Hoi An was easily my favourite stop in Vietnam, which comes as somewhere as a surprise considering that to say that I simply hate shopping would be an understatement, I absolutely, unequivocally loath shopping, and shopping, or more specifically tailoring, is where Hoi An comes into it’s element.
Seriously, a day spent shopping is my worst nightmare, even if I know exactly what I want and have a rough idea where to get it. To go shopping without knowing what you want, simply for fun is a thought process utterly alien to me. The only shopping I can just about stand is internet shopping as I can get my chosen items delivered to me rather than having to fight the crowds in store and dodge clipboard wielding survey people out on the street. Even then, I’m not the biggest fan.
Its cool though, if shopping is you bag knock yourself out. I get that you might just as easily say the same thing about one of my passions, such as football. But anyway, for the purpose of this post it is important that you understand that I dislike shopping very very much. Football good. Shopping bad.
Tailoring in Hoi An
There are areas, cities and towns of this world that are renowned for certain traits, historic events, special foods or events. Some are lucky enough to be renowned for a combination of things. No prizes for guessing that Hoi An is very much known for its tailoring … and also being generally beautiful – In 1999, the Hoi An old town was quite rightly declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Tailors easily outnumber any other type of vendor in Hoi An, and as such the competition is pretty fierce. As a tourist visiting this area of Vietnam, you can expect to be flagged down by store owners and commission seekers on a very regular basis. Some will be more persistent than others, but a polite ‘no thank you’ will usually do the trick if you aren’t interested or heading off to dinner. If however you are keen on purchasing, you could well be in for a bargain or two. Such is the popularity of purchasing tailor clothes in this part of the world, that prices might be a tiny bit inflated vs other parts of Vietnam, but its relative, compared to the prices you would pay back home, Hoi An can provide so real bang for your hard earned buck.
Miss Forget Me Not
As you do, I made sure to search the web for tailor recommendations before simply diving into anything upon reaching Hoi An and walking its streets in search of new threads. As expected, each tailor appeared to have a majority of good reviews. The general consensus seemed to be that you get what you pay for … but with one exception. Of all the blog posts and Tripadvisor reviews I scanned through, one name repeatedly popped up with a reputation for incredible value for money – Miss Forget Me Not.
Located along Phan Chu Trinh St (number 35), the store within which Miss Forget Me Not operates is maybe a little less glamorous than some of the other big game players in town, but there was friendly enough welcome as we slip off our flip flops and entered her place of work.
Having been, for lack of a better word, accosted as soon as we entered Hoi An – literally, a lady drove alongside our taxi from Da Nang airport on her motorbike and asked our driver to wind down the window so she they could try sell us a suit. She also pretty much stalked us for the next 4 days – I was all to wary of the desire of the Hoi An tailors to get a sale from a foreigner such as myself. The lady in the example above was particularly pushy, but we found others to be more reasonable with their pressure. Not that anyone should accommodate for us specifically, but if there’s one thing a Brit does not like whilst they’re out shopping, its a pushy and forceful salesperson. Lucky for us Miss Forget Me Not was one of the not so pushy types. She’s obviously there to sell, so there was an element of saleswoman-ship involved, but once we told her no to any additional item she was trying to sell us, but that we neither wanted nor needed, she let it go quick enough.
I entered Miss Forget Me Not knowing that I wanted 3 work shirts made. Whilst I very much dislike shopping, what I dislike more is shopping for work clothes. Unlike some, I feel uncomfortable in a suit. I put one on a feel a bit like a fraud, like I’m pretending to be someone else. Maybe its an immaturity thing, but I feel much more at home in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Anyway, whilst in Hoi An I thought that if I could get some work clothes at a price cheaper than at home it would be a small shopping win for me.
With girlfriend in tow and eager to spend on some new clothes of her own, we sat down in Miss Forget Me Not’s shop and started to flick through a number of catalogs provided. The general idea seems to be that you get given a recent, if not totally new catalog by brands such as Topman, Next and Burtons, find something you like the look of within the pages of those catalogs, and the tailors replicates that item(s) for you but using your measurements (obviously). As these 3 brands are where I would usually part with my cash for work clothes, this scenario was ideal for me.
3 shirts, 4 ties, 1 suit and 1 pair of shoes later
Erm … what just happened? As you may have guessed from that header above, my order did not quite stay at just 3 tailored work shirts.
I did measure for the shirts first, having picked a design from one of the catalogs, and then picking materials from the extensive selection on offer. But then having met a nice gent from the US and seeing the quality of his suit, I also fitted for a suit, and then a pair of shoes to complete the set. I also bought a number of tie and cufflink sets, 2 for me and 2 as gifts, but at £3 each, they were a bargain.
