Tailor Made

December 14, 2006

Thu Thuy Tailor shop Hoi An VietnamHoi An is a charming, but certainly not undiscovered coastal town in central Vietnam with a population of 70,000. It is well known for its tailors. The streets are lined with hundreds of tailor shops, many bearing large hand written testimonials on butcher paper. Each satisfied client is more fanatical in his praise than the next — at least of those that I can read. In addition to testimonials in English, I’ve seen testimonials in all the best backpacker languages like Dutch and Hebrew, but not one in Vietnamese.

This is hardly a surprise because every local woman not working in a hotel or a tailor shop, where a traditional ao dai seems to be obligatory, is wearing jeans that are 3 to 10 inches too long for her. The extra fabric is folded up on the outside of the jeans forming an enormous cuff. Unlike a 14 year old boy’s pants that might go from being two inches too long to two inches too short before they wear them out, these women are in their twenties so they have had any “growth spurt” they might expect. In general, the reason the pants are too long may be related to the fact that even after their growth spurt almost one third of them are still less than 5 feet tall.

Those not wearing jeans generally work in the hospitality, retail and government sectors. The local ao dais are made of beautiful fabrics and are very flattering, but the cut and construction, while tailored is quite simple. Against this backdrop, caution seemed prudent. My brother and online investigation yielded many cautionary tales, but some happy customers as well. Based on an excellent article by Deborah L. Jacobs I picked a local tailor, for an experiment in casual clothes, but I decided to hold off on any suits or dress shirts until Bangkok.

I brought a favorite Indigo Palms camp shirt as a model of the cut, style and workmanship I was seeking. I picked out a pair of fabrics while Soyan looked through the 4 inch thick book of catalogs. She picked selected a long white skirt similar to one she had been looking for and picked some red corduroy to use for copying a favorite pair of Lucky brand jeans.

When I came back for a fitting I liked the shirts enough to pick out a few more fabrics, but there were a few small tweaks that I asked to be fixed. On my third visit I tried on the second set of shirts which again needed small fixes. On my fourth visit most of the kinks had been worked out, but one shirt made of a light weight silk, just didn’t hang right. They pledged to try and fix it, but said that if it didn’t work out I didn’t have to take it. Finally on the fifth visit I took the shirts home (other than the silk one). They weren’t as perfect as I’d expect from custom tailored shirts, but I was pleased with them. My biggest complaint was a slight pucker just below the collar at the base of my neck. It was subtle enough that I would have let it go buying off the rack, but it was a disappointment for custom made.

Overall I was glad I had had the shirts made. I thought they looked nice and at $16 a piece they were a bargain compaired to Indigo Palms, but 5 visits is too many to have to make. Fortunately I had the time, but it was a bit of a bother to be always planning around our next appointment at the tailor especially for a few shirts.

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