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Tailors know New Yorkers' pandemic secret: 'Everybody got fat!'

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Porfirio Arias, right, and his brother, Rafael, at their tailor shop in Queens.

New York

WITH weddings postponed and offices shut, business was bleak at Woodside Tailor Shop in Queens during the long months of pandemic lockdown. There was no need for party dress alterations or any pressure for slacks to be hemmed.

But about three months in, things started picking back up in June, with one particular service in sudden demand: People needed a bit more breathing room in their clothing.

"Everybody got fat!" said Porfirio Arias, 66, a tailor at Woodside. "It's not only in New York. It's all over the world that people got fat."

In a city where gyms are still closed, and Netflix and couch the safest evening entertainment, the phenomenon of stay-at-home weight gain - playfully called the Quarantine 15 by some - has brought an unexpected windfall for some tailors. Some said they have seen business rise by as much as 80 per cent, with customers asking for buttons to be moved, waistbands lengthened and jackets made more roomy.

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"If some people are uncomfortable, they go work out and do whatever," said Michael Shimunoff at La Moda Custom Tailors in Queens. "Some people just let out the pants."

The boost in business has been welcome for many tailors, who often operate in storefronts shared with dry cleaners, which have suffered mightily during the pandemic. Dry cleaning businesses at the peak of the pandemic lost an estimated 80 per cent to 90 per cent in sales compared to previous years and are still down about 40 per cent to 50 per cent, according to data collected by the North East Fabricare Association.

Many tailors fear that the industry may not bounce back, even as more people return to work, if the traditional workplace culture shifts to the new work-from-home ethos - meaning more sweatpants and fewer bespoke suits that need to be cleaned, pressed or altered.

Of course, not all New Yorkers have been able to work from home, and the ability to sequester has largely fallen along socio-economic lines: Putting on pandemic pounds is a small downside of what is in essence a tremendous privilege.

In Woodside, Mr Arias' entire extended family - his wife, two sons, daughter, brother-in-law and mother-in-law - all had their pants let out this month. Or rather, they loaded Mr Arias with their clothes to take to his shop so he could make the required alterations.

At T & J Crystal Cleaners in Long Island City, Queens, David Choi said he has been trying to dissuade customers who ask him to loosen their clothes because they gained weight during the lockdown. The process sometimes distorts the original fit of the clothing so it no longer drapes well, he said, and he fears that his clients will not be happy with the result.

Instead, he urges customers to wait it out, reminding them that pandemics - and pounds - too shall pass.

"I don't say, 'Go try the gym,'" Mr Choi said. "I can't say that, but I am not happy to make my money with this kind of job."

So he said he has tried flattery, telling his customers that the extra pounds added something else besides pure weight. "Some ladies still look sexy!" he said.

Nicolas Jacquet, a custom suit specialist at Brooklyn Tailors, which crafts bespoke menswear, said he recently adjusted a few waistlines on the custom suits of grooms whose measurements were taken before the pandemic began. He recommends fabrics with stretch and give to deal with inertia-based weight gain, like wool or blends with elastane. NYTIMES

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