Something Jane and I get asked a lot: “Where in New York? should I have my jeans tailored?” Readers, friends, family, and everyone who’s every wondered, listen up. Go see Erin Hogan-Braker, founder of 7th Bone Tailoring, at her Greenpoint studio. Have you found the most perfect pair of vintage denims, but when you put them on they, feel just a teeny bit wrong? Go see her. Did you score a pair of St. Laurent high-rises on sale but they are a size too big? Go!
After growing up sewing (her mom was a children’s sewing teacher) and training with master tailors and pattern makers in New York, Erin founded 7th Bone Tailoring, a team of women who tailor for commercial clients, celebrity clients (sorry, can’t tell who; but they’re big) – Erin herself works with brands like Ralph Lauren and American Eagle on their shoots – and for regular people (us, yay!) who want their clothes to fit perfectly. They don’t just do jeans, of course. The 7th Bone crew will even come to your home, give you a wardrobe consult, and spiff up anything you own.
We photographed Erin in her work/live space in North Brooklyn. She wore a pair of Levi’s big-rise skinnies that she had tailored to fit her like a glove. I mean, check them out. And then she put on a pair of ripped-up, paint-smudged Levi’s 505s that she found hanging on a fence in her neighborhood – and has never touched with a needle and thread. Someone who worked construction left them there, she’s convinced. Both pairs looked awesome on her. Erin gave some good advice for having your jeans tailored (keep reading), but our favorite, when it comes to actually finding the ones you love: “Tell your readers to check their trash pile!” Will, do, Erin. And we’ll come back to you with what we find.
When we first met, you told me a story about making a pair of very low-rise jeans in college…
In 2001 Britney Spears came out with her “I’m a Slave 4 U” video and I became obsessed with figuring out how to make low-low-rise jeans. I cracked the code and invented a pattern calling for a two-inch zipper – no waistband (measure your jeans zipper right now; two inches is scandalous). I had just started college and was bartending, so these jeans were perfect for slamming a bottle opener in the back waist and then pouring students 60-ounce Long Island iced teas. These jeans became such a hit at my tiny, middle-of-nowhere college campus that my girlfriends started requesting “bar jeans” of their own. I ended up making a pair for each of my friends. They still get rotation to this day (a brown suede version), although I no longer pair them with a crop top and bottle opener.
Seven years later, I worked on a set with costume designer Ligia Morris, who is an expert tailor and leather worker. She had designed and made those actual pants for Britney, not to mention the low-low-rise jeans Shakira and Christina Aguilera were also wearing at that time. A big reason I continued tailoring was the joy of figuring out those first low-low-rise jeans patterns.
When did you first discover this skinny Levi’s jean you’re wearing?
I started wearing the Levi’s high-rise skinny about a year ago. The most important thing I look for in a high-rise jean is a thick fabric with minimal stretch. If the fabric is too thin and stretches, the jeans will not stay on the waist, even after altering them. The top of the zipper will start to creep down after an hour our so of wear when the fabric stretches out. I had been searching for strong fabric in a high rise, and I knew Levi’s would have it.
How do they make you feel?
Professional and presentable. They look clean-cut and simple. Working as a tailor, I need to show up in garments that fit, but I also need to be able to move. I am constantly kneeling on the floor pinning hems or running onto a photo set.
What would you do if Levi’s discontinued them? (Please don’t, Levi’s!)
The great thing about being a tailor is I only shop for fabric, not brands. I love my Levi’s, but I can duplicate the fit through alterations. I would search again for thick denim fabric with minimal stretch and a zipper that is well proportioned for my hips.
How you alter them (without giving away any of your tailoring secrets, of course). And what is the effect?
Waist in, thigh in. The effect is…you know the feeling of your pants falling down at the crotch? Picture little toddler girls running around in tights – the tights are always sagging below the diaper. I feel for those little kids. To me, that extra fabric sagging, even just a little, even when it is unnoticeable to the eye, is the worst feeling. When I alter for the waist and thigh on my body, it helps to keep the entire pant sitting where it should.
