shirts, no matter how inexpensive they are, as they look like a $$$$$$ once done.
    Sorry, but your current outfit, the fringe jacket especially, does not resonate with me. Perhaps it would look better with slacks rather than jeans. Perhaps a stylish white jean would do it some justice.

  30. Cindy
    June 10, 2019 / 12:46 pm

    I have noticed the same thing! Of course, to figure it out i usually have to switch each piece of the outfit a couple of times…..
    And, sometimes it’s the bra.

  31. Cher
    June 10, 2019 / 2:53 pm

    so glad you changed to the longer jeans. I’ve said on here before….longer elongates. Great outfit. Glad you didn’t scrap it.

  32. June 10, 2019 / 4:27 pm

    Your post about shortening a tee resonates – I have one in for tailoring for the exact same thing right now. New last year, never wore it, tried it on. Again this spring and determined it would look much better with about 2 inches off the bottom. I can’t wait to wear my new-from-last summer tee when I get it back! Tees look best open me when they land at high hip.

  33. Cathy
    June 10, 2019 / 5:49 pm

    I’ve had pants and jeans hemmed at my dry cleaners many times but never a top. And I wouldn’t have thought of it either! Thanks. The one thing I do regularly is remove the belt loops from jeans. I haven’t tucked tops in for many years now and sometimes those dang loops look bulky right where I don’t need it.

  34. Carol
    June 10, 2019 / 8:12 pm

    Proper fit takes precedence over style and color. Last year, I lost over 20 pounds and I had some things altered but I ended up donating much of my wardrobe. My local dry cleaners did a few alterations but it was expensive. I later discovered that Nordstrom also does alterations, even if the item is not purchased from one of their stores. The only stipulation that Nordstrom imposes is that the item be brand new or freshly laundered, and that’s perfectly reasonable. I actually found Nordstrom’s price point and workmanship to be better than the dry cleaner.

  35. Sjaron Martinuzzi
    June 11, 2019 / 1:23 am

    I have been enjoying your site for a couple of years now. My background has always been fashion, had my own label in the 80’s and 90’s , opened a shop with my own designs in the 80’s and then made clothes to order for some years. Now I am just doing alterations and am so busy. So thrilled with what you’re saying here, it is so true. I do buy most of my clothes now, but I alter (tweek) almost everything I buy. And T-shirt’s in particular nearly always need shortening! Did love your last blog on the half sleeve t shirts, I love them and they are so hard to find, but buy long and have them shortened! Now I am doing sewing classes as it is so important to be able to alter your clothes yourself. It is expensive if you have to pay, but not that hard to learn the basics and it makes such a difference. Regards Sharon (‘Madam Stitch’)

  36. Cinzia
    June 11, 2019 / 8:25 am

    About a decade (or more!) ago I started watching “What Not to Wear” — they frequently emphasized the need to have things tailored and illustrated amply what a difference it could make. Ever since then I admit to being a tailoring addict. I can barely sew on a button myself, but I have a wonderful tailor who has hemmed numerous tee shirts and blouses (I am short-waisted although not short). Other areas I have found frequently need tailoring for me are the thighs of pants (often wider than I’d like due to my thick waist) and the straps of tanks or camisoles. Once I even had a quilted “hunting jacket” remade because although I loved the look, the fit was terrible and I couldn’t find anything similar off the rack.

  37. Helen
    June 11, 2019 / 2:40 pm

    Hi Susan

    Would very much value your opinion on light wash jeans for us more mature ladies ( classy but with an edge! ) please.

    Adore your blog!

    Many thanks

    Helen

    • Susan B
      June 11, 2019 / 2:45 pm

      Hi Helen, thanks! I’m actually wearing a pair right now. 😉 I think they’re a nice way to lighten up a casual outfit. If you like them, wear them!

      • Helen
        June 11, 2019 / 3:37 pm

        Appreciate this very much!

