Reconstructive Tailoring

When someone asks for tailors in San Francisco, I give them three options: Classic Cleaners, Andreas Gorgas Tailoring, and Tailors Keep.  I can wholeheartedly recommend all three, but for very different jobs.

Down the street on Chestnut, Eileen and Eileen have a hole-in-the-wall shop that serves as a cleaner (which they sub-contract out, like many in the area) and are busy from 7am-7pm, Monday to Saturday, with everyone from Airpodded Marina Millennials to hunched over Italian locals dropping off clothes of every sort.  If you need a simple alteration like trouser or sleeve hems, you can hardly go cheaper in the city at $15.  Turnaround time is a week, but if you ask, they might be able to do it in a couple of days.

Andreas Gorgas and his son are an amiable duo in the 500 Sutter Building near Union Square.  Being a capable and convenient tailor shop so close to downtown means the default wait for items is ten days or more, but I happily use them for more difficult adjustments, such as the tapering of jacket sleeves and trouser legs.  They can take in the jacket from the side seams instead of the single seam down the center of the back, which generally produces cleaner lines when shaping it.  I’ve also had them shorten a few jackets for me, and they instinctively follow the existing curve of the front quarters instead of just chopping off a centimeter.  I’ve even asked them to take in overly wide shoulders and angle it inward toward the chest so that the back stays roomy – important if you’re a compulsive hugger.

For invasive surgery though, I head over to Tailors Keep.  

Tailors Keep in North Beach

Ryan Devens, whom I’ve known for almost five years now, is an unapologetic fit geek.  He was working at Taylor Stitch when they launched their suiting and helped fit customers for alterations.  Earlier in Tennessee he apprenticed with an alterations tailor, which gave Ryan a taste of the many adjustments necessary to achieve proper fit. Now his shop can be found across from the Transamerica Pyramid, where Colombus meets Montgomery.

“I have PDFs of old tailoring books in German, Spanish, Italian, and who knows what else,” Ryan laughs.  “I can’t read most of them, but fortunately they all have diagrams.  They show various postures that can pose problems, like a dropped shoulder or hunched back, and how to adjust for them.”  Studying these books alongside their in-house tailor Jonathan, Ryan knows exactly where to pin and tuck.  “Some of these are from books almost 100 years old,” he gushes.  “These guys were geniuses.”

From my very first pair of bespoke trousers, Ryan zeroed in on my body’s – let’s call them idiosyncrasies – to make them fall cleanly in the front and back. It took four fittings for that first pair, but since they’ve nailed the fit they’ve been able to make subsequent orders straight-to-finish with minimal adjustments, if any at all.  The results have been nothing short of spectacular, mostly because he’s a talented fitter and can effectively communicate with his equally talented tailor. 

Ripping Apart Ready-to-Wear

However, it’s one thing to make something from scratch, and another to conform a preexisting garment to your particular physique — and this is exactly where Tailors Keep excels more than any other place I’ve visited in San Francisco. Recently I picked up two Eidos suits, one from the Buy & Sell Forum here, and another from LuxeSwap.  Both are more or less my size, but I’ve got a few defects that prevent them from falling cleanly.  Needless to say, extensive modifications were in order.  Derek’s article will focus on how Ryan modifies the trousers, and this will concentrate on the jacket.

“That jacket was a doozy,” Ryan began, which should give an idea of just how wonky my body is.  “Beautiful in typical Eidos fashion, we had to address numerous fit issues.  Peter has a noticeable shoulder slope, but the right drops a bit more, causing the jacket to collapse on the right side.  To put it simply, a jacket’s shoulder line can be sloped by reducing the emptiness at the neck points and effectively adding the lost fullness back underneath the arms at the armhole. 

“This requires the sleeves to be removed, and since the armholes were open and exposed we were able to knock out a few more adjustments at the same time: the upper back was also rather full, so we were able to curve the fullness out toward the top of the shoulder.  Also, Peter’s right arm pitches forward more than the left, which can create divots and ripples near the upper arm by the shoulders, so this was a perfect time to baste the sleeves on and make sure the pitch was right before finishing the work.”

Balancing one thing can create imbalance elsewhere, as with many things in construction.  “That’s the tricky thing about alterations,” Ryan admits. “But after a while you start innately accounting for changes. I didn’t have to do this in your case, but when narrowing shoulders on a coat, the sleeves will naturally shorten up. So you’ll have to lengthen the sleeves from the bottom cuff to compensate.”

The Cost of Reconstruction

As with anything, extensive remodeling expenses can add up quick if you’ve got irregularities like I do. “Honestly, some makers make beautifully shaped clothing that fits like a dream. I see Rota trousers regularly that only need a hem. But most of the time, for the price of a high quality RTW piece, you could almost afford a custom version, especially when you add alterations.”

The finished product, over an imperfect body.

That doesn’t mean Ryan shies away from big projects. “Frankly, the overhaul-type alterations projects are the most fun,” he reckoned, “and probably the most satisfying. Those times when we’re totally ripping a suit apart and putting it back together in a completely different way. It’s particularly gratifying when a client had triumphantly lost a great deal of weight and wants his suit to fit him for the current size. Seeing the reaction of the suit’s transformation on him can really be a special moment for both the client and myself.”

Saying goodbye to your clothes before they go under the knife can be an anxious moment, but after I started using Ryan years ago, I’ve never looked back. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an incredibly affable guy, or that he nods whenever you propose crazy alterations. “It’s the best feeling whenever someone gives their whole trust to you to make an important garment for them, or fix one, and you exceed their expectations. Those reactions are what keep me doing what I do – and helping train others to offer the same level of quality.”

Be sure to check out Derek’s post at Put This On to continue reading about trouser alterations.

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Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.
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About Peter Zottolo

Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.

6 thoughts on “Reconstructive Tailoring

  1. Great stuff Pete! Ercole’s in Brooklyn is great forvthis on the East Coast as is Manor Tailors, a hidden gem on Staten Island. Both have bespoke heritage and come from generations of Southern Italian tailors. Manor from Basilicata and Ercole’s from Calabria.

  2. I used the alterations services at David Wood Clothier in Portland for two specific types of alterations and was extremely satisfied with results. Adding working surgical cuffs to favorite jackets, and removing pleats to convert favorite trousers to plain front.

  3. Thanks for the info. I live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and will certainly use the services offered in San Francisco.

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