Years ago, a friend came back from Africa with beautiful custom-made clothing. I’ve dreamed, ever since, of having something custom-made for me -- of someone taking my measurements, suggesting a style that would look good on me, and then creating a wonderful garment custom-fit to my body. In New York I could do this at a tailor shop, but it would be much too expensive, so I put the idea out of my head.
Then I went to Vietnam, and the Americans I met told me about the custom-tailored clothing there. I already found the country fascinating, but when I realized I could fulfill this dream, I got really excited. On my tour of Ha Long Bay, I met Tina from California, and she recommended I go to Peace Tailors in Hoi An, which she had used and loved.
When I finally got to Hoi An, I walked around the city with a friend I’d made on the bus ride from Ninh Binh, and I found Peace Tailors. I was delighted, and I decided to come back the next day so I could spare my friend, who wasn’t interested, the time getting my clothes made.
The next day, my hotel staff asked if I’d like to see the market. I wanted to buy a T-shirt, so I gratefully accepted their offer to go to their family’s store, thinking it was a souvenir market. I ended up in a nightmare.
I was taken to a central market full of stalls of companies making clothing. I was presented to a saleswoman at a store called 45; she handed me three books of clothing to look at. I felt overwhelmed. They gave me a chair and a bottle of water to deal with the heat as I looked through the books. The woman from my hotel who brought me was standing nearby watching, so I felt like I had to stay and order something. I didn’t see anything I particularly liked but, somehow, an hour later, I’d placed an order for four shirts and a pair of pants, costing $130. This didn’t seem as inexpensive as I’d hoped. They took my measurements. I felt like I’d gotten slimed, but hoped it would work out. They guaranteed me a refund if I didn’t like the outcome.
As I left, another woman who I had noticed staring at me for a while smooth-talked me into a facial treatment I didn’t want and then tried to charge me $50 for it. My pent-up frustration and confusion found me yelling at her to not take advantage of foreigners and refusing to pay more than the $5 price I understood her to quote me.
After giving the bad experience time to wear off, I walked into Peace Tailors hoping for a better one. I asked for Moon, whom Tina had worked with. I introduced myself, and we got started. To my relief, I was not harassed or made to feel rushed.
I was disappointed, however, when I learned that Vietnamese tailors are great at copying any item of clothing you might want, but not at creating one from scratch. Instead of receiving their advice, I had to tell them what I liked, based on a picture of a garment on a model. For me, this was like online dating -- with only a photo and description to go by, I had no idea if the clothing I ordered would be a good fit for me.
I had them make one of the same shirts I requested from the first tailor, and then I ordered a skirt, a pair of pants, a dress and several other shirts. When they showed me their materials, I could tell they were far superior to those of the first place. After negotiating, I paid about the same amount I had at 45, but for more clothes, which looked like they’d be made with better quality materials. Next came the fittings.
I concluded that 45 got its name because that’s about how many times I needed to return to get my clothes to fit. Each time they claimed to have taken my measurements, and yet they always got them wrong. From too large to too snug, none of the items were quite right. The bad quality of the fabric became apparent from the first fitting.
I asked for my money back, but they insisted on redoing the clothes, again and again and again. When I reluctantly left with them, the pants ripped the second time I wore them. I was in public, and the snag left my underwear showing in the back. I brought the pants back to insist on a refund, and the saleslady implied that I ripped them on purpose. When I suggested that we each invest in this bad experience and that she give me a 50 percent refund, she called me difficult and walked away.
Moral of this story? Don’t use the factory-style markets to get custom-tailored clothes. Fortunately, I was able to get a full refund via my credit-card company.
In stark contrast, my first fitting at Peace Tailors was so perfect that some of the items didn’t need to be redone. They used two layers of material for thinner fabrics, and the quality amazed me. When I tried on the skirt, it looked exactly like it did in the photo, but I didn’t like it on me. We worked together to determine what needed to be adjusted, and they did the work perfectly. I was delighted with the quality and service.
If you’re in the market for custom-made clothes in Vietnam, here are some tips.
Know What You Want Before You Go
If you want an Armani, go try it on, make sure you like it, and then take a photo and bring that with you. If you know exactly what you want, you’re more likely to come away satisfied. You must have photos of each item.
Don’t Go Where A Local Sends You
If your hotel staff or tour guide recommends a specific place, it’s because they’re getting a cut of the profits. Talk to other friends who’ve been to Vietnam and ask for recommendations.
Use A Small Shop Instead Of A Big Market
The markets are full of service providers like shoemakers, all of whom want you to buy from them and will be aggressively selling to you. If you want to feel less harassed, go to a stand-alone shop. The prices, if you negotiate well, won’t be that different.
Though I ended up with some nice items, I found the overall experience difficult and frustrating. I probably wouldn’t do it again unless I needed a dress or suit for a special occasion.
For more on Vietnam, see this page.