So in the space of an hour, my original intentions were out of the window and I had bought more clothes on that day in Hoi An, than I had at home in the past couple of months. But it wasn’t because of the pressure, it was because of the value I felt I was getting (although the shoes were a risk at this point – no examples on show in the shop).
|Each (Dong)||Total (Dong)||Each ($)||Total ($)||Each (€)||Total (€)||Each (£)||Total (£)|
|1 x mens suit (no waistcoat)||1791737.10||1791737.10||85.00||85.00||61.03||61.03||50.08||50.08|
|3 x mens L/S shirts||379426.68||1138280.04||18.00||54.00||12.92||38.77||10.61||31.82|
|4 x tie and cufflink sets||84317.04||421585.20||4.00||20.00||2.87||14.36||2.36||11.78|
|1 x pair mens shoes||990725.22||990725.22||47.00||47.00||33.74||33.74||27.69||27.69|
|1 x womens suit||1580944.50||1580944.50||75.00||75.00||53.85||53.85||44.19||44.19|
|2 x womens L/S shirts||358347.42||716694.84||17.00||34.00||12.21||24.41||10.02||20.03|
£50 for a tailored suit, £50! That is the answer to the question I pose in the title of this post.
I dislike shopping, but even I can appreciate the above as value. Granted the shirts haven’t been through a wash yet, so might come to fall apart, but if they don’t I am more than happy with the above and think it highlights the incredible that can be found in Hoi An. I sit here now quite literally wearing one of my new shirts (slim fit may have been ambitious on my part), and my new shoes which are providing levels of comfort previously unknown to my feet. Seriously, two weeks in and I haven’t got one blister from them.
Whoever the tailor, there will always be both positive and negative views on their skills. I often think that people are more inclined the write a negative view on a review site such as Tripadvisor, so try not to read too deeply into them, but there are a couple of negative recent reviews on Miss Forget Me Not’s page, especially surrounding alterations. Don’t get me wrong, she and her sister didn’t treat us like royalty, but they were friendly enough, especially with my girlfriend who had a great time with them. The sisters made plenty of alterations to our order without fuss. Maybe because we ordered quite a lot they were more accommodating with changes, I guess that would make sense right?
At the end of the day its your cash. As obvious as it sounds, I would highly recommend shopping around and only purchasing where you feel comfortable. Especially if you’re placing a large order. The girlfriend had a very nice dress made at another tailors just down the road, and was equally happy with the price and result. She also had a pair of shoes made at a third tailors, again with no problems. We did go to one tailors though where the staff circled us like vultures, tried to force items upon us and literally tried to box us in until we made a purchase. We left without making a single purchase, as that was not a place we felt comfortable parting with our cash in.
Now that I am a shopping know it all (smiley face), my advice would be to buy your new clothes where you feel comfortable buying, even if that means walking out of a store and getting a few choice looks from the owner. If you feel your clothes need alternation, fight your corner and do not leave until happy. The best way to ensure they get made is to only part pay up front, but more on that below along with a couple of other helpful tips.
Things to remember
So you want some new threads, a new whistle and flute, some shirts or a dress. Well, aside from my pearls of wisdom in the paragraph above, I’ve also put together the list below of just one or two more bits and pieces you may wish to remember/consider before placing an order with one of the many tailors in Hoi An. They wont save your life, but they might save you a few dollars/dong …
- EVERYONE is on commission in Hoi An. If you get a tip to the ‘best’ tailor in town, know that this is a scam of sorts. Not the worst type of scam granted, but you are being led on.
- Should you find a tailors you like and end up ordering far too many items to fit in your luggage, most tailors will be able to ship your orders for you at extra charge.
- Most credit and debit cards will be accepted, but at an additional fee.
- If you wish to pay by cash you should know that most ATMs in Hoi An have a withdrawal limit of 2m dong, so you may need several trips to the ATM to cover any large bills.
- Expect to be quoted in US dollars $.
- Tailors will generally ask for an amount up front. On occasions we paid in full, but I would argue to pay half up front and half once happy with your order. That seems the fairest and safest way.
- If you like your order and would consider having more items from the same tailor shipped in the future, you can in some cases ask for your measurements and contact details for future orders via email.
- Consider your current size. Are you on a gap year, more active than usual and as a result that little bit thinner? It may sounds stupid, but to give you an example I once bought a suit in India when I was at my thinnest for a long long time. Needless to say that suit went down the charity shop not long after I got home and started eating meat again.
- You can take pictures and photos of items you’d like replicated, but you should expect the odd difference, but at the same time don’t be afraid to ask for alternations.
- Especially with large orders, allow a few days for adjustments etc.
- In all honesty, the best thing you could do is to know exactly what you want and order it as early on in your stay as possible, leaving max time for alternations. You should also be VERY specific with your order. However minute the detail, make sure the tailor writes it down. If you can, bring samples.
And lastly, try to have fun with it. Hoi An is an amazing place, potentially my favourite spot within Vietnam (its a close run thing, Halong Bay was pretty sweet!). Try to enjoy the shopping experience where possible (if I can, anyone can!), and try to keep in mind that selling suits and dresses are these peoples livelihoods. But, if it all still gets too much, go sit along the river somewhere and order a beer and a plate of spring rolls. Everything will be OK after that.
**Update – December 2014
Suit still good, shirts still good, but the shoes have completely fallen apart. Quite disappointing really, as they only lasted 3 months (started wearing them in Aug/Sept time).