EDINBURG – Women like Susan Ranck have kept brides, grooms and wedding parties looking sharp for more than 30 years. Soon, she said, she will be gone and someone new will have to step up and take her place.
Inside her cramped shop, Ranck hung a shiny bridesmaid’s dress, a project that had filled its owner with doubt. When she brought it in, Ranck said, the owner had it stuffed in a bag. This was the second dress the woman had brought in and was unsure if it was right.
Hanging it up, Ranck said, was part of trying to change the attitude of her latest customer.
“Maybe if I hang it up,” Ranck said, “give the dress a little more respect, maybe she’ll like it better when she comes back.”
Attitude, Ranck said, is important to her. She is ready and willing to educate. She said she is happy to work with people to do what they want, even if it isn’t what’s best for their dress or suit but she will not stand for being told she “has” to do something.
“I keep telling people, I’m in it for the entertainment,” she said. “I’ve been asked to do some really weird things and as long as it’s mechanically workable, I’ll do it. I’ve ruined a lot of stuff because that’s what people asked me to do.”
As sewing becomes a lost art, Ranck said there are fewer and fewer places in the county for someone to go to get their clothes altered.
“There are people that do the gowns; they do it in their own homes,” Ranck said. “Around here it's, ‘Who do you know?’”
Preparing clothes for a wedding, Ranck said, or any event for that matter is going to be the same for both men and women. Though most of her shop was filled with women’s clothing, a handful of suits hung, lurking in a corner.
The men, she said, are often timid when they first come in. They will slink in the shop and be nervous about entering the space.
Women, Ranck said, usually come in with an idea in mind but are willing to let her step in and be the professional.
“The girls for the weddings are generally pretty easy to work with,” she said. “By the time I get done with it, it fits them better, they’re more comfortable in it and they end up dancing around my floor.”
“Most of them will let me be the professional,” She continued. “Some of them insist on it their way. My job is to do what they ask me to.”
All clothes, men’s and women’s, Ranck said, have similar qualities and require the same base set of skills, though different approaches to each do crop up.
“Dresses aren’t made like men’s pants,” Ranck said. “They’re pretty much generic. They’ve got to buy the dress that fits the largest part and then we have to make the smaller part fit.”
Letting clothes out — making them wider or longer — is close to impossible, Ranck said. For dresses, the most she can do in most cases is add fabric, which looks less professional than hemming a dress to make it fit better.
“The fabric has to be in there to let it out,” she said. “So your best bet to buying something that has to be too big so it has to be taken in. Don’t expect the little part to go bigger because it’s just not in there.”
The rule of thumb, Ranck said, is to not adjust clothes more than 2 inches either way. Any more than that, she said, and the proportions will be ruined and the clothes won’t look right. At that point, she said, it’s better to just buy something that fits better.
“There’s a lot of mechanics that go into sewing that people don’t think about,” she said.
As Ranck starts slowing down, turning more business away and phasing herself out of the alteration business, she said she is always telling people they have to learn how to sew because she isn’t going to be around forever to do it.
Until then, Susan’s Alterations and Such is one bastion of old-fashioned clothes care still available to anyone aiming to look their best for their big day.
Susan’s Alterations and Such is located at 309 N. Main St. in Edinburg.