While in Vietnam we purchased a lot of custom clothing in Hoi An. We felt that we were getting great value, and still think that we did get great value, but we wish we’d had a bit of a checklist to review each item and make very specific demands of our vendors. If you ever want to purchase custom clothing anywhere in the world, this is a guide you should probably read.
Dress Shirts – Be sure to tell your seamstress and tailor exactly how tight you want your shirt to be and also decide if you want cuffed or buttoned sleeves. Ensure that all button holes are cut and all seams are tied off. We completely forgot both collar-stays and pockets and although I kind of like the pocket-less style, the lack of collar-stays (or slots to insert my own) will prove to be a problem. Don’t forget to have them sew in a couple of spare buttons and don’t plan to pay any more for these than you would a casual shirt back home. If it ends up being added to your working wardrobe great, if not then you received a fair price for a casual shirt.
Pants – These are straightforward pieces of clothing but styles differ by more than you might expect. The general Asian style is a “tight on everything above the knees” sort of look. Although that may work for some, we found we needed to be very clear with the exact cut. Now that I am wearing some of these pants I find that they often fall down a bit in back when I sit down or go up and down stairs. Don’t forget to decide if you want lining or not.
Suit Jackets – If you have any type of pinstripes make sure these match and are on the same place at each and every seam. Make a serious inspection. Usually suits include a lapel pocket and the Asian style for this pocket is significantly slanted rather than straight so make your specifications early. Also be sure to select not only the material for the outside of the suit, but also the lining as a bright red lining might not go over so well with your black suit at your next meeting at work. Also, check to make sure the shoulder pads are the same and in their proper places.
Women’s Clothes – Simple rule here; don’t buy from a place that doesn’t have a sample of women’s clothes. Every place we walked in to sat us down with a fashion catalogue and told us they could make anything inside…don’t believe that for a second. Instead, only buy items they have a sample for (and there were surprisingly few in Hoi An), or that you have an example of, and be sure to focus on how you’re going to wear it. If buying a coat make sure it is properly lined and has enough space (even in the sleeves) for a sweater.
Shoes – The shoes we had purchased are all quite nice and made of leather but many of the critical components are made of cheaper materials. Be on the look out for this, but the prices being what they are, you’re probably better off accepting this and having these minor parts replaced by a cobbler shop back home. If you’re going to be wearing inserts in your shoes, be sure to give these to the shoemaker.
The best piece of advice we can give is make sure you have enough time in your schedule for several fittings so that your garments are not rushed to meet your travel scheduled. Plan to try each garment on at least twice and inspect each and every seam and button hole to make sure threads are tied off right and the button holes are opened. Don’t expect to have a wardrobe ready in two days, it’s not fair and the quality will suffer. Be reasonable in what you ask, no matter what they say. In the end we were happy with what we bought, but also happy that we hadn’t paid full U.S. prices.