Basic Denim Jean Alterations

A well fitting pair of jeans can be a girl’s best friend…but a sloppy pair of jeans can make a girl look frumpy and sloppy. Hemming jeans to a proper length is really important for proper fit and one of the most common alterations to do, so here is a quick overview of what to look for and how it’s done.

I needed a new pair of dark wash bootcut jeans, and luckily found this pair at Nordstrom Rack in size 24 for a discounted price.

Petite Jean Alterations Before
Petite Jean Alterations Before

I’ve found Paige jeans to fit me really well in the rear, rise and thigh (the rise and thigh are my problem areas when looking for jeans), and I’ve found regular sized jeans to fit me better than petite sized jeans. These jeans have a 34 inch inseam, and so are way too long for my petite height. They need to be hemmed, and the waist needs to be taken in:

Petite Jean Alterations Waist Gap

Tip: The most important things to look for in jeans is the fit in the hip, front (crotch) and rise. Those areas are hard and costly to alter. Inseam length, a gap at the waistband, and even the thigh and leg width can all be altered. Try and find a pair that needs the least amount of alterations.


First, you want to make sure that hemming the jeans won’t cut off any important details, or ruin the cut of the leg. In this case, these jeans are bootcut, so by cutting fabric off the bottom, the bootcut will become smaller around. In this photo, I have folded the jeans under to about the length at which I want them hemmed to see how they will look. The bootcut is still there, and is at a nice proportion for my body type. These jeans still look fine after hemming. In fact, sometimes getting regular sized jeans hemmed work better for me than petite jeans, because the flare at the bottom of petite jeans can be too large. Also note where the fading ends on this pair of jeans. Luckily, the fading ends around where it’s supposed to, so the jeans don’t look like I’m obviously wearing jeans made too long for me.

Petite Jean Alterations Before
Extra fabric folded under to see how hemming will look

Fabric Content:

It is important to figure fabric content into your jean purchase decision. Certain fabric contents will stretch out to be saggy after an hour of wearing, others will shrink really well in the wash, and some will not really shrink much at all. Also consider the brand, for example, Sevens are notorious for major stretching. Here are some of my jean fabric contents, and how they have behaved in the wash:

  • 60% cotton/40% polyester: Barely shrank at all. Length is still as I first had them hemmed.
  • 98% cotton/2% spandex (dark wash): Slowly shrank in length. These went from perfect for my highest heels, to now perfect with kitten heels.
  • 98% cotton/2% spandex (light wash): Shrank quickly after a few washes. These went from perfect for my highest heels, to now good for flats.

These jeans are a dark wash 98% cotton/2% spandex, so I expect these to slowly shrink a bit in the wash. I washed these twice before taking them to my tailor. You should always do this because the jeans will shrink in length when washed. If you are tailoring your jeans to the perfect length, and then they shrink after the first wash, they won’t be the perfect length anymore! Also, sometimes jeans will take up in the leg/thigh and waistband just a bit, which might help you avoid further alteration costs. To maintain color on jeans, wash them turned inside out in cold water.

Tip: Always wash and dry your jeans at least once before taking them to the tailor. Even if you always air dry or dry clean your jeans, there will still be some shrinkage.

Length:

Now let’s talk perfect length. First, pick the shoes you want to wear these jeans with. I like to start with my highest heels, since over a lifetime of washes, the jeans will slowly shorten and will eventually be short enough to wear with my kitten heels, or flats. Some people buy two pairs of the same jeans, and hem one for heels and one for flats. In this case, I want to hem these to my 3.5″ heels.

Jeans (and pants in general) always look best closer to the ground. I like my jeans hemmed just above the ground, or, about 1/4 of an inch from the ground when wearing heels. If they touch the ground, then the bottoms will fray as you wear them and look sloppy. If they are too high, the jeans look awkward.

Tip: When taking your jeans to your tailor, be sure to bring the shoes with the heel height you want to hem them to with you. 

