I was quite excited for Hoi An, Vietnam and it’s renowned tailors with well over 400 shops chomping at the bit to create custom clothes for me. But, I’m a female! How could I not get excited for that? Espcially, when I continually come up in tears inside the dressing rooms back home due to items just never fitting quite right. Something that happens to many girls of all shapes and sizes. We are not all the same shape but the factories think we are. It’s just a fact of life that I like to call the Goldilocks syndrome.
Okay, Okay… end rant.
In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t of gotten myself so excited for Hoi An. It just lead me to disappointment. Can you believe that!?! Yes, I was even disappointed while shopping for custom tailored clothing! What is wrong with me?
To avoid being disappointed yourself. Here are my tips I wish I fully figured out before I got there.
credit: gisela gerson lohman-braun
1. Pick sample styles you see in the shops
All the shops will have samples of clothing they can do on display. If you want the best and easiest experience, just pick one of their sample styles to be tailored for you in the colours you want. They know how to to whip up these items like you know how the sky is blue. Possibility of being disappointed is very very low.
But, what if you don’t like anything you see and/or have something else in mind? Then…
credit: Dominik Siedlecki
2. Know EXACTLY what you want.
The person you talk to in the shop is not your tailor. They are just sales people who will send your order to a hole in the wall location filled with sewing machines being worked by shirtless vietnamese men who don’t speak english. (I was taken to the actual tailor location by a saleslady when my adjustment requests were not being met, so this is just the deal with 1 of the 400 shops but I’m sure they all mostly operate the same). So, when you tell your chosen shop what you want it is then told in a bad game of telephone to the tailor. Take the time to print out many pictures, write down specifics, draw images, etc before you step into a shop and then again take the time to sit down with your sales person to go over every detail to make sure they 100% understand before they go relay the information onwards. If you don’t do this you will be delivered an item your not happy with.
3. Don’t be too creative.
I have a unique fashion sense. My dream wardrobe items are not found inside big name retailer catalogs. Instead all my dream items are usually unique handmade designs usually found in the vendor section of a festival and definitely all over etsy.com. The sort of clothing they don’t often see in Hoi An which was my main demise. Most of the samples and woman’s items they are used to creating is dress clothes and really simple clothes. You will see lots of dresses, blouses, simple skirts, regular pants and shorts, cute tops, and nice winter jackets. Nothing too out of the norm and everything inside their books are pictures ripped out of designer catalogs. So, when I showed them the images of the items I found on etsy most of the shops looked at them like they were kryptonite.
4. Bring clothing you already love
This is a bit tricky to do for RTW backpackers due to limited space in your pack. But, if you have an item or two at home that you love bring that to get remade exactly the same way but in a different color and/or fabric. With a physical sample of exactly what you want it’s next to impossible for them to do a mistake. We did not do this ourselves but will for sure next time.
credit: Alan Travers
5. Get a good vibe from a shop
With over 400 shops it pretty over-whelming to decide who to go with. Scott found a great shop from doing some research online on who to go with but when we arrived I soon learned they mostly work with mens dress clothes and a tiny bit of women’s. The sales lady seemed really reluctant when I showed her my ideas to the point I didn’t want to get my clothes through them. It’s not often you get a hesitant person trying to sell you something in “BUY SOMETHING!!!” land. So I took that as a huge sign to shop someplace else for myself and be very picky about it. Pick somewhere that has samples of clothing as similar to what you want as possible, a good fabric range, and most important sales people that give you a good vibe.
6. Understand Fabrics
It’s one thing to know what color you want for your tailored clothes. But there is tons of different types of fabrics that all react differently. They look different from a swatch to completed garment or react different from hanging on a roll to off your body. Study your clothes at home and understand what type of fabric it is you prefer to wear. Or what type of fabric is typically used for certain styles. Is it stretchy? Silky? Textured? Etc. I have a couple items I wish I got in a different fabric type. I ordered a dress with an image I had from etsy. Since it was a dress they assumed it be a silky and shiny dressy material and told me to pick something from that section. So I did. Low and behold, the style of dress just didn’t work well with that fabric type. It is too slippery of a material for the wrap around tie and just hangs funny. I should of gotten it made in some sort of cotton instead. (which low and behold the majority of all my fav clothes back home is made out of)
7. It’s the little details that count
Does the picture of your jacket show pockets? The one I had sure did. The model even had her hand in the pocket. But, did my jacket come with pockets? Nope. Could they add them after? Nope. (so they say) Anything you can do about it? Not really. “You never told us to put pockets.” Whatever! What jacket doesn’t have pockets?? Augh. Make sure you describe and point out every single detail. Even the ones that are obvious to you. Pockets, zippers, buttons, collars, embellishments, etc.
8. Be assertive in your fittings and give yourself enough time in the city for multiple ones.
Chances of the item fitting perfectly the first time you try it on are low. When you tell them what needs to be changed make sure they understand. I wanted the collar wider in a jacket. Tell them and show them. They say no problem. Get it back again and it feels like there was no change. Did they change it? They say they did. Does it feel like it? Nope. Hmm… Don’t settle and just accept it not being perfect. Make sure you get something that fits the way you want it. Only problem is you are usually on a time limit and they know this. Plan to have at least 3-4 days more in Hoi An after your first fitting just in case.
9. Size does matter
Have you lost weight in your travels? Or maybe gained weight? Do you have a usual size you are back home but are not this while shopping in Hoi An? For myself, I gained a bunch of weight in Europe and was just starting to loose it by the time we hit Hoi An. I also left for my trip a little heavier then I wish myself to be and soon after arriving back home put myself on the healthy road that resulted in even more weight loss. Most of my clothes I got tailored in Hoi An are way too big for me now. Now I feel like that was a bunch of money wasted. Same deal can happen if you lost weight while traveling and then gain it back when you get home. Suddenly, you can’t fit into your clothes anymore. Something to consider before you even think about getting yourself tailored clothes.
10. Bring your own sewing patterns
This is another idea I just thought of to actually make it to 10 tips (I originally only had 9). But, I think this one might actually be gold! Hit up a fabric store for some patterns before you head to Hoi An. I think sewing has started to become hip again. It’s not just for your great aunt anymore! You can find modern, edgy, artsy, designer, etc etc patterns. Basically any style now a-days is getting into the pattern business. They are also fairly cheap and will provide every single detail you will probably forget to mention to create your piece. The pattern might even suggest a fabric type! I think this is much more helpful to those shirtless tailors then a picture printed off of etsy or ripped out of a magazine.
All in all, I did end up with some great pieces from Hoi An. It’s just the experience was not at all what I was expecting and I had high hopes of what I could get. I do want to go back one day and get more items made but that time I will come very prepared and/or just shop the sample styles they have on display only. But for now, it’s time to take those good pieces I have to a tailor out here to get them resized for my smaller body.
Ladies! Have you been through the Hoi An tailor experience? Did you experience a Goldilocks syndrome like me or was it a home run for you? I’m interested in other female experiences especially. Sorry guys, suits are pretty straight forward and a topic Scott will be posting about separately real soon.