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Tailors and Dressmakers (From CHECKBOOK, Fall 2011/Winter 2012)
Go to Ratings of 52 Bay Area Tailors and Dressmakers


What a bargain! The cashmere jacket you’ve always wanted, at a fraction of the usual price. Too bad it’s not a perfect fit. Not to worry. Fitting clothes from stores that don’t offer alteration services or charge high fees for them is just one way good tailors can help you look your best and save money. A tailor can also alter clothes when styles change or you lose or gain weight; repair torn or worn garments; and customize garments that you can’t find on the rack. Some will also help with other sewing jobs, like making curtains or pillow covers. 

When choosing a tailor or dressmaker, it’s a good idea to ask to see examples of completed work. Unfortunately, most shops have few samples on hand, and examining samples on hangers tells you nothing about how well they fit their owners. You can ask for names of past customers, but such a request might be considered unusual—and the shop owner will hardly refer you to customers who were dissatisfied. 

We’ve simplified the checking-out process for you by surveying area CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers for their ratings of local tailors and dressmakers. Our Ratings Tables list shops for which we received 10 or more survey responses. We asked customers to rate the shops “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior” on several aspects of service, including “doing service properly” and “starting and completing service promptly.” In general, the shops on our Ratings Tables received rather high ratings compared to other types of companies we evaluate. (For more information on our customer survey and other research methods, click here.)

Keep in mind that while all the shops on our Ratings Tables do alterations, many don’t actually make suits or dresses. And at some area shops (especially those connected with drycleaners), tailors are on-site only part-time or just stop by to pick up and drop off garments. 

Of course, you’ll also want to consider prices. To compare shops’ prices, our shoppers called each of the shops that were evaluated in our last full, published article and, without revealing their affiliation with CHECKBOOK, attempted to obtain prices for eight tailoring jobs. We used those prices to calculate each shop’s price index score, reported on our Ratings Tables. Our price index scores are intended to show how a shop’s prices compared to the average prices at all surveyed shops for the same mix of items. The price index scores are calculated so that a price index of $100 is about average; a score of $110 means prices about 10 percent above average; a score of $90 about 10 percent below average. 

Price is not very important for small jobs. But for larger jobs—alterations of multiple garments or a major sewing job on a single garment—it pays to compare prices and to travel a few extra miles for a lower price. 

Table 1 shows the low, average, and high prices at the shops listed on our Ratings Tables for the eight jobs we priced. As you can see, we found a $140 difference between the lowest quote and the highest quote for the highest cost job, fully lining a men’s overcoat. 

Table 1—Illustrative Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Shops for Tailoring Work
Illustrative Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Shops for Tailoring Work1
DescriptionLow priceAverage priceHigh price
Hem women’s pants (no cuffs)$5.00$12.22$20.00
Take in waist of women’s pants$7.00$18.99$30.00
Take up sleeves of men’s blazer$12.00$29.24$45.00
Hem and cuff men’s slacks$6.00$16.12$25.00
Take in torso/side seams of men’s suit jacket$10.00$34.69$45.00
Fully reline men’s overcoat with satin$60.00$112.09$200.00
Replace zipper on women’s skirt$10.00$20.89$35.00
Let down and re-hem women’s dress with a full skirt$8.00$23.31$35.00
1For each job, shops were given additional, detailed specifications.

Keep in mind that it might be most cost-effective to have clothes altered at the store where you buy them. Almost all department stores offer tailoring services, as do a number of clothing stores that sell dress clothes. For the most part, alteration services are free if you pay full price for the garment; if you buy the garment on sale or at a discount store, alteration fees are likely to apply. But these fees, we have found, are usually comparable to the average prices at stand-alone tailoring shops. 

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