READ THIS: TAILORING in THAILAND
Replies: 483 - Last Post: Jun 14, 2013 7:21 AM Last Post By: enzino
Sep 30, 2006 5:06 PM
READ THIS: TAILORING in THAILANDIf you are planning on having clothes tailored in Thailand or anywhere in Southeast Asia, please read this. So many people get ripped off by this that I am surprised that it is never included in the guides nor has anyone I know of written an good guide to negotiating the pitfalls of this venture. It should be a boxed text in LP Thailand. This attempts to correct that.
The first thing you have to ask yourself when considering having a suit tailored in Southeast Asia is, "What do I expect?" If you have some fantasy about getting a "bespoke" suit equivalent or even close to what is produced by top notch tailors in England, New York, and Naples - then reconsider.
First of all, bespoke means hand sewn - no machines folks. Despite that every Bangkok tailor calls himself bespoke, it just isn't the case. True bespoke work takes a lot of time and I have never seen a tailor anywhere in Asia, except Japan and Hong Kong, that offers this service. This does not mean that a machine made suit can't be superb - it can. It just won't stand up to top international standards. What you can get from some of Asia's better tailors is a bit of hand detail work - and even that is enough to increase the dollar per stitch value of your investment considerably. Bespoke also generally means that you are working directly with the tailor who designs, fits, and cuts the pattern for your garment.
Second, it is important to understand that workmanship is only about 50% of the value of a good suit. The other 50% is material. You could bring all of the tailors of Saville Row to Bangkok and give them a go with a rayon / polyester / sheep ass-wool blend pinstripe and not get a single wearable garment. And, I am not just talking about the fabric, I am also talking about the thread, the interfacing, the lining, etc... You can't make a 60 dollar suit anywhere in the world using anything except crap material. A suit made of bad material will look like you found it in a ditch after one use because this sort of material simply can't hold its shape or structure.
Third factor is workmanship. Most of the shops that advertise themselves as "tailors" are not tailors, but material salesman. They take your measurements and pass them on to actual tailors who do the work. So, already, you are not getting bespoke, but "made-to-measure" which is a whole different category of tailoring. Most of the people who do the actual "sewing" of your suits you will never see, don't speak a word of English, and don't know much at all about making a good suit. So you are out of luck and will inevitably get a poorly fashioned garment. Remember, top tailors don't apprentice for eight to ten years because making suits is easy. As a general rule, anyone who stands outside their shop trying to get you to come in and "have a look" isn't a good tailor. There is for example a pretty good tailor near Khao San. How do you find him? Look for the guy without any fancy signs or picture who is in his shop sewing instead of out on the street harassing passersby.
Fourth factor is time. Yes, despite 24 hour turn around guarantees, it does take time to make a good suit. Making a good suit requires shaping, pressing, reshaping, stitching, shaping, pressing reshaping, etc... until it is perfect. There are also several necessary fittings before a final product can be arrived at. Minimum turn around time at a proper tailor who is making a suit only for you - 2 weeks.
Fifth, design sensibility. Most tailors in Asia have absolutely no design sensibility or if they have one, it is very different from your own. You simply cannot trust a tailor in Asia, as you can trust a tailor on Saville row or in Naples, to read your mind and produce the garment that you really want. Here, you have to ASK for EVERYTHING that you want. Now ask yourself, are you in a position to do so - to even know what you want? Well, if you can walk into a shop and say you want a "single breasted three button roll to two button double vented jacket with peak lapels, a natural shoulder, high small arm holes, high waist suppression, floating canvas, a patch left breast pocket, angled side flap side pockets, with a ticket pocket on the right", then you might be ok. If not, copy this and tell them, became it is probably what you want anyway. The problem is, if you don't know what it means and why and if your tailor does not speak perfect English, you still won't be able to communicate what you need to get a good suit.
One warning, tailors in Thailand, even the good ones, love big shoulder pads. This is probably because Thais are naturally small in the chest and shoulders. If you are even a moderately build westerner this can make you look like a football player. You most likely want some shoulder padding, just strongly impress on the tailor to use VERY SMALL shoulder pads.
