Originally published on escape.com.au
Are you going to get clothes made? It’s the first question everyone asks when you tell them you’re going to Hoi An, and for good reason. This pretty little town on the east coast of Vietnam is home to more than 400 tailors renowned for their expertise in making clothes to order.
Hundreds of multi-coloured silk lanterns hang overhead, lighting the way through streets and laneways lined with shopfronts containing a rainbow of elegant materials. Impeccably stitched suits, glamorous ball gowns and bright party dresses adorn the mannequins, and smiling customers leave the shops with armfuls of handmade tailored pants, sequined jackets, shirts and skirts. Spruikers appeal to every passer-by and it is hard to resist the lure of clothes designed to fit the exact specifications of your body.
For some, getting clothes tailored is easy, but if you’re not as confident with fabrics, designs, colours and asserting yourself, you can end up unhappy with the results.
I had a vague idea about getting a work suit that would fit me like a comfortable second skin, making me look professional, elegant and thin, but the sheer number of tailors available in the town had me reaching for my bamboo fan.
The tailors run a smooth operation. Salespeople are on hand to talk you through pattern books, show you fabrics and refresh you with ice-cold bottles of water. With efficiency, they whip out tape measures and relay your specs to waiting colleagues. Before you know it, Stockholm syndrome has set in and you’re choosing fabrics as a seamstress is being called to transport the plans to the sewing factory for construction.
There are three ways to make your fashion dreams a reality in Hoi An.
CHOOSE FROM A PATTERN BOOK
With everything from business suits, mother-of-the-bride frocks, casual culottes and sexy singlet tops on offer, you’ll find an outfit to suit you in one of many pattern books in each shop. All you need do is choose your fabric. Silk, linen, cotton, wool: all is on offer.
One thing to remember is that, unless you live in a hot humid country, what you want in Hoi An is not necessarily perfect for home. I spent hours looking at pattern books and fabrics and chose a classic singlet top. However, my fabric choice meant this piece was literally cut from the wrong cloth and was unusable in a Melbourne wardrobe.
RECREATE A GARMENT FROM A PHOTO
Stack your phones with photos of clothes you’ve seen online or in real life and have them recreated for you. This method relies on your ability to be articulate when it comes time for a fitting. Take some time to learn about seams, pleats and darts so you can better explain yourself.
A picture of a simple straight dress ended with me standing in a change room, almost in tears, displeased with what looked like a maternity outfit and stressed about how to explain to the assistant that it was not at all what I wanted. It looked so wrong on me, I decided I would give it away to someone on the street.
After three fittings and one or two fresh ginger and gin cocktails delivered in from the bar next door, the outcome was a dress I could wear (albeit with a scarf over the top).
HAVE YOUR FAVOURITE CLOTHES COPIED
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” they say, so I took in garments that I loved already, chose from the tailor’s hundreds of rolls of fabrics, and had the items copied exactly. These were by far the most successful pieces from my Hoi An tailor tour.
In fact, I went from overwhelmed to overexcited, to overspending. But when you return home and your wardrobe includes multiple versions of your favourite top, or pair of pants, and they all fit you perfectly, you won’t be sorry.
Despite being dazed and confused at times, I’ve had the quintessential Hoi An tailoring experience and returned home with some great new threads, all for the price of a fancy pair of pants in Melbourne.
Visit the tailors early in your trip. This allows time for alterations.
Be confident. Know what you like, and want before you enter a shop.
Set a price then haggle. If you’re getting more than one item, it should be reflected in the price. Go with a friend and bargain yourself silly.
Be firm with times and dates. The turnaround for clothes can be as short as one day.