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‘Everybody got fat!’ Tailors know what you did during lockdown

“If some people are uncomfortable, they go work out and do whatever,” said Michael Shimunoff at La Moda Custom Tailors in Queens. “Some people just let out the pants.”

The boost in business has been welcome for many tailors, who often operate in storefronts shared with dry cleaners, which have suffered mightily during the pandemic. Dry cleaning businesses at the peak of the pandemic lost an estimated 80 per cent to 90 per cent in sales compared to previous years and are still down about 40 per cent to 50 per cent, according to data collected by the North East Fabricare Association.

Porfirio Arias (right) and his brother Rafael work at their tailor shop in New York. Tailors across New York City are expanding waistlines and moving buttons to accommodate the "Quarantine 15".

Porfirio Arias (right) and his brother Rafael work at their tailor shop in New York. Tailors across New York City are expanding waistlines and moving buttons to accommodate the “Quarantine 15”. Credit:Dawn Bottoms/The New York Times

Smaller tailors who specialise in alterations have suffered more than custom clothing-makers, whose clients have postponed receiving wedding dresses and tuxedos but generally have not cancelled their orders, said Alan Rouleau, president of the Custom Tailors and Designers Association.

“You can’t do tailoring without being in somebody’s face,” Rouleau said. “We are in a high-touch business.”

Many tailors fear that the industry may not bounce back, even as more people return to work, if the traditional workplace culture shifts to the new work-from-home ethos — meaning more sweatpants and fewer bespoke suits that need to be cleaned, pressed or altered.

Of course, not all New Yorkers have been able to work from home, and the ability to sequester has largely fallen along socioeconomic lines: Putting on pandemic pounds is a small downside of what is in essence a tremendous privilege.

In Woodside, Arias’ entire extended family — his wife, two sons, daughter, brother-in-law and mother-in-law — all had their pants let out this month. Or rather, they loaded Arias with their clothes to take to his shop so he could make the required alterations.

He said New Yorkers should not feel bad about needing a few more inches of room. “They can’t go out, they don’t have a room to make exercise, so they don’t have a choice,” he said.

Arias can speak to the challenges firsthand: He said he has had to take needle and thread to his own trousers. “I got fat, too!”

At T & J Crystal Cleaners in Long Island City, Queens, David Choi said he has been trying to dissuade customers who ask him to loosen their clothes because they gained weight during the lockdown. The process sometimes distorts the original fit of the clothing so it no longer drapes well, he said, and he fears that his clients will not be happy with the result.


Instead, he urges customers to wait it out, reminding them that pandemics — and pounds — too shall pass.

“I don’t say, ‘Go try the gym,'” Choi said. “I can’t say that, but I am not happy to make my money with this kind of job.” So he said he has tried flattery, telling his customers that the extra pounds added something else besides pure weight. “Some ladies still look sexy!” he said.

Nicolas Jacquet, a custom suit specialist at Brooklyn Tailors, which crafts bespoke menswear, said he recently adjusted a few waistlines on the custom suits of grooms whose measurements were taken before the pandemic began. He recommends fabrics with stretch and give to deal with inertia-based weight gain, like wool or blends with elastane.

“We will tailor the suits to make the customer feel good about himself,” Jacquet said, adding that with his clients’ weddings postponed or dramatically contracted, few are focused on their weight. “They have a lot more issues to think about,” he said.


At Alteration Concept, a basement tailor shop in the West Village in Manhattan, a debate was taking place between Chung Moon, the owner, and a woman who wanted to have the waistline of her jeans expanded.

Moon gently suggested that the woman might not like the darts that he would have to add to her jeans.

“Sourdough is making me feel good right now,” she said. “I’m not going to stop eating bread; I need to feel good right now.” The customer, as usual, was right: Moon ended up expanding three pairs.

Elsewhere in his shop, five pairs of Theory slacks and a blazer were awaiting enlargement. Moon, 49, said he was dubious that lockdown weight gain is solely to blame.

“The pants were tight before, but we were so busy, even if pants were a little tight or a little snug, we didn’t really feel that,” he said. “Right now, you have a lot of time and a lot of thinking going on.”

The New York Times

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