Alterations aren't always the answer

``A little tuck here. Maybe a little tuck there. And it'll be just perfect for you. No problem at all.'' How many times has a sales clerk sung this chorus in your ear? But as you looked in the mirror, you weren't completely convinced.

It's often better to keep searching through the various styles and sizes than to rely on a large makeover by the alteration department. Alterations can achieve only so much.

So, when you're looking for that perfect fit, keep these tips in mind:

A garment's hip and back areas should be flat and straight. Buckling, which is often caused by a large frame, can seldom be fixed through alterations.

If you can afford only one jacket, avoid buying the kind with gathered sleeve caps. There's no way of knowing how long such a style will stay popular, and cap alterations are tricky and often unsuccessful.

Sleeves should feel comfortable when you flex your arms, and full-length ones should reach to the wrist bone. It's almost impossible to correct binding sleeves through alterations.

When looking at clothes with waistline seams, make sure the center back area just below the waist is free of wrinkles. And the waistline seam should fall at your waistline rather than above or below it. Be especially conscious of this point if you normally wear junior, junior petite, or miss petite clothes. These sizes are all cut for the shorter-waisted figure.

The bust area should be roomy enough to allow easy buttoning, or the entire garment will look small. If your proportions are generous, you'll probably have to buy dresses large enough to fit the bust and have the hips taken in. You'll get a better fit from separates and coordinates than from suits. When buying short-sleeved clothes, make sure sleeves do not end at the bustline.

A bust which is small in proportion to the hip will cause wrinkles at the center front and side seams of the skirt area. This type of figure looks better in coordinates than suits. And garments that are softly gathered on top such as elastic-waist dresses are more flattering than clothes that are severely tailored.

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