Hunting for tailored clothing in the quaint Vietnamese city of Hoi An
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Hunting for tailored clothing in the quaint Vietnamese city of Hoi An

HOI AN is a colorful catalog of charm – a sleepy port with a fusion of colonial French influence and a strong Vietnamese hold.

Its ancient town is protected by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and is a model exercise in preservation. The surviving wooden structures and street plans are original and intact, and together present a traditional townscape of the 17th and 18th centuries.

The architecture is not the only reason you’ll want to put Hoi An on your travel list. Many explore the pretty riverside of the Thu Bon River where hundreds of stalls are lined selling trinkets, jewelry and food.

Once they tire of haggling, they settle down – armed with a beer – at one of the riverside cafés. Hoi An’s signature lanterns light up the stretch as the sun dips into the horizon.

You could also trek to one of the many vast paddy fields set among rural villages, an ideal setting to loiter in the company of baby blue skies, friendly water buffaloes and swaying threads of ripe paddy.

But perhaps the most popular pastime among tourists in Hoi An is shopping. The city is a treasure trove of tailoring shops where teams of dedicated tailors can conjure any old piece of cloth into wearable pieces.

But it’s not as ideal as it looks. Here are a few tips on getting the best bang for your buck in a city seemingly overridden with tailoring shops.

Know what you want

When in Hoi An, it’s good to research the styles and cuts that suit your body type rather than solely relying on the dressmaker’s recommendations. If you’re not one who’s fussed about trends, it’s fine to leave the fate of your piece in the tailor’s hands.

Bringing along photos greatly helps, as does giving the tailor an existing well-fitted piece he or she could copy. Copying clothes from a replica works especially well with men’s shirts and suits. You could even draw out a sketch if you have the time.

However, don’t always rely on photos provided by tailors. Sometimes, the fabric you provide doesn’t drape or fall the same way the clothes in photos do, so be sure to take these little details into account for a satisfactory final piece.

Bring your own fabric

Fabric is sold in abundance at the many fabric stores and cloth markets, but bear in mind that quality is questionable. Where there are signs that shout about clothes that are 100 percent pure cotton or linen, there’s a high chance they’re made of blend materials.

Travelfish advises tourists to take materials marked pure silk with a grain of salt too. Some silk materials could be poly-blends despite what the salespeople tell you.

However, if you happen to be passing by Bangkok, Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, pick up fabric from those cities and bring them into one of Hoi An’s many tailoring shops to get your piece sewn up.

Splash out a bit more

Not all of Hoi An’s tailoring shops are cut from the same cloth. A good rule of thumb to go by is you pay for what you get. It also helps to do some research beforehand rather than simply walking into a shop by chance.

However, it’s important to note that not all operations are what they project from their façades. Because of rising demand, a common occurrence in Hoi An’s tailoring shops are the use of middlemen to get pieces sewn by outsiders.

In other words, the demand for cheap, quickly sewn clothes have led to sweatshop operations. You may get approached by a stranger or taxi driver who might recommend a tailor shop to you, but don’t be fooled too quickly.

The city’s lucrative tailoring business largely runs on commission and middlemen can earn up to 50 percent of the total cost of a piece. These costs are added to the customer’s fee, and also means a smaller payout to the actual tailors working behind the scenes.

This means that forking out a bit more for your clothing can prove worthy. If you stick to the more high-end operations and refuse tip-offs from strangers on the street, you’ll be well on your way to a fine piece of clothing.

Make sure you’re in town for a few days

If you’re getting a suit or dress done, it’s worth arranging a few fittings to make sure everything is up to mark. According to Indiana Jo, clothes never come out perfect the first time, and multiple fittings will help with getting the most of the price you’re paying.

Most tailors will promise to have your clothing ready within 24 hours but it’s best to give yourself time for second and third fittings. This also helps you negotiate the prices when many alterations are needed.

Plus, going in for multiple fittings means that the tailor has on hand a record of your exact measurements. This opens up the chance to order more pieces from Hoi An from your home country, and have them delivered to your home address.

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