How to get the perfect hem for your denim

by Kristen Philipkoski

As a petite person, I’ve had to get many many jeans hemmed over the years and getting the perfect length makes all the difference in the world as to how much wear they will get. Since bell bottoms will be making their return in full force next season, it’s a good time to keep an eye out for the perfect pair and you’ll probably need to get them altered to get that perfect made-for you fit.

The first time I got a pair of expensive jeans, I was sooo excited. They were these wide legged jeans and had the perfect wash. At the time, I used to just cut off the bottoms of jeans as my way of ‘hemming’ those days were over.  Since I’m not crafty, doing it myself was not an option, so I took it to the local dry cleaner who hemmed them. First off, I wore the wrong shoes, secondly, I didn’t wash the jeans first and lastly the dry cleaner didn’t specialize in alterations. They ended up cutting my jeans way too short, they came out ankle length which is not a good look for wide legged jeans. Ever. Devastated, I donated them to charity, and sadly, they weren’t the last pair of jeans I have ruined this way, so I’m going to share with you some of the tips I’ve learned over the years.

1. If you’re going to wash and dry these jeans in the future, do it before hemming

Earlier this week we talked about freeze cleaning your jeans. Some people dry clean them, but if you plan on washing your jeans with water, it’s a good idea to do this before you hem them. If you’re going to put them in the dryer do that too. I don’t normally put my jeans in the dryer so I wouldn’t do that before I hemmed them, but most of my jeans I do wash.

2. Get you jeans hemmed by a professional.

Vintage Singer used at Levi's

Doing things yourself is great, but many people don’t own sewing machines that can handle denim. For denim enthusiasts, premium jeans have what’s called a chain stitch on the hem, which is much stronger than a regular stitch. There are some places that use special sewing machines used to create this special stitch, like the Union Special 43200G or a vintage Singer machine. And you can find one locally by running a search in Google, I used the key words “chain stitch, denim, hemming, New York” and found a few places that do it. It’ll be a bit more expensive than a regular tailor, like $25 as opposed to $10. Either way, I like to have an experienced person help me find the perfect length and make sure that they can achieve that.

3. When you get the jeans hemmed, be sure to wear the shoes with the heel height you’ll be wearing with the jeans.

What heel height do you normally wear? If you wear a heel height that you only wear on special occasions, then you’ll only be able to wear the jeans on special occasions. Which might be fine if you’re buying a pair of ‘special jeans’ but most people want jeans they can just throw on. I’m a big advocate in wearing heels, in wearing heels with jeans, but I normally wear a 4″ heel, including platform. I try not to go over that because, personally I don’t feel comfortable waking down the street in 6″ heels and I don’t want my jeans dragging when they’re worn with my regular shoes.

4. Look for photos of people wearing the perfect length of jeans

Hemlines change all the time, and a picture is worth 1,000 words. Take a look at what denim people are wearing on the streets and see what you like. I have a friend who wears his jeans short. At first I thought it was a mistake, but no, he does it on purpose, that’s one of his signatures. Do you want your jeans to hit the top of your foot or skim the floor in 6″ platform clogs? It helps the tailor if you have a picture to show exactly how you want your jeans to fit on you.

Are there any tips I missed? What are some of your denim hemming stories?

10 comments :

  • Alicia

    Thank you for this. I need quite a few unused pairs hemmed (it’s sad…some have been sitting for 2+ years because they’re too long), and I’m afraid to take them to just anyone.

  • Jennine

    OH yeah… I’d check out the Self Edge, they have a location in LA
    http://www.selfedge.com/chainstitching.php

    They’re experts in denim. But then, there should be lots of denim tailors in LA as it’s where everything is made.
    🙂

  • Alicia

    Saw that they have a location on La Brea. DONE! =D

  • Denise

    Thanks for this article. My biggest struggle has been getting my local seamstress to preserve an original hem.

    I live in a small community … picture Wal*Mart, pick-up trucks, a gun and a dog in back… and my local seamstress had never heard of anything like an original or European hem. I asked her to do some 7FAM jeans but when she saw the price tag she politely declined, saying she didn’t understand what this was and was it really necessary?

    So I gave up on the idea for a while, asking her to do simple hems which she did nicely. I also gave her nice tips and compliments to boost her confidence (I had an ulterior motive.). Then when I guessed she might feel ready, I gave her my latest pair (True Religion Johnnys — with price tag removed!), along with an instructive article I found on the internet. It was 6 pages of photos and what I thought were really clear instructions. That was about three weeks ago, still no call for me to pick them up. Tomorrow I am going on a trip, and I had visions of myself looking so Western me in them. What do you think, will I ever see those jeans again? If I do, what will they look like?

  • Jennine

    Wow that’s a crazy story.. .is there really no one else in town that can do the alterations? I’m going to look into where you can mail them to get a hem. Do you have a pair already at the perfect length?

  • Alanna

    I have done the fold-hem method, myself, by hand.

    Um, NOT EASY!! Probably took me 2 hours total.

    Actually, often before my mom moved, I would have her do them (which took all of 10 min each pair) on her early 70’s Singer machine. Now, I just have my fashion students do them and pay them like $10 bucks each 🙂

  • Pretty Shiny Sparkly

    Another tip – Most alterations places will keep the original hem if you ask them–it costs extra, usually that $25 vs. $10 like you mentioned–but it’s great for those distressed hems, wide hems as with wide-legged pairs, etc. So be sure to ask!

    ♥ Kristina, of Pretty Shiny Sparkly

  • Carrie

    This is such a great post because hemming can be so scary!! You find the jeans, you love the way they fit…all except the hem. Then you hold your breath hoping for the love of all that’s holy that you’re not in a flood when they come back. It’s happened to me more than once and is kinda traumatizing if the denim is pricey.

    Now I follow a lot of your tips – wash a couple or even a few times before taking them in. When I do go in I make sure to have a shoe or two I want to wear them with. I’ve found a great lady in my neighborhood who knows I’m a hypo about hems so she’s super careful and does a pretty good original hem for $10.

    I really feel for all the shorter denim loving girls out there. Long live short length inseams!!

    Great post 🙂

  • Two Videos to Help Find Your Perfect Denim Fit

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  • Jennine

    @alana…you’re lucky your mom can sew! my mom was straight out of a 70’s feminist (though she’d never admit it) metality, she doesn’t cook, clean or sew, that’s my step dad’s job!

    @prettyshinyspakrly… oh yes, that’s true, for the distressed hems that’ll work perfectly… i should have added it there, but i guess since i’ve never really bought a pair of distressed jeans (i know, i know) i haven’t done it that, but it’s a great tip

    @carrie, why do you think i took to the skinny jeans? they never need hems! and ‘ankle length’ usually turns out to be just right for me… ah, being short.

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