Skinny jeans, ruffles, Brit-inspired plaids, longer shirts and leggings, and slimmed-up blazers dominate the pages of the hefty September issues of fashion magazines. And while it may not be economically feasible to purchase a new fall wardrobe, a good tailor or seamstress can update existing pieces with accents from the ’80s or reshape items to this season’s fitted silhouettes and pencil skirts inspired by the AMC television series “Mad Men.”

Skinny jeans, ruffles, Brit-inspired plaids, longer shirts and leggings, and slimmed-up blazers dominate the pages of the hefty September issues of fashion magazines. And while it may not be economically feasible to purchase a new fall wardrobe, a good tailor or seamstress can update existing pieces with accents from the ’80s or reshape items to this season’s fitted silhouettes and pencil skirts inspired by the AMC television series “Mad Men.”

Mary-Ellen Spinelli, owner of A Mano Tailoring in Newport, R.I., said it would be easy to incorporate two of the season’s hot trends by adding plaid ruffles to a plain shirt or blazer to bring it up to date. Adding a ruffle is also one trick Spinelli uses to lengthen sleeves that may fall a few inches shy of the wrist.

“Ruffles at the end of a sleeve are also a very nice look for an older hand,” said Spinelli. As the ruffle trend emerged last year she said she had one customer who added ruffles to several pieces — from blouses to skirts — and the woman was recently back in the shop looking for more ruffles, this time on some nightgowns. 

“The nightgowns had belts that we used to make the ruffles, but you could also use a contrasting fabric for the ruffles,” said Spinelli.

Tailoring a blazer or a suit to the season’s slimmer lines is also a request Spinelli sees frequently. 

“A lot of people bring in boxy blazers and want them to be more tailored,” she said.

Spinelli said she can remove oversized shoulder pads, trim lapels and shorten and re-cut the lines of the blazer.

Though it’s not an easy task to refit an entire blazer, sometimes it’s worth the cost, which starts around $40, if it’s a quality piece or something that the customer loves and can’t replace.
Just this past month a regular customer brought in an entire wardrobe of designer suits and jackets to be refitted.

“Someone gave them all to her and it cost $700 to do them over, but they were really expensive pieces — I couldn’t even begin to guess how much it would have cost to buy them new,” said Spinelli.

The price of a good pair of skinny peg-legged designer jeans ranges from $75 to more than $200, and at those prices, Spinelli said she’s beginning to see customers bringing in their favorite jeans for a slim down for much less than the cost of a new pair.

Another way to get an updated look is by combining two beloved items into one like the “happy accident” that resulted in a cashmere sweater with silky sequined pockets after a customer scorched a sequined blouse with an iron.

“She brought in the blouse and wanted to know if we could make pockets out of it to add to the sweater,” said Spinelli as she held up the one-of-a-kind new look.

Thrifty fashionistas also bring Spinelli pages ripped from magazines with styles they’d like to replicate, and she said she can usually find a way to accommodate them. Some of the requests run from the unique (such as a dress she made from a pirate flag) to the ridiculous: the man who wanted to replace the elastic on his favorite boxer shorts. She said “no thanks” to that job.

This time of year customers also start rolling in with winter coats draped over their arms, seeking Spinelli’s expertise in bringing their outerwear up to date.

A woman recently brought in four coats that she wanted to restyle by adding an entirely new lining to one and switching out the cuffs, collars and buttons on the others. Spinelli suggests using contrasting fabrics such as velvet or leather on the updated collars and cuffs of a wool coat. She also recently updated a fur-trimmed cashmere coat by changing the opening to create a fur cuff around the collar.

A huge part of her business is tailoring and updating formal party and wedding dresses by adding ruffles and ruching. A couple of years ago she even donated her time refitting more than 50 prom dresses for needy Fall River, Mass., teens who received donated dresses from Fall River-based Dress Express. The business was so grateful and happy with her work that she said they now refer their customers to her shop in the heart of Newport’s downtown.

While the normal lead time for a repair or alteration is about a week, rush jobs are also not out of the realm for Spinelli and her assistant, Mary Revilla, who joined Spinelli after many years at the high-end men’s shop Spardello’s. Just a few weeks ago they got a frantic call from a Newport woman who was attending a wedding that night and the dress she had shipped to her was about four inches away from being zipped up. Revilla, who Spinelli called a miracle worker, opened all the seams in the dress and managed to get the four inches needed to zip up the job in time for the wedding that night.

While some fabrics are easy to work with, such as wool and silk, restyling polyester blends and knitted sweaters and dresses may not be worth the cost because she said those fabrics can be time-consuming and difficult to work on. On the other hand, she said, they can repair holes in sweaters fairly easily by hand, and in this economy she’s also seeing more customers looking to preserve their current wardrobes by making repairs.

Donald Facchiano, owner of Facchiano’s Shoe Repair in Fall River, has also seen an increase in customers over the past year as the economy suffered. The price a customer paid for the shoe initially is not necessarily the only reason to have it repaired.

“It they really like the shoe and can’t replace it then it’s worth the repair,” said Facchiano.

Some of the more common changes to a shoe include shortening or lengthening an ankle strap and changing the heel height. Facchiano said he also frequently replaces elastic parts that have ripped or stretched out over time. While he said every job is different, it costs about $8.50 to change or repair heels, and he can add toe tips to worn-out soles at the front of the shoes for about $12.

Repairing and updating pocketbooks is also not out of the realm.

Facchiano said he can add a different strap, and he frequently replaces broken loops connecting the strap to the bag.

While Facchiano said it’s not usually worth the cost of to restyling shoes, updating clothes is all in a day’s work for Spinelli. Her Web site, www.amanonewport.com, may say it best: “Custom alterations can bring new life to your existing wardrobe and home without breaking the bank in these challenging times.”

The Herald News