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Professional takes readers behind seams

Every person’s body has a different shape. And the same size dress made by two separate companies may fit a woman in totally different ways.

That’s why alterations are so common, says Anna Chin, co-owner of Anna’s Alterations in Charlotte, N.C.

Even in this tough economy, people continue to fill her three locations with jeans, bridesmaids gowns and just about anything else that needs a little work to get the right fit.

We asked Chin to share her expert advice on getting clothes altered. She’s been doing it for more than 20 years, and here’s what she told us.

The easiest fixes

The simplest and most common alterations are hemming, shortening sleeves and taking garments in at the waist.

Making shoulder seams narrower is also usually a quick fix.

You can always make pants shorter, but lengthening is tricky. “Sometimes, depending on the fabric, you can let out a hem,” Chin says, “especially if it’s wool.”

Usually you won’t see a telltale line when letting out the hem on wool pants. Lines are more pronounced on a fabric such as khaki.

Almost anything can be altered if the lines are simple enough.

Hemming pants — the most common alteration — usually costs between $7 and $9.

The most challenging changes

A body type with a small waist and much larger hips poses some of the greatest challenges.

“Your hips might be a size 10 but your top could be a size 4,” Chin said. “We get that all the time.”

Altering a bridesmaids dress, for example, for a woman with that body type is more involved.

Prices vary depending on how the garment is constructed. The cost of altering a bridesmaids dress can range from $80 to $160.

Delicate fabrics such as chiffon and garments with fine netting or mesh are difficult to work with.

“They can get picked or damaged easily,” Chin says.

Sweaters don’t always look right when altered, Chin says. They don’t have a hem, so you can’t shorten the body or sleeves without turning the fabric under and creating a somewhat bulky finish.

Some high-end knits are difficult to alter successfully. And detailed stitching or cording on some designer clothes doesn’t hold up well when you try to make changes. A regular sewing machine can’t duplicate the stitching.

For people who lose weight

Chin says cutting a garment down one or two sizes usually works well. Sometimes it’s possible to reduce the size further, depending on the construction of an item.

“If a garment is a size 12 and you want to make it into a size 2,” she says, “that’s a lot harder.”

When going for a fitting of any item to be altered, it’s best to wear the same shoes and undergarments you plan to wear with the outfit.

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