Mike writes: This week, while doing a little vintage shopping at my local thrift store, I discovered a sharp Harris tweed sport coat among the discarded and otherwise cheap-looking jackets. Although the fit was a little snug, given its condition, I couldn’t turn down the $8 price tag, especially since I’m in the process of losing some extra weight anyway. But pot belly or not, the sleeves are still about an inch too short — something that even the best diet won’t fix. In a typical coat, how much extra fabric is there for a tailor to work with, and is it even possible to lengthen sleeves, or any other part of the garment?
Generally, a tailor can’t do much to make clothes bigger. Good pants usually have an inch or two in the waist to give, but most coat enlargements are impossible. Even if there’s a bit of fabric available, it can change the shape of the coat in an undesirable way.
Luckily for you, sometimes letting sleeves out is an exception. You can roll the fabric at the cuff between your fingers to feel whether there’s any extra fabric in there. Remember that you can only extend it by whatever fabric is folded back inside the lining – the stuff immediately inside the cuff, before the lining starts, needs to be there. If you’re not sure, you can always take it to the tailor and ask. Usually half an inch or even an inch is available.
One pitfall to be aware of when trying this maneuver: older coats can get wear at the very end of their sleeves. This changes the texture of the fabric, and results in a visual line. Shorten the sleeves, and this line is on the inside where it’s invisible. Lengthen the sleeve, and the line creeps up the sleeve (relatively) and starts to look like some sort of military insignia. Make sure there isn’t major wear along that edge before you try anything.