I've now had custom clothing made for me in two countries: Vietnam and India, and I have some thoughts to share on the experience.
The first time I had clothing made was in Hoi An, Vietnam. Hoi An has recently become a very popular tourist destination, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of the things that the city has become beloved for is its numerous tailor shops. Travelers flock from far and wide to buy shirts, pants, shoes, and anything else you can think of (except socks - nobody would make me custom socks!). I was no exception to the rule. During my stay, I was fitted for a pair of pants and a shirt, excited to actually own some custom-made threads. The clothes left something to be desired.
The problem with buying clothes from a touristy city is that the shop keepers are well aware of what the city has become. They know that budget travelers are going to try to find the cheapest shop on the block, without scrutinizing the quality. Many shops (such as the one I bought from) don't even stitch the clothing themselves; rather, they send their fabrics to a factory to be sewn. No doubt, each shirt, pair of pants, and pair of underwear becomes part of an assembly line. There is no love involved. The clothes that I bought were just...ok. They were cheaply stitched, and the pants even ripped within a week. I had paid $30 for an outfit that I could buy anywhere for much less.
Now don't get me wrong. There are certainly quality tailors in Hoi An; however, they tend to be quite expensive. People usually spend a bit more if they want to buy nice suits and dresses. I'm sure many of you have found good, cheap tailors in Hoi An, but as the city gains more and more tourists, they are no longer the norm.
Now, let's contrast this with my experience in India.
In the town of Daman (where nary a foreigner has dared to go), there is a bustling marketplace. I set off on a shopping trip, where I decided to buy the fabrics myself. I selected two different colors, and paid 400 rupees total ($6.50). Then I took the cloth to a local tailor, where I paid a 300 rupee "stitching fee" for each shirt. The total cost for both shirts? 1000 rupees ($16). Nobody pressured me to buy anything: I was simply another patron in a small city.
You know what? I had much more fun buying the fabrics myself and skipping the middle man. The shirts were hands down the best looking clothes I had ever bought. Coming from someone who usually doesn't care about what I wear, these are threads that I can be proud of. I can point to my shirts and say "I had these made in India."
I guess my point is: if you are going to buy custom clothes, shop in the lesser-known towns. Unless you are looking for fancy, upscale designs, you are better off leaving the tourist trail. Not only will you have a wider choice of materials, more care and dedication will be put into your stuff. I feel very old-fashioned for saying this, but stick with the "mom and pop" tailor shops.
If you have ever gotten clothing custom-made (particularly in Asia), I'm interested to hear what your experience was. Feel free to comment!
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write music and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.