Hems – Regular vs. Original:

Petite Jean Alterations Regular vs Original Hem
Un-altered, factory hem

This is the hem on the un-altered pair of jeans. There is a thickness and slight wave to the hem. Asking a tailor to keep the original hem means he/she will re-attach the original hem on the bottom of the shortened jeans. This will keep the jeans from looking as if they were altered, and also costs a few dollars more. I prefer this choice.

A regular hem is simply cutting the length, folding and hemming the jean. This usually looks a bit flatter, and to the trained eye, will look obviously altered. This is the cheaper option, but not preferred.

** I got a lots of questions about original vs. regular hems, so I wrote a follow up post. See my Basic Denim Jean Alterations Part 2 – Original vs. Regular Hem **

So, to sum things up, here is what I did:

  • Found a pair of jeans that fit well in the hip, rise, crotch and thigh/leg.
  • Folded the jeans under to see how they would look hemmed to make sure alterations won’t look funny.
  • Washed the jeans, inside out in cold water, twice to shrink them.
  • Brought my 3.5″ heels and washed jeans with me to my tailor.
  • Asked for an “original hem”.
  • Asked for the waist to be taken in.

Here are the jeans after alterations:

Petite Jean Alterations After
Yup, you’ve seen this photo before.

See more common alterations for petites.

59 Comments

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Anonymous

    I have an invisible belt that helps with the small waist problem on some jeans. It has been a great solution to some of the jeans and pants, even capris that were just a tiny bit too large in the waist but fit in the hips. You can buy it on the internet:
    http://www.invisibelt.com/
    I have a tailor too , ha! Your jeans look great, btw! Bonnie

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Vicky

    Hi Kelly. Thanks so much for this review. I learned a lot! I have a couple questions for you though. First, do you know why dark wash jeans and light wash jeans shrink at different rate? What's the science behind the two washes? My second question is by asking for "original hem" in a jean alteration, they will re-attach the original hem in what way? I don't have a mental picture of what it'll look like at the attachment. Do you mind sharing a close-up picture of the hem AFTER the alteration?
    Thank you so much! LOVE your altered jeans.

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    prosephina

    Tthis is very informative! Thanks Kelly! Although I am still a little confused on "original hem". They reattach it after cutting it off? *scratches head*.

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    hugstiem

    I love your dark Laurel Canyon in all your pictures so much. How much did you pay for it after the discount? I've only ever seen dark washes of it in small sizes at full price. I have a medium blue wash in size 24 that fits amazingly after alterations.

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Anonymous

    What are good pencil/skinny jeans for petites?

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    SugarNikita

    Thank you for the wonderful info! I hate jeans shopping. The only jeans I've found that fit me are Elie Tahari…thankfully, I found some at a consignment store for under $35! They actually fit me in the hip AND waist, which is nearly unheard of for me! I have the feeling we both have a similar waist-to-hip ratio, though I'm 2 sizes bigger. The length though…I hate altering length. They never fit right after that. :(

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Sandy

    Thank you for the info! I have a straight body and no butt! So pants that fit in the rear and hips are too tight on the waist. And pants that fit in the waist are too long everywhere else! Any tips on which is better for alterations? Thanks!

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Claud

    Hi Kelly! As always you provide us with great information. Awesome!! I also have found that the fit for regular paige jeans in better than petites. Size 24 works well on me just a bit of gap at the waist that can be easily fix with a belt but the lenght need to hemmed a bit. Also REVOLVE clothing is a good site to find many brand jeans in size 23. I've gotten a pair of Diesel from them. I'm such a jeanaholic girl :)

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    curls-and-pearls

    Excellent post Kelly! I never realized that the length would come up that much over time! Maybe I just hoped I was growing LOL!

    I'm curious too as to why the different washes would shrink at different rates.

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Anonymous

    I agree with your advice on hemming. I tried the regular hem once and my jeans looked horrible. Also, washing them before alteration is a must.

