Thirty years ago, Francesco Catalano had a bustling tailoring business in Tenafly and six employees.
Now Catalano works by himself, running Frank's Custom Tailoring out of the basement in his home in Dumont.
"It seems like both the fashion industry and the general population are fighting us off," Catalano said. "People are dressing more casual rather than formally, which often requires the work of a tailor."
There are glimmers of hope, both in the spring trends of tapered, fitted clothing and media influence from shows such as "Mad Men." Over the past few years, Catalano said he has noticed more young men coming in with suits needing custom work. He thinks the younger generation is embracing formalwear again. And reworking clothing you already own, rather than buying new clothing, is both "green" and recession-friendly.
There's no denying the tailoring business is not what it once was. Catalano is president of the Custom Tailors and Designers Association of New Jersey, which had about 60 members at its inception in 1983. It now has roughly 15. Two went out of business last year.
Catalano and other tailors know that their work, usually learned through apprenticeship, can make all the difference to an outfit. Hardly anyone can buy a garment off the rack and have it fit flawlessly. A petite woman likely needs pieces hemmed. Someone with a pear-shaped body might need the waist nipped in. A man with slim shoulders and broad torso would need a coat adjusted.
"For a tailor, they say nothing is too difficult, it's only a matter of time," said Sabino Facciolongo, who's had his Clifton shop for 30 years. "It depends on the type of work, the fabric, where it's being fixed."
The workroom in the back of his shop is full of garments waiting to be adjusted: a men's winter coat, a First Communion dress, a wedding dress. His clientele comes from near and far (one comes regularly from South Jersey) for his expert eye and knowledgeable hands. Two worn sewing machines sit next to spools of thread in every color of the rainbow. Most days the music blaring out of a boom box keeps him company, as he never knows when his next customer will walk in.
Susan Perrone, who works out of Oradell, knows the importance of her trade. "A well-fitted garment can also camouflage your figure flaws, so you want a person to get their clothes tailored so it's not such an issue," said Perrone, who makes custom garments in addition to doing alterations. "People will be looking at your face rather than where your clothes don't fit right. …
"But first a person has to recognize they have a figure problem, like if one shoulder is higher than the other or they have shorter arms, whatever the issue," she added. "Then you look at the lines on the clothing and if the garment is falling correctly."
Wrinkled clothing is a sign something is wrong. If a top is too small in the bust, the fabric pools near the armpit. If a skirt is too tight, the fabric wrinkles at the hips.
Tailors call men's suits the bread and butter of their work, since an ill-fitting suit stands out. Ralph Lauretta, owner of Sal Lauretta for Men men's wear store in Midland Park, said there are key things to look for to make sure a suit fits.
"The first thing is to look at the back of the collar of the jacket," he said. "It should be tight and close to the neck. If it pulls away, it's not fitted properly. That's the worst thing in my book."
Another thing to check is how much cuff is peeking out from under the jacket. A little cuff should be showing, Lauretta said, and if it's not, that means the jacket is too big.
Catalano wishes more people would realize how important it is to have clothes that make a good impression.
"When it comes to tailoring, you have to get the feeling for a piece of cloth, find a person who knows how to work with every garment," Catalano said. "I don't know what the future is going to be like, but I'm a one-man show for now."
Does your suit fit? Here are some tips from Ralph Lauretta of Sal Lauretta for Men in Midland Park:
* Shoulders: Check for ripples in the fabric between your shoulders. If there are some, it needs to be tailored.
* Collar: If the collar of the jacket is loose around the neck, the jacket itself is too big.
* Pants: The hem of a pair of pants should rest at the top of the shoe. If it’s above or your socks are showing, the pants are too short. If fabric is pooling around your ankles, they’re too long.
* Midsection: You should be able to button your jacket without tension or pulling.
Here are some tips on proper fit, from InStyle’s "Secrets of Style":
* Look for: Dresses and skirts with nipped waists, clothes that flow over your curves rather than cling to them.
* Avoid: Thin fabrics, tops that end at the fullest part of your hips, clothes without seams to accent your figure.
* Look for: Empire-waist tops and dresses, flowing fabrics and monochromatic ensembles.
* Avoid: Horizontal stripes, mid-calf length skirts, any baggy or loose-fitting garments.
* Look for: A-line silhouettes, empire waist tops and dresses and longer cardigans and jackets.
* Avoid: Belted or cinched tops and dresses, any garment with waist detailing.
* Look for: Long-sleeve tops, V-neck shirts and kimono sleeves.
* Avoid: Tight tops or sleeves, puffy sleeves and tops made of stiff fabric.
* Look for: Fitted tops, belts to accent the waist and tops with draping or other bust detailing.
* Avoid: Wrap dresses, loose or low-cut tops.
* Look for: Open-neck and V-neck tops and tops with little detailing.
* Avoid: Baggy tops, puffy sleeves and wide belts.