Girls! Put your boyfriend somewhere safe and go for a wander around the Old Town in Hoi An. There are so many tailors you won’t know what to do with yourself and there’s nothing worse than dragging a disinterested boyfriend around who checks his watch every 2 minutes and rolls his eyes as you enter the next shop. The best thing to do is just let him roam and take in the sights while you shop, shop, shop ‘til you drop.
Depending on the amount of time you have to spend in Hoi An, you can choose to have something special (or not special) made. Alternatively, you can buy some of the ready-to-wear items hanging on the mannequins. These are still, however, likely to need to be altered slightly – the length, the waist, the straps, the neckline, etc. (Having something altered can be done while you wait in the shop, especially if you explain you don’t have much time – as long as you’re definitely going to buy it, they’ll do anything to accommodate you).
If you’re having something made, it’s better for both you and the tailor if you go even just a little bit prepared. This list is only my advice, you can take it or leave it, but I hope it helps some of you:
Prepare to stay in Hoi An for a few days
As mentioned above, even a pre-made article is likely to need a number of alterations, most often the size and length. So taking that into account, if you’re having something made from scratch, not only are you going to have to allow time for measuring, you’re going to have to allow time for the pattern cutting, the stitching, the frills and bows (i.e. piping, princess lines, waistline, pockets, zips, any other details). As well as this, it’s important to realise that the likelihood of your item coming out perfect the first time, is pretty slim, and so extra time for further fittings should be included in your plan. There is so much to see in Hoi An that people don’t realise so spending the extra few days here is worth it anyway.
Know your fabrics
Despite being a textile graduate, I still made vital mistakes when interning as a designer, and these mistakes were usually wrong fabric choices. It is easy to be sucked into beautiful patterns when choosing materials for your clothing, I myself am guilty of that very thing. However, it’s important to know just a little bit about different fabrics – at least realising the importance of the fabric weight as this will affect the fit, the flow and the overall look and feel of the finished item. Though the tailor will be able to cut the dress of your dreams, they cannot be held fully responsible if the material you choose, hangs differently to how you had expected (although if the tailor has not warned you of this during your consultation, especially if you showed them a picture of what you want, then they haven’t done their job properly, and are maybe inexperienced).
To try to help you out a little, there’s a little list of some of the fabrics commonly used for various garments, with short descriptions at the bottom of this post.
What do you want?
It’s not the be all and end all if you don’t know exactly what you want before you enter the tailor’s shop, but having an idea is definitely beneficial for both you and the tailor. At least knowing whether you want a dress or a jacket would be a good start.
Although there are often countless catalogues for you to browse in the shops, they’re not always up-to-date. In fact, they rarely are. I even recall flicking through a 2005 fashion magazine. If you’re fashion-conscious therefore, it’s better if you do a bit of research first – looking at what your favourite designer or retailer is selling, finding out what’s on trend (colours, prints, lengths, styles, collars, etc.).
Think about the clothes you have in your wardrobe at home and in your suitcase in Hoi An. You’ve bought clothes that you know you feel comfortable in and that you feel suit your body shape. So it’s probably best not to be too adventurous in trying something completely different out as there is no going back once the dress has been made.
Where are you going to be wearing this/these item(s)? A wedding? A party? On holiday? A nightclub? Again, you want to think about the fabrics you choose here. (And don’t forget that if you’re from a cold country, you’re going to want different fabrics to those from a hot country)
Take a photo
If you have seen something you want, or if you want an item you own replicated, take a photo – or better yet, your item. The best tailors in Hoi An will wow you with their skills! They can reproduce pretty much anything they set their eyes on, but again fabric choice (and body shape) are key! (Also take into account any lining – both in the item in the photo, and in your tailored garment, as well as pockets, zip placement, etc. as these can also affect how the item falls over the body).
Know when to go
Shopping when you’re hot and sweaty while being harassed by every tailor in Hoi An, can make one quite flustered and thus the shopping experience un-enjoyable. Therefore, it’s usually better to go early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the hottest time of the day (and avoiding the mass of tourists).
Don’t be afraid to speak out
The tailors in Hoi An rely heavily on good reviews and therefore, customer satisfaction. They won’t take any pleasure in you walking away disappointed with your purchases. So, taking that into account, if there’s something you’re really not happy with, tell the tailor. They can fix it! What they can’t do, is fly to your country a few weeks later and sort it out then. A dissatisfied customer is a dissatisfied tailor (especially if you’re planning to review them).
Suss out the general asking prices
Visit a number of shops before showing any interest in having an item made, but still enquire what their going rate is for various things. This way, you get a clearer idea of the kind of prices everyone’s asking. They’re all competing with each other and they all know what everyone’s charging. You can also compare quality of both fabrics and ready-to-wear garments that you’ll find on mannequins in their shop. You can compare stitching and other detailing. This is another reason you should spend more than a couple of days here – just browsing might take you a whole day!
As promised, here’s a list of fabrics and their uses:
- Cotton – cool, light, comfortable, great for everyday wear, cheap, easy to wash. The most versatile fabric, it comes in a wide range of weights. Great for t-shirts, shirts, and dresses. Keep in mind it’s not a floaty fabric, though cotton blends can make the fabric softer (or stiffer). (Cotton voile – lighter, slight sheer, better drape.)
- Linen – cool and light, but creases incredibly easily. Best used for light articles of clothing such as summer trousers or dresses, but not for everyday wear as it’s not always machine-washable… Often slightly more expensive.
- Silk – very light and comfortable, usually used for formal/occasion-wear (dresses, blouses, etc.) or lining. This is obviously a more expensive choice of fabric, and not always machine-washable.
- Chiffon- thin, lightweight, breathable. Great for evening dresses, floaty dresses, blouses and scarves as it has a delicate look and feel and drapes nicely.
- Crepe- lightweight with a crinkled appearance – most commonly used to make formal dresses.
- Satin – has a shiny surface, and comes in many different weights and varieties. Often used for dresses, linings, formalwear, and jackets. Alternatively, sateen is a satin fabric made out of cotton yarns instead of silk.
- Rayon (AKA Viscose) – Similar to cotton in that it’s lightweight, cool and comfortable, but creases easily.
- Acetate – used in linings.
- Rayon challis – a smooth, lightweight fabric, which drapes well.