Hoi An has a rich history the in silk trade which has since been relocated to bigger ports leaving a charming and well preserved town behind. Today, the town is renown for getting virtually any item of clothing made in a day or two in one of the hundreds of tailor shops.
The problem one encounters when setting out on their first day of tailor-hunting is that there is an overabundance of options ranging from the tailor chain establishments of Yaly Couture to small market stalls with a desk and piles of fabrics two meters high. Without a recommendation it can be daunting, especially with men and women everywhere calling out to you or playfully pulling you into their shop. Fortunately, we had a recommendation for a tailor stall in the cloth market called #52 that took a lot of empty promises to visit other shops later to find.
The women were friendly, fun and pushy as most good Vietnamese saleswomen tend to be and spent no time at all sitting us down each with our own catalog of clothing that their tailors could copy overnight. Of course, getting an upfront price for the cost of a suit or shirt was impossible and instead all we heard was “don’t worry, you come from recommendation – good price for you” no matter how much my father insisted. Instead of simply getting up and leaving, which I instinctively do when they play games like that we stuck it out in the humid market flipping through catalogs. They did come recommended after all, and surely that had to count for something.
Throughout the course of the next hour or two our order continually grew as more shirts, dresses and suits popped out at us. The catalogs, as it turned out were more of a style guide as they didn’t have all the same colours/patterns, so once we found a style we liked it was time for the hard part of choosing colors. I’m invariably bad at this – it took me 15 minutes to decide which colors should be the silk lining in the jackets, and no one even sees the lining! Deciding patterns and colors for the shirts and suit was harder still. Suffice to say I was exhausted enough at that point to leave buying ties for another day. In the end, I had two suits (charcoal and gray) and five shirts picked out when it was time to get measured.
The measuring process seemed quite thorough, coming from someone who has never been measured for a suit at least. In all, 22 measurements were taken in a notebook and hurried off to a workshop where our order would be put together and ready for the first fitting the following afternoon. Now, the bargaining process began. We had a rough idea of what each item should cost (more/less depending on material quality) – $100 for a suit, $10 for shirts, $20 for dresses but even with Dad’s relatively hard bargaining, the price wouldn’t come down that much. Presumably, they figure that once you’ve spent that long deciding on styles, fabrics etc that you aren’t just going to get up and go somewhere else to repeat the whole process. Which, is a really great tactic on their behalf. Before finishing the deal and continuing on to have some shoes made, the women brought us a delicious lunch of the Hoi An specialty Cao Lau to complete our first Vietnamese tailor shop experience.
The following afternoon we came back as promised to a notably less happy and fun shop where everything was ready to try. There wasn’t much that needed altering; the business shirts were a little tight around the shoulders and upper chest, whilst the pants were slightly baggy. What surprised me was that the jacket seemed to fit 100%, nice (blue) silk lining and all. I came in thinking that they couldn’t have got the jacket right and tried to find little things to pick at, but in the end there was nothing. Dad’s shirts were spot on, Mum only needed one dress altered and we agreed to pick up everything, including the altered shirts, pants and dress the following morning. Instead, we went on a bicycle tour of the town and returned in the evening where three shirts still weren’t right and were sent back with the promise of delivery to our hotel by 8pm. For whatever reason this didn’t happen and it took a phone call the following morning for the shirts to arrive, although to their credit they arrived within 5 minutes of the phone call.
Overall, it was a very interesting experience. Would I use a market or small shop tailor again? Probably not. This has to do with the fact that on the last day when we checked out Yaly Couture, the staff weren’t pushy, the clothes looked amazing and most importantly (for me) they gave you a reasonable price up front. It is simply a much more western style operation. The fact that the friendliness of the staff began to decline after the first day (after paying the deposit) was also disappointing. The true test of quality and value in the suits will be when I get back home and start wearing them to apply for jobs. Perhaps, on reflection, the suits were a graduation present to entice me to come home and begin corporate life?