It’s been said that hemlines rise and fall with the economy, and my grandmother certainly thought so. She made an annual pilgrimage to a seamstress to have her skirts taken up or let down depending on the mood that year. (With today’s plunging market, perhaps the right hem is asymmetrical.) But the thriftiness of Granny’s approach intrigues me. What to do when you crave something new but don’t want to spend tons of money? Get creative.The black dress on this page is one of about six I wore in the early 1990s — I thought the look was slimming and chic (then). I saved this one because it was a designer piece (Dries Van Noten) in a cut that flattered me. I pulled it from the back of my closet recently and wondered if it could become exciting again. Donna Darnall, a New York City-based tailor, agreed that the frock had potential. It was a simple cut, sans pleating, embellishment, or layers, any of which can complicate alterations. "The proportions were right," Darnall says. "The shoulders and waist hit where they should." The result of her scissor surgery: a dress I can wear day or night, and accessorize in a thousand different ways. After this first success, I wanted more. At inexpensive retailer H&M I found a serviceable gray suit for Darnall to jazz up. I bought it big — Darnall says start with more volume so you have fabric to work with — but I knew the wide-leg pants and shrunken jacket would complement my frame. Then Darnall went to work: Pants were taken in, shortened and fitted with wide cuffs; sleeves were tapered to create a slimmer silhouette; buttons swapped; trim added. Voila! Darnall’s styling oomph turned a just-okay suit into a one-of-a-kind creation.I have officially embraced tailoring. In the past few weeks I’ve taken shoulder pads out of 1980s jackets, added jeweled buttons to a basic black coat, and removed long, puffy sleeves from a red dress (instant sleek sheath). Of course, your tailor has to be good. Try your local dry cleaner, but also ask for a referral from an upscale clothing store or the concierge at a nice hotel.Originally published in MORE magazine, May 2009.