So, is it hopeless? What can you do? There actually are good tailors in Bangkok. Most are on Sukimvit around Asok and Nana BMT stations. The best I've found is Narin Couture, but others are also quite skilled and a little dedication and research can turn them out. This doesn't mean that you'll get what you want, but at least you won't get robbed. Look for a tailor that uses 100% wool fabrics from Japan or Europe or bring your own. To test if wool is 100% wool, take a swatch of it and light it with a match. Wool will smell organic and burn a bit. A synthetic with cumble and melt like a plastic fork in a fire. A good tailor will work with your frabrics just as happily as he will sell you his own. His work is making clothes, not selling overpriced synthetics.
Not to equate money with value, but sad to say, if you are not ready to spend around 400 USD for good custom tailored suit (this includes fabric), I doubt you will get something worth while. This is about 4 times the street price from the Indian tout-tailors, but at least here you are not waisting your money and will get a garment you can wear frequently and which will stand up in a formal situation. If you are not willing to spend this much, a ready-made product is the way to go. There is nothing inherently wrong with clothing manufactured for companies like Zara, Banana Republic, or the Gap. These clothes usually use 100% wool or cotton, are well made, and designed to fit almost everyone. And if they don't fit you perfectly, that is when a cheap tailor can really come in handy.
Shirts are one place when you can do very well in Southeast Asia. I have had shirts made from several tailors in Bangkok, Laos, and in Vietnam, and many have stood the test. I have taken several Bangkok made shrits to top tailors in New York and London and they were frequently impressed with the products. Better tailors will have a good selection of 100% cotton (there is great cotton shirting made locally as well as in Japan and China) fabrics and charge about 20 - 30 USD plus fabric to stitch a shirt. If your tailor does not have 100% cotton (the burn test works here too) then use another tailor. If your tailor does offer 100% cotton, there is still no reason not to go to Sampeng Lane and purchase your own shirting. I have found cotton fabrics there for as little as 6 USD per meter that are being sold not so far away at the elite Siam Paragon for 75 USD per meter! The merchants there also tend to be honest about fabric quality and composition. Another test, take a bit of the fabric and try to rip it. If it tears easily - it is bad fabric. Also, think about design. Several photos or a sample of a shirt you love is a good way to go. It is not a bad idea to buy a shirt for any amount of money necessary to use as a sample. With a good sample, the tailors of Thailand can generally produce a magnificent copy with all of the improvements you might ask for. Pants also tend to be done well here and follow the same rules. In general, be careful with suits, jackets, and overcoats.
Good luck with your tailoring. I am happy to answer any questions you might have regarding tailoring or this post at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sep 30, 2006 7:04 PM
1thanks Kevin, that was an interesting/informative read. I had a sports coat made in Nakhon Phanom from cashmere over 30 years ago that I still wear, it's held up wonderfully. And, right you are, the shoulders were a bit overdone but not so much that it doesn't look great. I think I paid the princely sum of $35 USD for it. I'd like to go back and get a few more!!!
Oct 1, 2006 2:48 AM
Oct 1, 2006 3:00 AM
I fear I can't comment on the situation as it was 30 years ago, but am glad that you like your suit. I have a hard time believing that anyone today could replicate such a feat in these modern times. Both the market and the economy has changed considerably.
However, this does recommend a further post on cashmere. Cashmere is a very expensive and difficult to produce. Further, good cashmere, despite its origins, is not milled anywhere in Asia except possibly in Japan. What is good cashmere? Well, we've all felt 100% cashmere sweaters. A true 100% cashmere woven fabric should have a bit of this feel with even a bit of the fuzziness. Cashmere wool fibers are so fine that it is impossible to avoid this. In addition, it is also very difficult to structure and shape because the material is so soft and plyable. Half of the wool fabrics sold in Asia claimto be cahmere and often have "cashmere" written on the bolt ends. This is simply a lie. At the best you are getting 15% in the mix, at worse, none at all.
A cashmere suit or overcoat can be wonderful to wear, but is by no means necessary to a good or great suit. Don't let the touts sell you cashmere for less than 60 USD per meter because it doesn't exist. A realistic price is more along the lines of 150 USD / meter or more. If you are paying that much, don't buy it in Asia unless you are in a position of knowledge to know what you are getting. If you are tailoring on the cheap, stick to straight wools, super 80s and up, and flannels. Linens and cottons are also a consideration for summer suits.
Finally, I did leave out one other great thing you can get from the cheap tailors. If you've ever wanted anything absurd: a bright green coat for St. Patty's Day, a suit in the colors of your team, or a great vampire costume, this is the plact to get it made.