You found your Levi’s 505s on a fence! What made you want to grab them?
Again, I only go by fabric, not size or shape. The fabric was so beautifully torn and weathered. I took them home because I could see another person’s handprints on the fabric. I can tell they were truly worn by someone building something. To me, they are legit contractor’s jeans. I love to remodel, and I know the amount of actual work that went into aging those jeans.
What’s the funniest comment someone has made about them?
Preston Konrad, stylist to the stars said, “Those need an impossible heel, ankle roll, sunnies, and a big Birkin bag.”
How do they make you feel when you wear them?
The hilarious thing about these jeans is art directors, stylists, and New Yorkers in general, understand them. I know I can wear them on shoots and they are acceptable fashion denim – and I found them on fence next to my house. I feel put together in them.
You said they’re the perfect airplane jean – why?
I travel often for shoots and they are perfect to curl up on a plane then walk on a set same day. The fit is already baggy, so stretching them out is never an issue.
What’s the strangest place they’ve been?
Banff, Canada. Banff is strange. Ten Canadians along the way told me it was a magical place… I was working and did not get into the national parks, so all I saw was Ye Old Spaghetti Factory. An odd scenic town.
Click on a pic for more info on Erin’s 505s…
What’s the craziest request a client ever made with his or her jeans?
Dennis B. – shout out to my client – wins this award. We take in his baggy jeans, tapered “just so” at the ankle, so we create awesome drop-crotch, skinny-ankle custom jeans together. He wears all his jeans this way; it is Dennis’ custom formula.
If you could ask denim designers to change one thing about they way they make jeans, what would it be?
Please give me back fabric without stretch. I need real denim, not sweatpant jeans that stretch out in an hour.
Do you remember your first pair of jeans? What were they like?
My mom is a children’s sewing teacher, and I remember her making my sister and me denim overalls when we were very little. She would give us slivers of soap to draw pictures on the denim, and then she would trace our pictures with the sewing machine. We still have them in our family.
How many pairs of jeans do you own? What are some of your other favorite pairs?
As I tailor, I only own a few pieces of clothing but all of it is altered to fit. I own: the two jeans shown here, one gray Levi’s skinny high-rise, one black Levi’s skinny high-rise, two Levi’s low-rise (in black and railroad stripe), one Madewell purple jean I remodeled my apartment in and are thus perfectly splattered with my own paint and plaster marks. Seven total.
If you had to replace all your jeans with one thing, what would it be?
I aspire to be a Guess girl and wear only pencil skirts, sling-back, peep-toe heels, and bustiers…but it would be too hard to kneel down when fitting others.
If your jeans could talk, what would they say?
“We are just replaceable objects with no value. She can always replace us.” Harsh reality, but it’s true.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give someone who wants to have his or her jeans tailored?
Tailors are like hair stylists; you need to audition us. Give them your least favorite jeans to start, and look at how they do. A great tailor will listen to you about how you want the style to come out, and not say, “You can’t have that.” When you get the garment back, look at the stitching and make sure it is secure (though stitches do come out eventually; nothing is forever). It is an ongoing relationship.
Any denim crushes?
Jennifer Lopez, because she pairs jeans with a high ponytail. For menswear it would be any denim designed by Alexandre Plokhov. He is a master of detail and proportion.
What’s the coolest pair of jeans that’s ever come into your studio?
I am a big fan of the mall brands turning out chic. I love taking American Eagle $29.99 jeans – which are a great buy and good-quality fabric – and turning them into my client’s all-time favorite. All jeans end up cool after coming through our studio.
Fill in the blank: Everyone should tailor their jeans because _____________.
If you tailor your jeans, you will never have to look at a sizing label again. The numbers do not count. A consistent sizing scale among fashion retailers does not exist in reality. All you can do is try them on. When you purchase jeans, you want them to fit comfortably over your largest body part (be that your thigh, waist, or hip) and everything else can be shaped to your liking. Tailoring your jeans is empowering.