    Have you ever tried on J Brand jeans? I find that they fit well and accentuate my small rear. AG Jeans also runs small but I don't like the fit much. I normally wear size 24 for Jbrand, seven for all mankind, hudson, paige but cannot fit in size 24 of AG Jeans.

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Em

    Great tips! I've found excellent jeans (no alterations necessary) at Wet Seal. My two favorites are the Showstopper and Fashionista cuts. The Showstopper is more of a straight leg than a skinny jean (a little extra room at the ankle) while the Fashionista is a true skinny jean (hugs the ankle). They come in short, regular, and long lengths. I'm 5'1.5" and kinda curvy, so waist-gapping is usually an issue for me, but not with these jeans.

    I go with the short length when I want to wear them with flats, and the regular length when they're going with heels. Both styles are available in an assortment of washes. They're perfect for me. And very affordable!

    Showstopper (straight leg): http://www.wetseal.com/catalog/product.jsp?categoryId=103&productId=32547&color=RINSE

    Fashionista (skinny leg): http://www.wetseal.com/catalog/product.jsp?categoryId=103&productId=32534&color=RINSE

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Em

    Forgot to add – Wet Seal denim runs small. A size 0S has just the right amount of give for me while a size 00S is snug. The denim is medium weight, so it's good for a variety of climates.

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Zoe the Short

    Hey Sandy, general rule is make sure they fit your biggest part and alter down from there.

    Also, hemming your own jeans is really easy: http://www.daciaray.com/?p=38. I do this to all of mine and you really can't tell. Works best with straight legs, though.

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    Anon (9:17am) – Oh wow. I've never heard of that invisibelt before. Thanks for sharing!

    Vicky – I'm not exactly sure why dark and light washes shrink in different ways. I know it has to do with the way the jeans are treated during dying, but I don't know the actual science behind it. Good idea, I'll try and take some comparison pics of regular vs. original hems.

    hugstiem – I got these for about $70 at Nordstrom Rack. They're rare, but sometimes I can find small sizes at a sale price.

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    Anon (10:31am) – My favorite pair of skinnies are Paige Blue Heights, but I also fit well in J.Brand and Ksubi. Everyone's body is different, so what looks good on me might look awful on someone else. It's all about trying lots of things to see what works!

    Sandy – I agree with Zoe the Short. It's better to get them to fit in the biggest part of you (in this case, your waist) and then get the rest altered down to fit you perfectly. Low rise jeans will probably work best for you, since the waist is a little bigger since it's meant to sit lower on the hips.

    Claud – I rarely see size 23 on Revolve! You must have good luck, or incredibly good timing in checking the site regularly. =) I've found petite Paige jeans to fit wider in the thigh that regular Paige jeans…weird right?

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    Anon (1:34pm) – I have tried J.Brand and found the skinnies to be a good fit. I didn't like the back pockets though. They were too big for my frame and looked funny. I really need to try AG jeans! Thanks for the fit info.

    Em – Thanks for the tip!

    Zoe the Short – Yup! totally agree. Fit your biggest part, and then alter the rest down. =)

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    TinyInTexas

    Kelly- thanks for the tips! The few times I have gotten jeans altered, I keep the original hem as well. Nordstrom Rack is my favorite place to get jeans!! I can always always find size 23 at my local one, in Paige, SFAM, and Hudson (my fave).

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Really Petite

    Great post!!! I tried on size 24 Paige jeans on before and it was terrible so ever since I have been on the hunt for size 23…its impossible!!! :)

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    PetiteXXS

    This was a very helpful post! I've never tried to alter jeans before… I usually just buy kids jeans instead since they're cheaper and size 12 usually fits me pretty well including the length. I really appreciated the fabric content vs. shrinkage breakdown, since I didn't know to pay attention to that. I usually just hoped that the jeans I want to shrink will and the ones I don't want to shrink won't lol. Btw I noticed that your "before" pics were taken at the old place… your new spot is so much more cheery! :)

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    TinyinTexas – You're so lucky! I hardly ever find size 23…which is why I'm always stuck altering size 24!

