Many people travel to Hoi An for the express purpose of having clothes made. If you want a bespoke suit crafted at rock-bottom prices, this is the place to do it. The process requires much more time, patience, and walking back and forth to the tailor shop than I’d expected, but it’s also a lot of fun if you set aside those factors aside. Here’s how it works:
1) Research. This involves spending hour on line reading blogs and TripAdvisor. There are questions to be asked and decisions to be made: how high end do you want to go, knowing that you’ll get what you pay for? How much are you willing to spend? How much choice do you want? Are you looking for couture? Does it matter how friendly the salespeople are? Do you trust the blogs that say that the smaller tailors that promise 24-hour service all send their work out to overnight sweatshops? Do you worry about this? How do you factor in concerns about unfair labor practices? How do you feel about the fact that when you walk down the alleys beyond the tourist hangouts, you see lines of sewing machines in so many houses?
Do not be surprised if, at the end of the research process, you feel more baffled than you did going in.
2) Pick a tailor shop (or two, or three). We all settled on Tuong Tailors, one of the larger, higher-end outfits, for our first stop. Suits there seemed run in the $250-$350 range, and dresses (nothing too fancy or complicated ran between $60-$125 US.
I later made a side venture to Bebe, where I really liked my saleswoman, while Prescott and Dad randomly wandered into and had shirts made by the extraordinarily friendly owner of tiny Nhi Trung.
3. Sit and chat with the saleswomen (they are all women). Tell them what you want.
If you are looking to have a suit or shirts made, this can be pretty straightforward. If you want a dress or something else outside of the business-wear category, it’s easiest if you bring something along to have it copied. (Side note: if you bring a piece of clothing for copying purposes, the tailor shop will take it and not return it until they give you your final order. So you cannot wear any of the pieces that you have brought to have copied during the trip. This came as an unpleasant surprise to me.)
If you’re feeling more adventuresome, you might bring a picture along of clothes that you like or choose something out of the photos that some of the shops have on hand. I found a photo of one dress online, and the saleswoman sketched it out:
4. Choose your material. For people who want suits and dress shirts, there’s a whole wall of wool, cashmere, cotton, silk, and polyester just for this purpose:
If you want a dress or a skirt made, you may be taken to a separate room upstairs, where fabric is literally spilling out onto the floor:
They will record small swatches of your chosen choices — along with your selections and measurements — in a very cool-looking notebook:
5. Get measured. This ends the first visit.
6. Return about 24 hours later for your first fitting. This is when you will discover that it is remarkably difficult to get clothes right the first time around. There will be much use of tailor’s chalk, needle and thread, and enormous scissors as they make adjustments and marks for the next round of changes.
The fitting room is a whirlwind of people:
7. Return another 24 hours later for your second fitting (note that you’re on day two of the process now, and this is your third visit to the store).
Now you’re really testing out your clothes, seeing how it feels to sit down …
… and to move around:
8. Return to the store anywhere between 3 and 24 hours later (note that you may now be on day 4 of this process). In theory, this will be for your last and final fitting; they will take care of tiny little touches in-house, and you should be able to pick up your items.
In my case, however, because they accidentally ripped the material during my second fitting, I was asked to come in for a fourth fitting. This made my process extra-long.
Our take-home from all of this is that you can see Hoi An in either of two ways. On the one hand, you have the option of a leisurely vacation. On the other hand, you can have clothes made and plan all of your time around fittings at the tailor. The latter option does not make for the best sense of relaxation. But you do end up with nice clothes that actually fit!