Ensure All of Your Clothes Fit Perfectly

You know that one prized pair of pants that fits you just right? Well, stocking your wardrobe with similarly flattering items is not as tough as it may seem. While the perfect pants, dress and blazer may seem elusive, it’s just a matter of knowing what to look for in the dressing room. We talked to the experts and learned what to zero in on—and when to head to the tailor to let them work their magic.

Dress Pants/Trousers

“Generally, the rule of thumb is that you should be able to put two fingers inside the waistband to have a little wiggle room,” explains Christine O’Donnell, boutique manager at Madame Paulette, a custom alteration and couture cleaning company in New York City. Since most women aren’t the exact same size each day—”sometimes you’re bloated,” she says, for example—it’s important that your trousers won’t suddenly become too tight.

Also keep in mind:

  • If there’s puckering or wrinkling in the front panel, the pants are too tight. And if there’s billowing and fabric that doesn’t lie flat—often when you sit down—the pants are too big.
  • Don’t worry if the pockets look funny. “No matter how well-designed the pants are and how well they fit you, the pockets have a tendency to gap when you sit down and create a bulge,” says Ed Gribbin, president of Alvanon, a company that provides integrated fit and sizing solutions for the apparel industry. Instead of ditching the pants, have the pockets removed. Madame Paulette frequently does this alteration, as do dry cleaners across the country. It’s easy and you don’t even have to try on the pants for them to cut out the lining and quickly sew up the seam. The result? A smoother silhouette.
  • Length is easy to change. If you love a pair of dress pants but they are too long, have them hemmed. O’Donnell recommends asking for a hem that’s one inch off the floor if you want to show off your shoe a little, or a hem that’s a quarter-inch off the floor for floor-skimming styles, like wide-leg trousers.


“If you can’t comfortably steer your car or hug your man, your blazer is too tight,” says Carissa Brown, designer and manufacturer of Carissa Rose, a line of clothing for full-busted figures. Aside from obvious discomfort, look out for pulling across your shoulder blades which indicates a too-snug jacket. If you’re comfortable until you button it, it’s up to you whether or not to go for it. Many women like the look of an open blazer, and as Brown says, “unless you’re an attorney standing before a judge, you don’t have to button the jacket.”

Also keep in mind:

  • The shoulder seam should sit right on your shoulder. Too far over and the jacket will look—and feel—too large. “The problem with buying a blazer is that many fit models (the people companies use to size their abbigliamento da donna) have broad shoulders,” says Gribbin. “And if that part doesn’t fit, the whole balance of the piece will be off.” Because this is too tricky of an alteration, take the time to find a brand whose jackets fit your proportions—you’ll be much happier with the purchase.
  • Sleeve length is a personal preference. O’Donnell likes her jacket cuffs to lie one inch below the wrist and one inch above the knuckles, but often alters blazers for women who prefer much longer or shorter sleeves.


“The average woman tries on 15 pairs of jeans before she settles on one,” says Gribbin. “That’s how difficult it is to get a fit that makes you look great and is comfortable.” Why so tough? Because most companies use one fit model with a specific waist-to-hip ratio, “and if your body doesn’t match that particular shape, you’re not going to be happy.” It may take some trial and error to find a brand that matches your shape; Gribbin recommends checking out the Levi’s Curve ID line—the company analyzed 37,000 women to come up with three styles to fit a variety of shapes.

Also keep in mind:

  • Pick a pair of jeans that are fairly snug, says John Mahdessian, president of Madame Paulette. Most jeans on the market today contain Lycra or Spandex. “These fabrics are like a rubber band and over a period of time they lose their stretch.” Because heat from the dryer weakens the fabric’s elasticity, another option is to air-dry your jeans to preserve their shape.
  • “Ninety percent of the denim alterations we do are shortening,” says O’Donnell. It’s an easy fix, but for an authentic look she recommends asking your tailor to reattach the original hem. That way there won’t be any mismatched thread and your jeans will look the same as when you purchased them.

Button-Down Shirts

The key to a properly fitting button-down shirt is that the seams should lie flat. Look out for gaping between the buttons—which often happens on full-busted women. Shirts with a bit of stretch to them tend to sit more smoothly, but even if an otherwise flattering shirt gapes, all hope is not lost. O’Donnell often adds an extra hook-and-eye closure on shirts to fix the gap.

Also keep in mind:

  • Your shirt cuffs should come down just below your wrist and be able to peek out from the sleeve of a blazer. “You don’t want to wear a cuff that’s halfway down your wrist,” says O’Donnell. The extra fabric can look sloppy and create an unflattering proportion.
  • Moving buttons isn’t easy. If your top button is too high and the one below is too far down, it’s not a great idea to sew one in the middle. You’ll first have to find a matching button, and then create a tailored-looking button hole. A better bet? Find a different brand whose buttons suit you best, or wear a camisole underneath.
  • A surprising but critical area to fit is the middle of your hips—”the sweep,” as it’s called in the apparel industry. “If you have fuller hips, button-down shirts can become tight and bunch and ride up when you walk around,” says Gribbin. Take a stroll around the dressing room to be sure there’s ample room in this area.


“As with a blazer, the shoulders are the hanger of the dress,” says Gribbin. “If it doesn’t fit there, chances are it’s not going to drape properly or hang well on your body.” The next spot to check, he advises, is your hips. Dresses tend to be more forgiving through the middle, and if the garment is well-made, properly fitting shoulders should signal properly fitting hips because the two are in alignment.

Also keep in mind:

  • If the empire waist sits too high on your bust, there’s not much a tailor can do. “If the bust line doesn’t fit proportionally, it’s not the dress for you. If that area does fit, however, the rest of the dress should fit well too,” says O’Donnell. Hemming and raising the shoulders, on the other hand, are easy fixes.
  • Beware of dresses with fitted waists—they’re the most challenging to fit. “Everyone’s waist is in a different place,” says Gribbin. To find yours, simply stand up and bend side to side—wherever you bend is your natural waist. Dresses without structured waistlines will flatter most figures.


“Eighty percent of women have the wrong bra size,” says Gribbin. “And only 5 percent of women have gone to have a professional bra fitting.” Just because most people won’t see it doesn’t mean that a properly fitting bra isn’t essential to making you look—and feel—great. (“Just watch Oprah!” he says, referring to the host’s famous “aha” moment about finding the perfect undergarment.) Be sure that the center core—the place between the cups—sits flush against your breastbone, says Brown.

Also keep in mind:

  • Watch out for spillover. “You want tissue fully encompassed in the cups—no bumps or lumps on top or on the outside of the bra,” says Brown.
  • Raise your arms a few times in the dressing room. The bra should stay anchored below your bust and the back should lie flat without pulling away from your body.
  • Don’t dismiss a bra before adjusting it. Tightening—or letting out—the straps can make a world of difference when it comes to support.


It’s no lie that women dread shopping for bathing suits. But as much as we want to blame ill-fitting suits for our woes, the challenge may be, in part, in our heads. “Swimwear companies have some of the tightest quality control around. There are very small margins of error between sizes,” says Gribbin. “Technically, most of their products fit exactly the way they’re intended to fit.” This may not seem like encouraging news at first, but it is a strong argument for hitting a department store with a wide variety of brands and styles to find out, once and for all, which suits work for you.

Also keep in mind:

  • Bathing suit tops should fit like bras: No gaping, pulling or spilling over.
  • Look for bathing suit bottoms with adjustable sides—that way you can tighten or loosen the fit to your preferences, and be sure that the fabric isn’t cutting into your skin.
  • A tankini (tank-top bikini) should be snug without cutting into your skin, or bunching, gaping or pulling in the middle.