    PetiteXXS – I'm always surprised by which jeans shrink and which ones don't. The ones I do want to shrink, never do…sheesh. I'm so amazed you haven't had to alter any jeans yet! I've been altering since college!

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    SugarNikita

    Em, I think we're close to the same size (I'm 5'1.5" and curvy too, but I'm sure my butt is bigger, lol). Thanks for the jeans recommendation! I'm going to have to check out those Showstopper jeans. :)

  • Reply October 13, 2010

    Canadianpetite

    I didn't realize that shrinkage depend on the wash. I do wish you would add a picture of the "original hem". I wish I had the same body shape as you as it would make jean-hunting much easier. So far I love my new Gap jeggings but I wish I could find the same comfortable fit and stretch material but in a boot cut. Anyone have any suggestions?

  • Reply October 14, 2010

    Kiraling

    How important do you consider the back pockets of jeans?. I use to be a 00S in PacSun in the extreme skinnies before they increased size, but have suddenly found extreme luck with American Eagle's jeggings in a 00. While they do not fit like leggings, they look like a very convincing straight-to-skinny cut that surprisingly fits through the thigh and up — which is my biggest problem area as everything else usually sags or is way too big.

    Unfortunately, because the jeans aren't made in petite/short yet, the back pockets extend far down the rear. Are you concerned about this issue with jeans much or am I being too picky considering it's a great fit (minus needing to be hemmed) everywhere else?.

    While I know a higher pocket line is more flattering, I'm wondering whether I should be as picky keeping in mind these are entirely budget friendly and widely available.

  • Reply October 14, 2010

    Anonymous

    I work p/t at Stein mart and got Michael Kors skinny jeans on sale a year ago and never worn them. They fit great…the length is all that needs altered and I will pick them up today from the tailor. Michael Kors has a petite sizing group at some Stein Marts. I think mine were 2P but since skinny, they run small so fit well. Glad you liked the invisible belt tip! Mine has come in handy…….plus Stein Mart has alittle huggie thing that goes from back belt loop to back belt loop for sale now.
    http://www.hollywoodfashiontape.com/products-hip-hugger.cfm
    great way to keep jeans from slidding down after stretching out. :) Bonnie

  • Reply October 14, 2010

    SugarNikita

    Anon @ 6:13 AM – Thank you for the link to the hip hugger! I definitely need that!

  • Reply October 14, 2010

    The Little Dust Princess

    Oh I hate getting anything altered but the length. Such a hassle! I only look for jeans in size 23 now. No matter the cost! It has to fit me perfectly! I can deal with long lengths because many of my friends' moms (and my boyfriend's mom) can hem them for me free of charge. :D

  • Reply October 14, 2010

    orchidsinbuttonholes

    Such a great post – thank you for it! Those jeans look perfect on you now!

  • Reply October 14, 2010

    Rinny

    Thank you for the helpful post!

  • Reply October 16, 2010

    Anonymous

    I'm just about to alter a pair of bootcut jeans i bought from H&M so this post came in the right time!

    I folded the jeans to see how they would look and i'm afraid the alterations will ruin the cut of the leg, making the bootcut become really small up to the point it looks stright…

    Do you have any tips how to keep it wide?

    *sorry for my english…i'm from israel…:)

  • Reply October 16, 2010

    Alterations Needed

    Anon (7:02) – That is an unfortunate problem with needing to get jeans hemmed. Unfortunately, if you want a wider bootcut at the bottom, you'll need to find a new pair of jeans that start wider at the bottom than the jeans you have now. There is no way to make the jeans wider, only slimmer. =(

    I'm glad you folded them under first to see how they would look before you took them to the tailor! What a sad surprise that would have been if you hadn't checked first! Good luck!

