Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA
Read on for all the information you need on how to alter your trousers the right way.
So you’ve just bought a pair of new trousers. You love them, but they don’t fit as well as they should do. Now what? Well, the obvious answer would be to return them, but what happens if you’ve already fallen in love with the material? Perhaps they we’re the last available pair of Raf Simons wide-legs on the clearance rack and you just can’t bring yourself to bring them back to the shop.
It’s happened to every man at one point or another so we won’t be lecturing you about how you should have tried them on before leaving the store – that’s for your mother to do. Instead, lets have a look at how you can fix the problem.
Whether you choose to alter your trousers yourself, or if you want to find a tailor, this ultimate guide to trouser alterations will tell you everything you need to know.
How Trousers Should Fit
A pair of trousers should be three things – smart, stylish, but most importantly, comfortable. Any trousers you buy should be wider at the top than they are at the bottom, unless they are designed deliberately not to be.
As for where trousers should sit on your body, jeans and shorts are usually worn on the hips, whereas dress pants are designed to be worn just above. This is because the ‘fall’ of the jeans (the distance from the waist to the crotch) is longer on dress trousers than on casual jeans and shorts. This therefore means they need to be worn higher on the body.
In years gone past it was more a case of comfort over style – men would wear suits so often that it was positively encouraged to be baggy and relaxed. In the last ten years or so that has changed completely. Men are more conscious of their body shape than ever and want something that fits like a glove.
– Anton Jenkins, Sales Director of Douglas & Grahame
How to Tailor Trousers
Changing The Hem
Hemming is the process of folding and sewing the bottom of a pair of trousers, generally to make them shorter or as a garment finishing method, which stops the unravelling of fabric. Using a sewing machine makes hemming easier, but let’s be honest, you probably haven’t got one of those – so it’s a good job it can also be done by hand! If you fancy saving a tenner, and are a bit of a DIY kind of guy, give hemming a try.
- First off, put on the pair of trousers you want to alter and use a tape measure to decide how much of the length you want to get rid of. Bare in mind that trousers should be ½ an inch from the floor.
- Take off the trousers and lay them out on a flat surface. Use the tape measure to find your desired cut off length and place a series of straight pins in a row where you want the alteration to be. Then, add a second row of pins just above the first row.
- Remove the initial first row of pins and turn the trousers inside out. Then, fold the excess material up to the row of pins you left in the trousers. Be sure that the fold is sharp and even, and make sure you smooth out any wrinkles to give the hemming a professional finish. Use more pins to hold your new hem in place.
- Sew straight across this new folded hem either with a needle and thread or a sewing machine. Tie off the sewing and cut away any thread that you do not need.
- Turn your trousers the right way around and you should have a new hem. Run an iron over them to flatten out the fabric.
Changing The Length
Lengthening, as opposed to hemming, makes a pair of trousers longer instead of shorter by sewing in pieces of additional fabric. Try adding length to your trousers at home in our seven simple steps.
- Use a seam ripper to remove the hem out of the trousers you have selected to alter. Pull out all of the thread from the hem to expose the excess fabric. Then, grab a measuring tape and size up the width of the trouser leg.
- Pick any fabric (it won’t be seen on the outside of the trousers but we would suggest a neutral shade, just for peace of mind). Cut out four strips from your fabric of choice that are the same width as the leg. Make these strips around two inches high.
- Lay two pieces of your fabric face to face, and sew the ends together half an inch from the edge of the fabric. Do this for all four bits of cloth. In the end, you will be left with two loops which should fit comfortably into the bottom of each of your trouser legs. Turn each loop right side out so that the finished side of the fabric is facing outwards and the stitching is facing in.
- Turn your trousers inside out and sew the fabric loops into the bottom of your trouser legs (about a quarter of an inch away from the bottom) using a straight stitch. It is important to make sure the fabric is still facing the right side out.
