Altering Jacket Shoulders is Possible

I went against rule number one when considering tailoring modifications–altering your jacket shoulders. For a (recovering) vintage collector like me, the risk was completely worthwhile in order to try to salvage some of my most prized pieces. The results ended up surprising me, just like how they will probably surprise you as you continue in this article.

For a bit of backstory–as many of you know, I love vintage and thrifted clothing. I don’t have to tell you all the benefits, other than the fact that you can find a lot of sartorial details for an affordable price that you can’t normally find in off the rack clothing. If you pick the right pieces (and not just buy haphazardly), you’ll have a great garment that will only need some minor alterations. That’s how I’ve been able to possess an expansive wardrobe! But it does come with some caveats.

When I started buying clothes, I began with a collection of clothing from the 30s-40s because I liked many of the details: I appreciated the classic jacket length, the high rise of the trouser, the wide, blunt-shaped lapels, and the fabrics. What I didn’t like were most of the shoulders, whether it was the rakish pagoda aesthetic of the 1930s or the masculine squared blocks of the 1940’s. I felt like that detail was the source of the costume-like aesthetic, which definitely came into influencing my wardrobe as I moved forward in my sartorial journey. Eventually, I found myself collecting more clothes in the ivy aesthetic, which didn’t have the wide lapels but instead had a more natural shoulder. It’s still vintage, but it works better as day-to-day attire that isn’t too outmoded.  

Even though I started selling a few of my vintage garments or passing them onto my friends, there was a handful of pieces that I just couldn’t get rid of.  One in particular was my late 1940’s elephant grey gabardine suit. It had a bunch of bells and whistles that I liked: wide, low notch lapels; giant patch pockets; a close fit; a hollywood waist with dropped loops; and wide legs.  The only thing that was off was it’s adamantly wide and aggressive shoulder padding. I basically looked like a football player!

I decided to bring the suit jacket to my tailor to see what he could do since it didn’t make sense for me to part with a suit that I almost loved. Some of my friends have had some success in reducing shoulder padding in jackets and since I trust my tailor completely, I thought there was no harm in seeing what would end up happening after some major garment surgery. He took one look at the jacket and said that he would do his best.

The result wasn’t aneapolitan soft, but a miles better than it was before. He brought in the shoulders (as well as change the padding) since it would have fallen as it was an extended shoulder if he simply took out the padding. Now the jacket is more wearable, and the wide leg trousers act as the “bold” part of the suit.

But I wasn’t done yet; I wanted to see what more we could do!
After altering an unstructured Uniqlo jacket, I asked if he could alter a shoulder to be just like that, with no padding whatsoever, just completely soft. To my surprise (since he’s an old school tailor) he said yes! So I brought in one of the first vintage garments I ever owned: a 1940’s houndstooth tweed jacket that also has wide notch lapels and giant patch pockets. It didn’t have as heavy padding as the gabardine one, but it was still too square for contemporary style. My tailor worked his magic and the result was the slouchy shoulder that I had always wanted. Now nothing in my closet is safe from shoulder surgery.

At the time of writing, I’ve gone through my entire closet, picking which ones I wanted to alter and which ones I wanted to give up. In the end, I ended up altering quite a few 1940’s jackets to have unstructured shoulders, but I think it was worth it. I can finally wear them out without looking too costumey or only relegating them to wide leg pants for a cohesive silhouette.

Note the square shoulders in the “Before” picture.

If you’re used to custom clothing or quality ready to wear, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re like me and want to hold onto those vintage pieces, I think it’s definitely worth a try. I don’t think taking the shoulder padding out affects the vintage look all too much since there are always the lapel styles and quarter details that remain the same. It’s not a betrayal of vintage tailoring. In fact, I’ve kept a few pieces in their original condition, though they are suits and will be worn as a set.

If you try it, I wouldn’t expect the same results, but you might find some success. Good luck!

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Ethan Wong
Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.
Ethan Wong

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Ethan Wong

About Ethan Wong

Ethan Wong lives right in the middle: he’s too modern for the vintage scene and yet too vintage for classic menswear. When not at work, he spends his time writing and taking pictures for his blog, Street x Sprezza, which is all about bringing vintage style into the modern day. With a large collection of thrifted vintage and contemporary clothing, he often wonders when his closet will finally implode.

11 thoughts on “Altering Jacket Shoulders is Possible

  1. Sorry Ethan, (as a matter of personal preference) the “before”, at least to me, is unquestionably more appealing than the “after”, especially in the first photo. This is simply my opinion and I am not a rule maker. Also, frequently using your jacket pockets as a hand warmer can eventually result in pocket stretching or sloping, even if it is well constructed. This I know from experience.

  2. Personally, I don’t care for the wide shoulder look at all so this is a nice improvement. Great job by your tailor.

  3. Ethan, good for you for taking this on, I think it’s a great success. I know tailoring rates vary, but could you give us an idea of what a significant alteration like this costs?

  4. So timely of you with this article, THANKS! Timing is everything in life. I’m just about to take a jacket to my tailor for shoulder pad extraction, and see what happens. It’s not one I’m devoted to, just a nice silk/cashmere thrifted jacket that would improve with softer shoulders, so I’m willing to experiment a bit. We’ll see. Best, Bobby

  5. Can you use arrows to show what changed? I don’t see what the difference is in any of the photos because the you are posing differently.

  6. Nice. There is so much dogma out there about what one can and cannot do. What I like about your posts is that you go ahead and try stuff!

  7. Hi Ethan,
    Well done, I have been doing this for a while now, could not afford a tailor, so had a go myself, (an old coat as a trial) I unpick the inside shoulder seam remove all shoulder padding, by cutting along the stitch line, I remove all the padding.
    I unpicked all the stitching on the trial jacket but it was a disaster. It just fell apart !!
    On a couple I have taken the arm out and moved it closer to the body, you have to be brave but it works.
    regards Colin
    ps sorry I never thought to take pics

  8. In the year of 2022

    ”I’ve finally found a tailor who can restore the shoulders on my vintage jackets.”

  9. Regarding shoulder alterations: Sorry brother, but I really don’t see much of a difference between the before and after photos. I suppose that I’d consider specific shoulder alterations if I was doing a major re-cut to a suit, but then and only then.

  10. I feel your tailor did a good job. The challenge for a tailor is retaining the vintage look. The tailor has to reduce the shoulder width slightly, while taking in the front chest proportionally, without taking away the characteristic of the vintage style.

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