World Travel

How to buy a suit in Vietnam

Kevin Raub
Friday, October 12, 2007
Smart tips for bagging the perfect tailor-made suit for the perfect price in the crowded streets of Hoi An.

There are certain things a man needs to feel like a man: a classic timepiece, maybe a sports car. But one thing every man most certainly needs is a solid, snug-fitting tailored suit for those formal occasions (awards ceremonies, gangster parties, court ...) Problem is, a made-to-measure suit can cost more than a night at the Ritz. What's a poor boy to do?

Enter the ancient town of Hoi An, one of Vietnam's most charming cities (think a sort of Southeast Asian Venice), under UNESCO protection since 1999 and home to over 400 custom tailors. Once the largest harbour in Southeast Asia and an important trading post throughout its history, Hoi An has antiquated, yellowed architecture, narrow roads, well-preserved Chinese and Japanese relics and storefront after storefront of custom threads and spools of silk.

A city that has one tailor for every 220 people can be overwhelming: it's a little like suffocating in a sea of wool. Even after you've settled on a tailor, the whole experience can get a bit dizzying, so here are a few tips to help you make the perfect selection.

Know what kind of suit you want
Before you arrive in Hoi An, comb your local fashion mags for a suit that pops out at you. Tailors here can copy every little detail from virtually any photo you bring in, so come prepared — a few pages torn from GQ can go a long way towards getting the style you're looking for.

Choose a tailor
Doing some preparation is a good idea, but the real work begins on arrival. Take your time. Stroll the streets with Sunday morning indifference and resist the urge to buy anything in the first store you walk into. Once you do decide on a store, one of a line of sales girls will immediately approach you. For the most part, they're there to help.

Choose a fabric
Once you've shown the sales girl the photo of the suit you want, you'll be directed to an endless array of fabrics in a variety of price ranges. The cost of your suit will vary wildly depending on the quality of fabric you choose (the cost of the tailoring itself is negligible).

At Yaly, the most respected tailor in town, suits range from US$60 to $210, depending on the fabric. Unless you're well schooled in the subtleties of fabric quality, you won't notice much difference between top-shelf and bargain rack. Since you're looking for something that matches your photo, your saleswoman will direct you to closely matching designs in a variety of price ranges. If she's pushing you towards the high-end only, this is not the shop for you.

Decide on a price
Once you decide on a fabric, you'll get your price. The bill includes jacket, pants and all custom tailoring. Prices are negotiable, but not by much. If you decide something is out of your price range, go ahead and walk, but know that it's not like buying a car — they'll let you walk.

The first extra you'll be offered is a silk lining for your jacket. It's pretty much a necessity, but it doesn't drive the bill up too much (it only costs around $5-8). The wide variety of silk colours and designs offer you a chance to give your suit a bit of flair. You'll also be offered a shirt.

Get measured
This is quick and painless. Head-spinning barrages of Vietnamese numbers are yelped out to the seamstress. ''Muoi bon! Hai muoi! '' The whole thing takes all of three minutes. This is more or less the last step. Your suit will be furiously churned out by the next morning and delivered to your hotel as early as 8am for a fitting. If all goes well, your bespoke makeover is complete — you're a new man. If anything is amiss, they'll take it back and knock out the alterations before returning it you, ready for travel in a convenient carry-on garment bag.

Tailors in Hoi An — travellers have their say

Three of the best

Top end
Yaly Couture
47 Nguyen Thai Hoc St
Tel: 84 510 910474

Midrange
A Dong Silk
62 Trann Hung Dao
Tel: 84 510 910579

Budget
41 Leloi
41 Le Loi St
Tel: 84 510 862164

Originally published by Lonely Planet.

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