If you travel to Asia, custom tailored clothing is an ideal souvenir to bring home. It may change your life forever. Here are some of the things you need to know.
The Rationale for Custom Clothing
Shanghai, Hong Kong, cities in Korea and Vietnam all have a reputation for custom tailoring for men and women. This isn’t going to work for you if you have an eight hour port stop. It’s better if you arrive in that country several days before your ship sails or plan to stay several days after your cruise is complete.
If off the rack clothing fits you perfectly, you don’t need a custom tailor. Ditto if your favorite store has the size and pattern you want in stock. If you have wide hips, a long neck or other unique features, it’s worthwhile to explore custom tailoring when you are in the Orient. Remember the line from the song Werewolves of London “I’d like to meet his tailor.” Bottom line, custom tailored clothing makes you look good.
Yes, Savile Row, London is the spiritual home of custom tailoring. According to Bean Fashion, a custom made suit from London’s Savile Row will cost 5,000+ GBP, or about $ 6,400. That can double if you choose a really expensive fabric. (1) It’s going to be a lot cheaper in Asia.
My first experience (and longest ongoing experience) has been with a Hong Kong custom tailor. The points I mention should be applicable to most tailors in general, but in case you are wondering, the one I’ve worked with is Milan Tailors on Kimberly Road. (2)
- Finding a tailor. In some cities, a guy on the street says “Psst. Want to buy a watch?” Amazingly, in Hong Kong, the guys on the street are promoting tailors. I found this to be true in Kowloon. Do some TripAdvisor research. Do some online searches. Ask the concierge at your hotel.
- Reputation. In Hong Kong, it seems a tailor’s reputation is measured by the fame of their customer base. They proudly advertise their names. Our guy has a niche for US basketball players, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and heads of state in Central Africa. The pictures are on the wall.
- Timing. Expect it will take a full week to make your suit. You want to have a fitting midway in the process and the final fitting too. This can be done faster, but quality work takes time.
- Pricing. Expect a men’s suit will run from the high hundreds to the low thousands. It’s logical to use a bottom up strategy. Ask at what price men’s suits start. Ask to see the fabric swatches. There will be books and books. Trade up from there. It’s awkward starting with “I want a pinstriped suit,” picking the perfect pattern and then learning it’s multiple thousands.
- Negotiation. In the Orient, you negotiate on lots of stuff. In my experience, custom tailoring isn’t one of them. They might throw something extra in, but they aren’t going to throw out a high offer that you counter with a low bid, meeting somewhere in the middle. I tried once. It didn’t work.
- Deposit. They should let you know the amount of the deposit, the balance paid upon delivery. Obviously they are spending money and labor on making the suit. They aren’t doing it on spec, hoping you will like the finished product.
- Details. What makes a custom suit special? Hand stitched collars. Sleeve buttons that unbutton. Your name embroidered in script over an inside pocket. Pockets in places you never imagined. This includes a diagonal inside pocket under the left collar for your glasses. It might include a tiny 2”x2” pocket on the right side under your belt for small change. Let them know what you want. Ideally these are included once you have settled on the basic price. Upgrading to a fancy lining might cost more.
- Copying clothing. You might have a jacket or blouse you love, but could never find again in stores back home. Bring it with you. Your tailor can probably run up a few for you to take home in various colors. Expect pricing to have two components, tailoring and fabric. The blouse in silk would logically cost more than the blouse in linen.
- Future business. Several Hong Kong tailors have teams traveling the world, meeting with customers. Your tailor might visit a city near you. They will give you plenty of advance notice. They keep your measurements on file. They measure again, just in case. They come with plenty of fabric samples. In this case, there’s no fitting midway. The garment is shipped to you. If there’s a problem with the fit, let them know and ship it back. Our tailor credits us the shipping cost we incurred.
If you have the time, checkout custom tailoring in Asia. Men should think in terms of suits, formal wear, blazers, slacks and shirts. Women might be looking for business suits, evening wear, slacks and jackets. Know what you pay back home for clothing and how well it fits. If there’s room for improvement, do some research and find a tailor. If you are happy with the finished product, you are on your way to a long distance relationship.
Story courtesy of Bryce Sanders.