  38. Jill Ann
    June 11, 2019 / 4:07 pm

    Interesting topic, but the question still remains, for me: how can I tell WHY the outfit doesn’t fit properly. For me, it’s not as obvious as pants-too-long or short. I’m 5’ 7”, so I never really have to shorten anything. A 32” inseam works pretty well for me, and that is, or used to be, standard pant length. My problem with pants is in the torso. I think I’m long from the waist to the crotch, whatever that’s called. Don’t think there’s an easy alteration for that.

    I can alter hems and do other very simple alterations, but rarely have anything altered by a tailor. Mostly because I don’t have a wonderful tailor/seamstress, like some of you! I need someone who can look at the garment on me and tell me exactly what the problem is. I can tell if it doesn’t fit quite right, but can’t always tell why.

  39. Téa
    June 12, 2019 / 6:23 am

    Love this discussion! I’m an amateur, but can do simple alterations, but leave the bigger projects to the fine tailors at Nordstroms! I use my 4th tier status for their services (mostly free or discounted). I would say for those not “choosing” to use a tailor that “stitch witchery” can be used for hems (heat activated bonding tape) and I use clear elastic (maybe it’s for lingerie or bathing suits?) sewn into the side seam makes a t shirt “ruched” at the base…Allison Freer’s book “How to Get Dressed” is a great resource on quick fixes and jobs for your tailor.

    Susan, if you have the time, maybe a post on “proportion” and how to identify it for ourselves?

    Merci!

  40. Trace
    June 14, 2019 / 12:05 pm

    Thanks for posting a helpful, fun column as usual. I like your taste. You always look attractive in a refined way, not flashy.
    Two quick thoughts — first, issues with fit and the cut of clothes are why having a small capsule wardrobe is impossible for me. (For example, as you point out, the cut of jeans or length of tees makes a difference.)
    Still, I try to buy pieces that go with a number of items. And I find your capsule suggestions helpful.
    The other thing is, I was thinking of having a tee shortened to go with an asymmetrical skirt I bought. I usually do looser top layers over narrower bottoms, so I don’t have many short tops. I was thinking that wd be kind of self-indulgent, but your post today gives me “permission” to go ahead and do it.

    Thanks!

  41. Beth E
    June 16, 2019 / 8:52 am

    Enjoyed the post abut laying out the clothes. I have been buying with, its cute, it fits, I’ll take it. Then I had plenty of clothes and nothing to wear. I have moved toward a capsule wardrobe and am having much more success. But I am not creative in putting combinations of clothing together. But I found this app called STYLEBOOK which has been a game changer for me.

    It suggests combinations that work! (some combinations are ridiculous but I ignore those). Anyway, you put in your clothing and details and it is really helpful. I do not take pictures of my clothes but google images for example of a white blouse and know that represents my white blouse.

    Not meaning to make this sound like a commercial, but I figure others might need help like me! 🙂

  42. citizen spot
    June 18, 2019 / 10:07 pm

    I have a question for the folks who comment here as well as the host. How do you find a good tailor? I have a pair of beloved pants that were discontinued by the vendor, and I would like to find someone who can make a similar pair. How do I vet a tailor for quality when they do not have an online presence with customer reviews? Should I start with a simple alteration of some other clothing to see the quality of their work first? Any advice would be welcome.

    • Téa
      June 19, 2019 / 4:58 am

      For Citizen Spot: 1. Ask at your local tailor if they could re-make the pants 2. Ask the tailors at Nordstrom’s if they know anyone who re-makes beloved garments 3. A theatre company in your area 4. A fine men’s clothing store in a larger city. 5.A fabric store that offers upper level classes 6. A community college. It will cost you, but that’s another story. 7. ETSY!!

      • citizen spot
        June 19, 2019 / 10:10 am

        Those are great suggestions. Thanks!

  43. Sharon Martinuzzi
    June 19, 2019 / 12:11 am

    In reply to Citizen Spot, I have a Facebook site for my alteration business though I am not very disciplined with technology, but I do get favourable comments posted from customers at times. I do rely more on word of mouth, that’s the best recommendation I think! Regards Sharon (‘Madam Stitch’)

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