  • Reply October 16, 2010

    Anonymous

    Plenty of diy tutorials about jean hemming are out there on internet. Here's a link to one of the first Google turned up: http://www.daciaray.com/?p=38
    That should help you envision the process or get motivated to try it yourself.

  • Reply October 16, 2010

    tea

    I almost cried when my regular seamstess didn't use the original hem on my 7's with the fancy pockets. Everything gets done 'original hem' even my ATL Chinos. Very sad, but I'm over it & wear them with pleasure.

    Just a comment, I think your jeans are too short in the pic above. Try lower heels.

  • Reply October 17, 2010

    fliggachica

    Wow, thanks so much. I never thought about washing the jeans prior to alterations. Also never thought about the shrinkage and fabric. I love your site. I just bought some new noir jeans yesterday. I also have three other pants waiting to be hemmed in my closet.

  • Reply October 17, 2010

    Callandra

    So much better after alterations! Although, it's kind of sad to have to add tailoring costs to the price of the jeans. You're right about washing the jeans before alterations (I've made that mistake before). LOL

  • Reply October 19, 2010

    AubreyOhDang!

    Great find. the fading seems to hit at the right length. I'd like to second Vicky and ask for an After picture of the jeans w/the orig hem. b/c I have untrained eyes and don't notice the difference.

    I have also tried on JBrand, and one of my complaints is the butt pocket. I think it's too big and flattens my already flattened derriere.

    Been hearing a lot about Ksubi. Currently, my favorite brand is Genetics. Not often found in stores, but the sample sites like (gilt, hautelook, ruelala, ideeli) often have them on sale for $80.

    Like ReallyPetite, I am on the hunt for a sz 23 Paige Denim. I know it's out there, and until I've tried them on, I refuse to get jeans altered, other than the length.

    I'm so happy for you that you got another great pair of Paige. I know they're your favorite!!!!

  • Reply October 29, 2010

    Anonymous

    I have found that even when you use the original hem option to tailor the length of a jeans, you can tell quite easily in daylight.

    What IideIDE bleach pen to lightly mark the seam all around and let it dry for an hour or so – key is not to overdo it and you can use the seam that you cut off to copy where the fading was. I also rub sandpaper along the bottom edge to fray it just a tiny bit. The result is very authentic looking and you can't really tell the jeans were altered at all.

  • Reply October 29, 2010

    Anonymous

    Meant to say Tide bleach pen in my previous comment.

  • Reply December 21, 2010

    Anonymous

    Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

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  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Zoe the Short

    Hey Sandy, general rule is make sure they fit your biggest part and alter down from there.

    Also, hemming your own jeans is really easy: http://www.daciaray.com/?p=38. I do this to all of mine and you really can't tell. Works best with straight legs, though.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Anonymous

    I have found that even when you use the original hem option to tailor the length of a jeans, you can tell quite easily in daylight.

    What IideIDE bleach pen to lightly mark the seam all around and let it dry for an hour or so – key is not to overdo it and you can use the seam that you cut off to copy where the fading was. I also rub sandpaper along the bottom edge to fray it just a tiny bit. The result is very authentic looking and you can't really tell the jeans were altered at all.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    tea

    I almost cried when my regular seamstess didn't use the original hem on my 7's with the fancy pockets. Everything gets done 'original hem' even my ATL Chinos. Very sad, but I'm over it & wear them with pleasure.

    Just a comment, I think your jeans are too short in the pic above. Try lower heels.

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Rinny

    Thank you for the helpful post!

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    SugarNikita

    Anon @ 6:13 AM – Thank you for the link to the hip hugger! I definitely need that!

