One of the fun things to do in Vietnam is to have some clothing tailored. You can find super-skilled tailors who will make clothing to fit you like a glove, and turn it around really fast. But there’s a few pointers to keep in mind. In this post I offer tips for tailoring in Vietnam.
How the tailoring process works:
- You enter the tailor shop, perhaps with an idea of what you want, maybe not.
- The shop is usually lined with a vast array of fabrics.
- An assistant helps you make your choices of garments and fabrics. The assistant is not a tailor. The tailors are generally off-site.
- Your measurements are taken. These are detailed measurements, and usually the shop will keep these on record in case you want to contact them later to have things made and mailed to you. Sometimes they’ll also take photos.
- Once all the details are recorded, you pay a deposit for the garments (generally 25-50% of the total price) and you arrange a time to come back for a fitting. The assistant gives you a copy of the receipt for your deposit, and it should have each garment itemised on it.
- At the first fitting, only the initial seams etc have been done. The assistant makes chalk marks and/or pins the garment and writes up alteration instructions for the tailor.
- The step above is repeated until either, you are satisfied with the result, or you run out of time…whichever comes first.
- You pay the remainder of the price and the items are packaged up for you in plastic sleeves or garment bags (suits/evening wear) for you to take away (or have delivered to your hotel).
Tips for tailoring in Vietnam
Choose the right tailor
With literally hundreds of tailors around, it can be hard to know which one to trust. The workmanship ranges from top-class to shoddy. How do you know which is which?
You really need to do your homework in advance, and source trust-worthy recommendations. Word-of-mouth from friends and family or even friends of friends is the best, but we’ve also trusted Tripadvisor reviews of tailors and found them to be generally reliable.
Go into various shops and check out the sample items they have on display. Also look at their fabric selections – do they have the particular fabrics your choices require? (E.g. some tailors have suedes and leathers, stretch fabrics or silk chiffons, some don’t).
Hoi An is known as Vietnam’s tailoring town, and on each of our visits there we’ve always used the same tailors – Yaly Couture. They’re a bit more expensive than some other tailors, but the quality of their fabrics and tailoring is good.
On our recent trip to Saigon, we had no tried-and-tested tailors to rely on, so scouted around, tried out a couple of places with simple pieces (blouses) first, and then committed to a business suit for The Poolboy once we knew what the service and quality would be like. If you have the time, testing out a tailor first with one relatively cheap item is a good safeguard.
Know exactly what you want
Go prepared with photographs, drawings or a sample of what you want made. Think about what fabrics you want, and in what colour. You’ll be limited by what fabrics the chosen tailor has available, but at least you won’t feel overwhelmed by options if you already have a clear idea. Some tailors (e.g. Yaly) have dozens of folders of photos of clothing (from catalogues, magazines, the internet etc) that you can flick through to get some ideas if you have not already prepared. If you have an item of clothing you love and would like reproduced, bring it along. The tailors will copy every last detail.
Make the most of the fact they are tailors
What tailors do best are structured suits and business shirts that are made-to-fit. There is really no point in getting them to do a straight A-line skirt in a plain fabric when you could easily buy something like that straight off the rack in numerous shops at home. So choose to get something made that plays to their strengths – a beautiful suit in a wool/cashmere that fits perfectly, or a gorgeous flowing silk chiffon evening dress with a fitted bodice. The whole point of ‘tailoring’ is to get something original, made to fit the individual.
Keep it simple
Don’t over-complicate the design. Queenie has learnt this lesson. On each trip, she has taken drawings of her own designs, and has had some of them made. The most successful items have been the ones which can be easily interpreted by the tailor.
Choose from the display items
Most tailors have sample pieces on display. If you don’t have any photos, drawings or pre-loved pieces of your own, you can pick one of those. You know that what you see is exactly what you’ll get, as the tailors are practiced in making that item. You can try the sample on, and (if you want to) choose your own fabric. The Poolboy had a tuxedo suit made on a whim after seeing the sample hanging in the tailors – it is a red and black silk jacket which we call his ‘fancy dress’ dinner suit. But it fits him perfectly!
Ask lots of questions before agreeing on price and paying a deposit
Ask to see the fabric. Feel it. Is it really silk/wool/cotton if they say it is? If you don’t know your fabrics, this is where recommendations for trust-worthy tailors are helpful. Have a good look around at all the fabrics in case there is a better one than you are being offered. When The Poolboy gets business suits made, he asks them to show him their absolute best suiting fabric. To have a suit made in gorgeous Italian designer fabrics ends up being a lot more expensive than the base level price the tailor assistants initially quote…but still a fraction of the cost of an Italian designer suit off-the-rack in Melbourne.
Agree the details of the item. Is it lined? How much of it is lined? (For instance, if it’s ladies pants, do you want full length lining?) What fabric is the lining? What colour is the lining? What buttons do you want? How many buttons? Is there a zip? What type of zip? Are there details in the photo that may be missed – e.g. pockets, pleats, top-stitching?
Add some personality
If you’re getting a relatively conservative business suit made, you could ask to see some of the colourful silks to use for the lining. For instance, a cheeky flash of a pink and purple striped lining inside a charcoal-grey suit jacket can really make a piece special.
Some of the tailors specialize in embroidery, or beading and sequining. Again, it’s an opportunity to add your own personal touch to a garment at very reasonable prices. Use online forums or ask around to find the best one for your needs.
Negotiate over the price
The assistant may quote you a price for a shirt (for instance, USD$30), but there is usually some bargaining to be done if you’re prepared to add quantity. One crisp cotton shirt may be $30, but they’ll do 2 for $50 or 3 for $65. We generally decide all the items we want, then ask for their best price for everything together.
Choose value items
It’s easy to get caught up in the process and order garments without standing back and doing a sanity-check of the value of a piece. A simple sundress at say, USD$70, may not be as great value as a three-piece suit in a quality fabric at USD$200. Think about what you would be likely to pay at home for a similar item, and the likelihood of being able to find something that fits perfectly and is exactly how you want it.
Leave enough time for a quality finish
Many tailors advertise 24 hour turnaround, but the reality is that good tailoring (especially for suits or evening wear) actually takes a bit longer than that. I recommend allowing at least three days from start to finish. A good tailor should offer a first fitting the day after the order is placed, and then, depending on what needs to be altered, further fittings over the following two days.
If you have a few days to spare, you will probably get the best finish on your garments. If you try to rush the process, you may end up with poor results. It’s quite normal for there to be significant changes to be made after that first fitting, and if you are patient, and prepared to send items back again for further alterations after the second (or in extreme cases, third or fourth) fittings, you will finish with perfectly-fitting garments. Speak up about any aspects that concern you, as many can be fixed, and that’s much better than walking away from the experience disappointed.
The last two times we’ve been in Hoi An, we got straight onto the tailoring process the day we arrived and then scheduled fittings first thing in the morning, and late at night each day, so that we could do other things during the day without worrying about rushing back for tailoring fittings. At a busy tailor shop like Yaly, you have to be prepared to sit around for a while until your own particular assistant is free and able to do the fitting. During that time, you end up chatting to other customers, so it’s all quite social…and just contributes to the fun Vietnamese tailoring experience.
Have you ever had anything tailored? I would love to hear your tips!
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