Nov 28 2011
by Anna Heimbichner
Hoi An is home to possibly the world’s highest concentration of tailors per capita, who will stop at nothing to get you to buy clothing you think you need. Having clothes custom made for you can be highly tempting; I certainly wanted to give it a shot. I met travellers who visited Hoi An specifically to have a new wardrobe outfitted, or to buy formal wear for an entire wedding party. The bespoke tailoring offered is certainly cheaper than many places elsewhere in the world, and this fact alone is not missed by the tailors who, measuring tape in hand, descend on you. If you do want to have some bespoke pieces—a suit, or dress, or a winter coat—made for you, here are some tips.
First and foremost, shop around. This seems like a no-brainer, but in a town containing more than a hundred tailoring shops, it’s a buyer’s market and you’ll do well if you explore the options. Which shop you choose will depend on what you’re after—a suit to wear to the office? Or something comfortable and inexpensive to wear through the heat?
If you’re after something that will last, or are looking to invest a bit of money in a few pieces, do your due diligence carefully; if you’re in it for the novelty of having something made just for you, it matters less which shop you choose.
Each store will be different in terms of pricing, quality of fabrics used, quality of tailoring, customer service, turnaround time, and style of clothing offered, so learning which shops offer what will benefit you greatly before you plunk down any cash.
Start by looking at what is on display outside each store. Many shops will be able to replicate just about anything your heart desires, but all stores will have their own designs too. It’s usually easy to pick out which stores are more expensive than others—they’ll be air conditioned, or will be larger. A suit can cost $80 and $60 at neighboring shops, and price will depend on the experience of the tailor, fabrics chosen, and time taken. Choosing pieces of clothing that will fit with your current wardrobe is best—although the bright red coat on display may look pretty, it often won’t fit in with what you already own.
When it comes to picking fabrics, be selective. If you have zero experience with clothing or fabrics, ask to borrow a laptop or flip through the pages of a magazine (the better shops will have either, or both) to get an idea of both the colour and type of fabric used for the garment of your choice. With suiting, some sort of thick wool or cashmere blend usually works best. If it feels thin and cheap, it probably is. Each shop will have its own supply of fabrics, so quality and patterns will vary down every street.
With bespoke tailoring, the clothes are molded to you. Despite the precise measurements taken, tailors will rarely produce a perfectly fitted piece of clothing on the first try. They will put together a rough garment and you’ll return for up to three fittings, where the garment is whittled down to size. Ask ahead about the number of fittings you will have before you commit to anything. One shop I went to offered three fittings as standard, while another objected when I asked about adjustments made after the first fitting. If something does not look, feel, or hang right to you, say so.
Remember also that you’re on holiday in a foreign country so you may not be the same size you are at home! If in doubt, have the item fit to your existing clothes—you don’t want to get home to discover your new suit is too tight, or too loose.
I thought that being a fashion aficionado would ensure I only bought the best clothes, and I was mostly right. I shopped carefully—ordering one suit to start with, based off a design I hand-picked. After an hour choosing fabrics and linings, and after three fittings, the suit turned out so well that I ordered another.
In the summer heat and store lighting everything looked perfect, but once I got home the rose-tint wore off slightly. I’m still pleased with my purchases, and am happy to have spent a fraction of what these clothes would have cost from any shop in London. But comparing my new suits to existing (expensive) ones, there is no doubt that the new ones are just cheaper—the look, even the fabric—despite my best efforts in Hoi An. My top advice is to have what you want made, but don’t let rumour or your expectations carry you away into over-spending!
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