- Use an iron to smooth over the fabric and then fold over the exposed cloth. This should leave a stretch of fabric around 1 inch wide extending from the bottom of your trouser leg. Repeat this on the other leg.
- Fold the exposed lining up over the bottom of the trouser leg and then fold the entire leg just high enough so that all of the lining, as well as a small portion of the bottom of trouser leg is showing. Then turn your trousers the right way around. You should not be able to see the lining.
- Sew a new hem all the way around, generally about half an inch to an inch from the bottom of the leg, but it depends what style you want. Iron the hem using a solution of three parts vinegar to one part water. This will help get rid of wrinkles around the fold where you have extended the trousers. Using steam when ironing will also help to flatten this out.
Taking in Dress Pants
Taking in the size of your trousers is probably the easiest alteration to make. This is perfect for if you’ve lost a bit of weight but still want to wear your favourite outfit.
- Put your trousers on inside out and measure how much fabric you need to remove from the waist and leg areas to make them fit snugly, but with a little bit of give. When you’ve figured this out, pin the fabric in a straight line.
- Step out of your trousers, being sure not to nudge any of the pins and carefully straight stitch, again by hand or with a sewing machine, down each of the sides where you have pinned.
- Cut the excess fabric off from the inside for a more comfortable finish. Iron to complete the look.
Top Tip for Suit Trouser Alterations
Dress trousers are more delicate than your everyday casual pair of pants, so it is often best to take them to a professional tailor for the finer alterations, especially if you are inexperienced and worried about ruining your trousers – they’re your favourites after all, that’s why you’re bothering to alter them!
When it comes to tailoring trousers, a good tailor can ‘recut’ your trousers for you if you so wish. This phrase means that if you’ve changed your mind about the style of your trousers but are still feeling the fabric, they can make you a brand new pair out of the cloth – for a modest fee.
How to Alter Shorts
The above alteration methods can of course be applied to your favourite pair of shorts too. Typically, the most common alteration made to men’s shorts is reducing the size of the waistband. This is because shorts are already, well, short, so the process of lengthening and making them shorter isn’t as much of an issue. Hemming could be required if you are not happy with the overall finish of your shorts and you want to neaten them up a bit.
Generally, shorts are thought to be easier to alter as there is less material overall and a lot of men find it simple to change their shorts themselves without having to go to the trouble and expense of visiting a tailor.
Tailored shorts are a big growth area. Some men are doing it themselves by rolling them up fold by fold to ensure a trimmer fit around the lower thigh.
– Anton Jenkins, Sales Director of Douglas & Grahame
How Much Will Alterations Cost?
Now lads, we know we like to think we can do everything ourselves, but some things are often best left to the professionals. If you are worried you aren’t artsy enough to alter your trousers or shorts alone, then it is important that you find yourself a good tailor. Reading reviews online or having a consultation beforehand can help you select a tailor you are comfortable leaving your clothes with.
On average trouser alterations in the UK can cost anything from £10-£40, with hemming being the cheapest of alterations and lining usually costing the most. However, if you do decide to follow our step-by-step do it yourself guides, then the price of thread and scissors, and pins and needles are next to nothing – result!
If it’s a pair of made to measure trousers that you’re after, the price is higher, usually between £200-£300.
Your Quick Guide to Trouser Alterations
- Most trousers, unless they’re wide legs, should be widest at the waist, and should be slimmer towards the ankles
- If your trousers wrinkle around the thigh area, then it’s a sure sign they are too tight and you might need to invest in a bigger size
- Dress trousers should never be wide on the lower half of your leg
- It is easy to get a trimmer fit on your thigh by rolling up the hem of a pair of shorts a couple of times
- If you find a good tailor, stick with him – just like a barbers, it can take time to find the right one
On That Note
Whether you’re going to a wedding, an interview or even a summer BBQ with your mates, we know you want to look and feel your best, and a decent tailored pair of trousers or shorts is a sure-fire way to do this. Alter your trousers and shorts using this essential style guide and you’re sure to look slick and suave wherever you go.