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Every expert we spoke with agreed on one thing: Ready-to-wear is rarely ready to wear. For the most flattering fit, you'll need to tailor most new purchases. Lars Nord, president of the Lars Nord Studio and tailor to haute couture designers, explains what can and cannot be done with a needle and thread.
  • Velvets, transparent fabrics, layered fabrics, beaded fabrics, and decoratively stitched fabrics are all extremely difficult to work with, so you might avoid buying an item in those fabrics that needs a lot of alteration.
  • Most pieces can be altered only one size up or down. If you want to let out a garment, make sure there is at least a half-inch allowance (extra fabric) at the hem and seams.
  • Possibly the most neglected alteration is the one that improves a woman's look most dramatically and is among the easiest for tailors to do—pulling up fabric at the shoulders to prevent garments from drooping across the breast and bunching around the tummy. The tuck instantly creates a clean line on any body type.
  • Buy pants to fit your bottom. Legs and waists can be more easily altered.
  • If you look "boxy" in your trousers, ask your tailor to narrow them a bit along the inside back seams.
  • If you're not sure where to hem your skirt, consider right below the knee, at the thinnest part of the legs. It's a flattering length for anyone.

Next: What a personal shopper wishes you knew

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