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Anonymous

    I work p/t at Stein mart and got Michael Kors skinny jeans on sale a year ago and never worn them. They fit great…the length is all that needs altered and I will pick them up today from the tailor. Michael Kors has a petite sizing group at some Stein Marts. I think mine were 2P but since skinny, they run small so fit well. Glad you liked the invisible belt tip! Mine has come in handy…….plus Stein Mart has alittle huggie thing that goes from back belt loop to back belt loop for sale now.
    http://www.hollywoodfashiontape.com/products-hip-hugger.cfm
    great way to keep jeans from slidding down after stretching out. :) Bonnie

  • Reply May 25, 2011

    Callandra

    So much better after alterations! Although, it's kind of sad to have to add tailoring costs to the price of the jeans. You're right about washing the jeans before alterations (I've made that mistake before). LOL

  • Reply November 11, 2011

    Anonymous

    Hi Kelly,
    I am happy to say I found your site two days ago & can’t stop reading all your post! You are truly an inspiration with your great fashion tips and advise. I have a hard time getting pants altered because they still never seem to fit right. Hopefully with your advise my next trip to the tailor will be a success! 

    Thank you so much for your sharing your style expertise :) 

  • Reply December 5, 2011

    Sundancekid692001

    You are hot and informative.

  • Reply December 29, 2011

    Anthony

    The best plase I know in Los Angeles is Denim Revival.

  • Reply January 18, 2012

    Doug

    Ditto to the HOT and Informative!!

  • Reply February 11, 2012

    Guest

    Wow you look great

  • Reply November 2, 2012

    eas

    I know this is quite old, but I’m just curious after reading your post here – What method did your tailor use to alter the waist of these jeans? It looks like there was quite a bit of extra width there, and I was just wondering if darts were used. I have never been truly satisfied with the waist of jeans that have been altered. Do you have any pics of the waist of yours?

    • Reply November 2, 2012

      Alterations Needed

      Hi Eas! My tailor used two darts on this pair of jeans, one above each back pocket. I know some people don’t like these small seams, but I’ve never minded. It made taking these jeans back out after they shrank way too much in the wash very easy as well.

      Since then, I had a tailor take in the waistband without darts (not sure how), but the back was no longer symmetrical: http://www.alterationsneeded.com/2012/01/alteration-mishaps.html

      I just had another tailor take in a pair of pants from the middle of the back, as well as the two sides because so much needed to be taken in. These look great and have no darts or seams. Again, not sure how he did it…but I think he removed the waistband to do it.

      • Reply November 2, 2012

        eas

        Makes sense! I am hoping to find a new tailor that can do some great (at least better) work.

        Once I had some done with darts and they actually cut out the remaining fabric. Later the seams started to rip and my pants were a mess. I have also had some darts done in the past that just made everything feel very uncomfortable from the extra bulge they made.

        I totally sympathize with your waist gap problems! It seems no matter what size we are having curves around the bottom can make it difficult to find pants right off the rack.

        To add difficulty to that, I’m 5’6 and usually a size 8, but I have shorter legs and a long torso – so many times I have to go with short length pants and be very careful about the length of my shirts! Just the opposite of you in that area! Needless to say, my heels are my best friends.

      • Reply November 2, 2012

        eas

        I just checked out a tutorial with pictures where someone does this with jeans. The result looked really good – online. I wouldn’t think jeans taken in from the back seam only, mostly because the way the pockets look are crucial to the way your rear looks, could ever turn out very good. What happened to your wine jeans was just bad.

        BTW – I saw this post at just the right time because I had no clue the wash could change the shrinkage!

  • Reply November 21, 2012

    Leah

    Does anyone know what happens to the fit of the bottem(pockets,butt) that area when you buy a length to long ? Also would hemming the pantos do anything to tw fit for the bottem?

    • Reply November 23, 2012

      Alterations Needed

      The bigger the size you buy, the longer the hem will be, and usually the fit in the hip will be bigger (so the butt and pocket area will be looser). So if you buy jeans to get a longer inseam by going up a size, you’ll get bigger proportions all around. However, if you’re asking if simply hemming a pair of jeans does anything to change the fit of the jeans in the hip, butt or pockets, the answer is no. All you’re doing in hemming the bottom, which does not effect the top part of the jeans. Especially if your jeans have stretch in them, which basically makes them stretch over your body, so they don’t move much anyways.

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