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How To Shorten Your Dresses And Skirts So That They Look Best On You

Advice by an experienced seamstress

Since I started working as a seamstress, I have adjusted hem length on thousands of garments. Dress shortening is one of the most popular requests I get from my clients. They usually ask to shorten skirts, pants, and dresses. What many people don't realize is that there is a quick way to do it, and the right way to do it. The result may look very different on you.

The Quick Way to Shorten A Dress

Most people stand in front of the mirror and make the mark where they want their hem to be. They then take their garment to a nearby alteration's shop.

Many alterationists at drycleaner's use the quick way. They just shorten a skirt or a dress according to your mark. They would use the mark for drawing a line from the bottom up as many inches as you want, then they would cut your skirt and hem it. This is cheaper for you, and easier for them.

Be prepared to one or two big surprises.

Surprise #1 is that hem on ready-made skirts and dresses doesn't usually look even on most women.

  • Sometimes, this is due to a defect of the production line.

  • More often, this is because most of the skirts, except column style, are cut in such a way that the front follows the grain line of the fabric, and the sides cut on bias. Hems are likely to be uneven because bias easily stretches and grain line doesn't. Even expensive, exclusive dresses are subject to this.

  • Another reason is that dresses are made for standard figures, and only 5% of women match that standard. If you have beautiful curves, you are likely to be outside of that 5% group. The dress that looks even on a standard mannequin won't look even on you.

Let me ask you, how important is it FOR YOU that your dress looks even on you? Are you OK with back or front being shorter or sagging longer a bit? Most women like their skirts and dresses look even, and some don't care as much.

The Right Way To Shorten A Dress

If you care, you want to do one important step before your skirt or dress is cut. You need to try it on, and let the seamstress straighten the hem before cutting.

A professional seamstress measures the distance from the floor to the hem of your skirt, and marks it around.

Another important point is to wear the heels if you intend to wear them with this garment. This is because your posture changes when you are wearing heels, so your skirt looks a little bit shorter on the back and longer on the front. For many, it is not a big deal, but if you are already spending your money on shortening your dress, why not make it look its best?

Back to hidden surprises.

Surprise #2 is that most of the garments these days have lining. Formal gowns, such as bridesmaid dresses, evening or prom dresses, usually have more than one layer of lining.

Shortening sress/ working with a hem for a multi-layered dress is a complex alteration.

You cannot just mark and cut those layers and not expect to get surprise #1, multiplied by the amount of layers, worsened by the way they look together.

Now we need to coordinate lengths of several layers and make them look best together. And lining can be just as uneven as the upper layer for the same reasons that I have explained above.

Remember that every mistake can be fatal - once hem shortening is done, it cannot be undone. For a multi-layered dress alterations, I recommend to go to very experienced seamstresses only. Every layer's alteration takes time and effort, therefore adding up to your price. The price will mostly depend on three factors:

  1. How difficult is it to work with upper fabric Most upper fabrics on formal dresses and evening gowns, such as satin, chiffon, silk, velvet, organza, tulle are not easy to work with. They can be slippery and harder to stitch. Chiffon is a beautiful fabric, but it doesn't keep the shape during cutting, basting or stitching. Only the best seamstresses work with chiffon.

  2. How many layers and whether they are attached to each other
    - Most items of clothing consist of not just one layer of fabric, but one to three layers underneath it, all of different lengths. All of those layers should be shortened in accordance to the upper layer. You don't want the wrong side of your lining to stick out when you walk or sit down, and that's why the layers need to be shortened after trying the dress on, and according to the standards.
    -If you bought bubble style or column dress, the hem could have an enclosed lining with no access inside the dress. In that case, a seamstress needs to make a hole in the lining to get inside, and work on seams through this hole. This is not comfortable, it takes a lot of hand basting, and requires tons of experience to make it look right at the end.

  3. Total length of the hems of all layers. a. Price of hem shortening is usually set per foot or per meter and that's why it depends on how full the skirt is and how many payers there are. For example, a column style sheath dress could have only 1 meter of hem, while full chiffon dress - up to 8-10 meters of hem.

A lady called me recently, looking for a second opinion after getting a jaw-dropping quote of $200 to shorten her wedding dress. After examining the work, I told her it was a bargain and recommended to take it, because there was more work there than $200 worth. She ended up becoming my client; and she told me she never thought of things like length of hem and amount of layers when she selected her dress.

So if you are about to have a heart attack upon hearing the price of professional hem shortening, ask your seamstress to explain the price to you. You may discover that it is not as easy as it sounds. And when you buy an inexpensive dress, consider the price of hem shortening in addition to other add-on costs.

You can always schedule a fashion consultation with me. You can send me your desired dress pictures, and we can discuss in depth all topics that interest you: from whether a dress is the best for your figure to how much you will pay for alterations. You don't have to be located in Toronto: I work over Skype and phone to eliminate need for travel for you. You can send me pictures of the dress from any place in the world by your smart phone, provide your size and height, and I will jump online and consult you while you are still in the store.

Last Word About Converting A-Line Dress Into Hi-low Dress...

Many women find dresses that are high in the front and low at the back appealing. They buy a dress with a regular hem line and want to convert it.

If the lining in your dress is not enclosed, we will have to cut it the way you want and then enclose the hem in order to hide all seams of fabric and lining from exposure. If the dress has a sweep train, it is better to leave it alone and shorten only the front. Many dresses have a plastic trim sewn into the hem. It has to be replaced in the process of shortening.

In any case, proper hemming takes certain skills and knowledge of proper ways to finish different fabrics.

Call me at (647) 519-6542 and I will help you make that dress look best on you.

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