Hoi An is well known for having an abundance of tailors – close to a thousand.
Since we were there for a few days, a group of us figured it would make sense to visit a tailor and get measured to allow enough time for the suit-making to be completed. We went to a tailor recommended to one of our group, where immaculately-dressed assistants led us upstairs past some seamstresses to pick what we wanted made.
In fact, we were offered the Next catalogue for inspiration – indicating to me that they can copy anything whilst having a low estimation of their clients’ imagination.
I was expecting a bargain. In fact, I was expecting such a bargain that I anticipated being unable to resist buying perhaps a dozen shirts. I thought about going to the post office to send them back to the UK.
Once the prices were explained to me, I realised that wasn’t going to happen. They wanted $60 for a shirt. I got measured up for a shirt and changed my mind partway through – it just felt like far too much when you could get a delicious four-course meal for maybe $6 in the same town.
Being riddled with tailors, you get pestered in the street constantly. One of my favourite lines is “You make lucky day for me – be my first customer”. Quite often there’s a discount incentive attached, which is fine by me in principle, but usually puts me off because I’m a little contrary by nature and don’t like to be pressured. The chap who approached me in the street outside the overpriced tailor, took a different approach:
“I am the gay homosexual”, he said. OK – fine. “I am very good for making beautiful suit for you – come to my shop darling”. The tailor called himself Mr. Lai.
I liked him immediately and figured if it works for Gok Wan‘s clients, perhaps it can work for me, and went for a fitting. Pretty much immediately, I got pressure to buy a suit. Not only was it baking hot, but I didn’t want to carry around a suit. Mr Lai wasn’t fazed – offering to ship it for me via FedEx. I stuck to my guns and went for a long-sleeved white shirt for $17. The shirt would be ready in 6 hours, “Come back at 7pm, honey,” said Mr. Lai as he patted my bum. Yes – he really did.
I went wandering around the market and was approached by a woman there offering to make me a suit. I declined, but then remembered that I needed my shorts fixed. I had torn them by stuffing my telephoto lens into the pocket at Kiyomizu. She took me through the market, down an alleyway and into another part of the market, where she had dozens of seamstresses on the go.
After a short haggle, I was lent some shorts to wear, whilst one of the seamstresses fixed my shorts. People ate whilst they worked – seeming to practically live there. Perhaps my shirt was being made here.
I popped into Mr. Lai’s shop after dinner. He was at the gym so I tried on the shirt and took it home. It was well made, with good seams and fitted well. I wasn’t thrilled with the collar – finding it a little too thin compared to a similar shirt in the West, but still OK. Nonetheless, I returned the next day for two more shirts – short sleeved this time, and with better collars.
I was happy with the finished goods that same evening. The collars were better and the fit and cloth were great. I nearly amputated my hands on the ceiling fan as I tried on the shirts (I am far too tall for Vietnam). Mr. Lai was back from the gym that evening when I went to collect and was all smiles until I still refused to buy a suit. At that point, I got the brush off, with a parting, “Give me a good review on Tripadvisor”.
I felt so used!
My advice on tailoring in Hoi An is as follows:
- Swot up a bit before you go – what makes a good cloth good? What kind of cut do you wear well? What corner cutting should you look out for?
- It helps to give a comprehensive briefing to the tailor when you get measured, so that you can be sure you get exactly what you want.
- It’s hard to go far wrong, but be circumspect about committing to a big buy - Shop around comprehensively.
- You often don’t get what you pay for – there are some allegedly mafia-controlled tailors that overcharge (I suspect the $60 a shirt tailor was a mafia place).
- Try going into the market, rather than to a shop – I got a good impression from the tailors there.
- Be aware that the person selling you the shirt might claim to be a tailor, but really he or she is just an english-speaking front person – try to cut out the middleman if you can. I didn’t – I don’t think Mr. Lai was terrible, but I suspect his strongest skill was his English, followed by his bench press.