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when is paying for a tailor/cobbler worth it?
It feels good to take care of your clothes. To treat them as irreplaceable in a culture where clothes are disposable. Even though it can be a pesky errand—and not everyone has the time or resources for it—I always feel very grounded about my clothes and shoes after getting them mended by a professional. It makes me sad that they’re a dying trade. Whenever I go to the cobbler (Model Shoe Renew in the East Bay), they kindly ask if I could tell my friends about their shop, post on Yelp, give a rating.
At the same time, there’s no denying that it is expensive to get clothes and shoes fixed. Getting one pair of shoes resoled can easily cost $70, often more. And it can feel difficult to justify that when you can buy another pair for $70. Based on my experience (plenty of mistakes), here are some questions to consider before spending on repair services.
The #1 decision-making factor is: will I wear this a lot and for a long time?
Yes: I wear my Nicole Saldana velcro mary janes several times a week and they’re such a core basic shoe for me. So it’s an easy decision to spend $35 to get the velcro replaced because it was getting fuzzy and falling off my foot midstride.
No: When I was 20something years old, I bought a blazer from Aritzia for a job interview. It was touted to have some sleek special fabric, which is just marketing speak for synthetic polyester. I was self conscious of how long the sleeves were and my interview was 2 days away, so I brought it to a tailor and asked about rush service. I paid $40 for the sleeve trim with next day service. (Not implying it’s not a fair price!) While I did get the job, I wore that blazer again maybe 3 times. Considering a full price Aritizia blazer was almost $200, that was not a smart use of money. Instead, I wish I bought a vintage wool or silk blazer for under $50 (easily done via TheRealReal) and if I paid for tailoring, it would be better value. To this day, I’m highly skeptical about paying for blazer alterations. It would have to be a very special blazer.
Can I buy a needle and thread, watch a Youtube video and just do it myself? I’m aware we are not all sewists. But there are some very basic sewing skills anyone can learn! Even without a sewing machine. And oftentimes, we have clothes that don’t actually require a tailor’s skill level to fix. A good example of this is sewing a button that fell off, or sewing a clasp that got loose. This happens a lot with my Jesse Kamm sailor pants. The buttons inevitably pop off and need to be resewn. I am confident anyone can learn how to do this and it will serve you well.
Can poor fit always be saved by a tailor?
I learned the hard way the answer is no. Tailors are skilled but even they have limitations based on the clothing they’re working with. I once brought an oversize cotton blazer from Kowtow (again with the blazers…) to a tailor and said I wanted it to stay oversized just not THAT oversized. He was very frank with me and said that there was only so much that could be done on the sleeves and shoulders—essentially warning me that it would be tricky to achieve the fit I envisioned based on the existing structure of the seams and panels. I wish I trusted his judgement and just resold the blazer/faced the loss. But I was young and stubborn and paid for the alteration anyways. When I tried it on, I felt like a dentist wearing an ill-fitting lab coat. My heart sank, and I had no one to blame but myself.
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