Oct 1, 2006 4:19 AM
4Thanks for that, geographicus. I am heading to Phuket for 10 days in about two weeks' time and had planned on having some items made. I had shirts made in Hong Kong and while I am happy enough with the fabrics, the cut wasn't so great - I am quite a petite girl and the sleeves were huge! They must only measure the length, not the width. So I have learned my lesson and will be taking a shirt that fits well and is well-made for these to be copied from. Do you have any recommendations for tailors in Phuket? Also, how much should I expect to pay? And what is this 'burn test' you referred to?
In relation to ladies suits, should I take along a suit I have at home to copy from? Or am I better off to just buy something at home?
Oct 1, 2006 6:12 AM
Oct 1, 2006 6:16 AM
7Well seeing as I'm going to Phuket, that's not overly helpful! Any good tailors in Phuket?
Oct 1, 2006 6:36 AM
8It's a well known fact that a lot of the tailors in the vicinity of the Sukhumvit area are merely fronts for money laundering operations.
But it's a good OP and makes some very good points. Long overdue IMO.
As I always advise people who ask about tailors on this branch - don't waste your money and buy off the peg if at all possible.
Oct 1, 2006 6:39 AM
Vaish at Rivoli. Actually I am going there tomorrow. I have had mixed reports on Vaish. I understand that he is pretty good but limited in what he can or is willing to do. I am told his house style is more structured and built up than I like. Anyway, I'll report after I make the suit. I have high hopes and am expecting something special - but we'll see.
Oct 1, 2006 6:46 AM
I hesitate to make any particular recommendations. I've only been to Phuket a couple of times, so don't know the city. If you follow my general instructios for finding a tailor you should be fine.
Women's suits are different from mens suits on many structural levels. You may want to look for a tailor that specializes in women's clothing. Bringing along a sample is always a good idea. If you are planning a wool suit, save yourself some money and bring good wool fabric from home. You can get 100% wools and flannels in Thailand but I don't know how much luck you'll have in Phuket. When it doubt, go off the rack.
For shirts you should be fine with your sample. Just make certain the material you choose is up to spec. The burn test can determine if there is synthetic materail in the weave. You burn a piece of fabric. If it crumble up like it is melting, then you can be certain the fabric is polyester or worse.
Oct 1, 2006 6:54 AM
11The tailors that are money laundering operations are pretty obvious. They are the ones who have fancy shops where not a lot of sewing is going on. I am on Sukumvit right now. Soi 14, just near Asok station. I just walked past perhaps four shops. The first was beautiful inside and had a guy outfront barking his wears. The second was shabby inside and had a guy inside cutting fabric. The third was beautiful inside and had a guy sewing and a well dressed gentleman behind a fabric desk talknig to a well heeled Thai client. The fourth was OK inside but had a window display that was so old that the suits there were falling apart from age and the effects of gravity. It is pretty obvious which one to go to for what. The first tailor was a money launderng operation. The second was a good tailor with limited resources - likely a good bet for a good suit at a good price. The third tailor is a good bet for a great suit and a high price. The fourth tailor was another money launderng operation.
Oct 1, 2006 6:58 AM
One additional note. What you are descrbing regarding the "cut" of your shirts from Hong Kong may well be the style issue I was referrng to. Most tailors have a "house style" that may or may not agree with your personel preferrences. This is where a sample comes in handly - that or your learn the hard way how to ask for what you want.
Oct 1, 2006 7:04 AM
13As a final note - I do not want to appear too negative on Asian, specifically Thai, tailors. I am actually an enormous fan of Thai tailoring. Most of my considerable and very respectable wardrobe was sewn in Thailand or Hong Kong. However, there is a way to do it right and a way to loose your money. My guide is simply intended to give people some of the tools needed to make a good decision. The most important thing is to steer away from the majority of Thai tailors who are dishonest and incompetant and in the direction of a tailor who can give you what you are looking for.
Oct 1, 2006 12:27 PM
14I have been reading these posts with great interest as I am going to Thailand in November and was hoping to buy a suit and some shirts.
I will be in Bangkok for 2 days before heading south for 15 days. I will then be back in Bangkok for one night before leaving Thailand the following day.
A couple of questions:
How long does it take for a south/shirt to be tailored? Should I get sized up before leaving for the south and then collect 2 weeks later before leaving Thailand?
I will also be in Phuket... is it best to get my suit/shirts in Bangkok?
The forum provides some good information about Tailors, but has anybody got any names/addresses of Tailors that they have actually used?
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