I’ve had clothing custom-made for me twice now while in Hoi An, Vietnam. The first time I needed a long skirt to visit temples and beat the Asian heat, whereas the second time we were buying some fancy attire for an upcoming wedding. Although the process seems daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Both times I’ve walked away with products that I love and wear regularly. The great news is you can too! Here are my top 10 tips for getting custom-made clothes in Vietnam.
1) Beware of Street Touts
If approached by a lady on the street and asked about your time in Hoi An, there’s a good chance they’ll try and sell you on visiting their shop. Although some people may like this approach, it’s also okay to politely decline and move on. During my stay I was approached at least five times by different women all using this same sales tactic.
2) Review the Tailor’s Quality of Work
Make sure to review the quality of work that the tailor does. Don’t just look at the overall garment, but inspect the stitches. Is their needlework straight and even? Do they pick good colors to go with the fabric? Do they offer the proper type of buttons or zippers you want your garment to have?
3) Each Shop’s Material Selection is Different
Each shop will have different material selections to pick from. It’s okay to walk into a shop, look around and ask questions before making a decision. There’s any abundance of shops in town all selling the “same same”, so if you don’t find what you’re looking for in one, just keep going. Another is bound to have the combination you’re after.
4) Have Proper Expectations When Haggling
Although negotiating (haggling) for a price is expected in this culture, remember it’s not just about getting the lowest rate possible. This work is someone’s livelihood, so striking a deal you can both be happy with is the desirable outcome.
- Some of the higher end shops will not be as open to negotiation. Be prepared to either accept the price they quote, or walk away and find another place more within budget.
- No matter what you pay, there’s going to be someone else who got a similar product custom-made for cheaper (either at that same shop or another). Just accept it.
5) Everyone Gets Different Quotes
The initial price quoted to you will depend on many factors, including:
- Your skin color and attire. You’ll likely be quoted a higher price the more affluent you look. While not a guarantee, dressing down the day you go shopping may help you get a lower rate.
- Almost every shop I visited asked me where I was from before quoting a price. These tailors do this year round and have a good understanding on what each nationality is willing to pay for a garment.
- While not every place asked my about my occupation, some did inquire about it. I played up the fact that I didn’t work to try and overcome the perception of being well-to-do. I also purposefully went on my own, without Tom, so they wouldn’t think I had a husband who could pay my way instead.
6) Never Pay the Full Price Upfront
Paying full price before the garment is even made gives you no leverage for additional fittings or adjustments that could be required to get the perfect fit. A 50% deposit is acceptable.
7) Always Get a Receipt
Make sure the shop gives you a receipt outlining the total amount due minus any deposit you paid when placing the order. It’s important to keep this receipt as the shop will refer to it when asking for the final balance before letting you walk away with your goods. If you lose that receipt then they could claim they don’t have record of any deposit and demand the full balance be paid at time of pickup. Reputable shops likely won’t try to pull this stunt, but I’ve read horror stories from others who encountered it.
8) Tell Them all Your Desires
Be upfront with all your desires for the garment. If you have something in particular you’d like included (buttons vs zipper, extra pockets, etc.), make sure to say it during the initial negotiation, otherwise you can’t expect it to be included once the garment is produced.
You are not limited to just the clothing shown on display outside the shop, or what you find in their clothing catalogs. If you go the route of something completely custom-made (such as I did above), it’s helpful to bring a photo of the garment to share. They’re extremely skilled at replication.
9) Take Your Time at the Fittings
Don’t leave the shop with your garments until you’re absolutely happy with how they look and fit. Once payment is given in full and you leave with your clothes, the tailors are not required to help make further alterations without charging again.
As part of this, take your time during your fittings. They will sing praises of how good the clothes look on you (which I’m sure is true, since there’s nothing better that clothing made to fit your body). This praise, however, can also cause you to overlook small alterations you’d wish they’d make. By not rushing, you have a better chance of catching those changes while they can still occur.
10) Trust Your Gut
There are tons of shops and reviews on TripAdvisor, which can be hard to wade through. In the end, go with your gut intuition. You’ll be working closely with these tailors to make your vision come to life, and it’s important you have a good feeling about the shop before committing.