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Q I have my dad's camel hair topcoat that I've never worn. It's about 20 years old and in very good condition. How do I know if it's out of date?

A If your topcoat is more than eight or 10 years old, you can pretty much know that it will be somewhat out of date. On the other hand, if you are willing to spend the time and money to have some skillful tailoring done, you may indeed be able to resurrect it. Keep in mind "may."

The most noticeable change that has occurred in menswear in the past few years is that everything has gotten shorter and trimmer. This is true for men's suit jackets, blazers and sport coats; manufacturers are cutting them shorter by about an inch. This is even more the case with modern topcoats which are shorter by several inches. Your dad's coat probably ends well below your knee, perhaps a few inches above the ankle. Coats that reach almost down to the ankle are old-fashioned and stodgy looking. Today's topcoat length is the much shorter "knee length," which is defined as not longer than 2 or 3 inches below the knee to slightly above it. While finding a truly expert tailor who can properly address this is not the easiest task, it is possible. Alterations could certainly be worthwhile with the current cost of a quality topcoat often approaching, or exceeding, the thousand dollar mark.

Still, it is essential to be realistic if you don't want your efforts to be a huge waste of money. Changing the length of the coat is possible; so is tapering and trimming the silhouette ever so slightly. But these are not the only elements that might be off. Often, the problem is the fit. If the coat is too large in the shoulders or if it has big old-fashioned, padded shoulders, no amount of altering is going to make it look current.

Experienced tailors know not to play around with jackets and coats that don't fit in the shoulders. If you are significantly taller than your father, it can reduce the length concern; the above concerns may be less of a problem -- again, speak with a tailor. So, not only must you find a tailor who is an expert at alterations; you must find one who is honest about what can be done effectively. For example, a good tailor will know whether shortening the length by four inches will mean that the pockets will end up being too low.

When you are being fitted by the tailor:

Be sure to wear a shirt and sport coat or suit jacket, because the coat must fit correctly over them.

• If the shoulders fit you but the body of the coat is on the full side, you can have it taken in a bit to achieve today's semi-fitted trim look.

• Also, pay attention to the sleeve length. Sleeves should completely cover the suit sleeves as well as the shirt cuffs.

All of this same information applies if you are lucky enough to find a great coat in a vintage or "gently-used" shop.

I have often said that the men's fashion pendulum swings slowly, but it does swing. While changes do not come about every 35 seconds as they do with women's fashions, they do occur. No doubt, at some time in the future, the style will swing back and coats will again be long. When that happens, you will not be able to tailor your coat to make it longer.

For now, if your coat meets the criteria I have suggested, and if you can find a tailor who is sure he can do the job well, I encourage you to make the investment. The knee-length topcoat won't go out of style anytime soon. In the meantime, you can enjoy wearing your "new" coat.

A man's fine topcoat, whether in light camel hair or dark wool, is a wonderful adult garment to own. An American classic, it will keep you warm and looking like a well-dressed grown-up for many years to come. Add a simple accessory, such as a colorful plaid or solid-color scarf for an element of refinement and a timeless put-together look.

Please send your men's dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL:

High Profile on 12/01/2019

Print Headline: Altering your dad's topcoat possible -- with expert tailor


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