Anyone can buy ready-to-wear. But the savviest travellers get things made to order, local-style.
Saris, Mumbai, India
A crowd of people wearing saris. Image by Mint Images/Art Wolfe / Photodisc / Getty Images.
In emerald greens, peacock blues, royal purples, sunrise oranges and pomegranate reds, saris delightfully symbolise India’s colourful culture and landscape. On the subcontinent, sari seekers generally buy the garments at specialty fabric shops and have the choli (the cropped shirt traditionally worn with some styles of sari) made at an on-site or nearby tailor. For selection, you can’t beat Kala Niketan, an overstuffed Mumbai emporium hawking saris in silks and cottons, saris covered in delicate embroidery or adorned with simple gold borders, saris decorated with birds, with flowers, with sequins. Can’t decide? Buy two (or three)!
Kala Niketan (www.kalaniketangroup.com) is on Queens Rd in the Marine Lines area of Mumbai.
Suits, shirts and dresses, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China
When you hop off the Star Ferry and plunge into the teeming streets of Hong Kong’s Kowloon peninsula, touts will immediately rush to your side asking ‘Tailor? Tailor? Need a tailor?’ Well, do you? This frenetic international city has long been known for its quick, nimble-fingered tailors, who can turn out a full suit or dress in less than 24 hours. Do as the locals do, and bring your nicest shirt or pair of trousers to have them ‘copied’ into multiple versions in multiple different materials.
In-the-know locals swear by Raja Fashions (www.raja-fashions.com) on Cameron Rd.
Suits, Savile Row, London, England
Savile Row, London. Image by Shaun Egan / The Image Bank / Getty Images.
The poshest of the poshies have their bespoke suits made here on the ‘golden mile of tailoring’, famed for dressing everyone from Winston Churchill to James Bond since the early 1800s. In London’s exclusive Mayfair district, Savile Row has more than a dozen tailors specialising in upper-upper-tier menswear. Go for a classic English look with a boldly striped three-piece or a classic tweed.
New kid on the block Cad and the Dandy (www.cadandthedandy.co.uk) outsources some of its processes to China to offer bespoke clothing at a lower price point, with suits starting at £950.
Invented by dry goods store owner Levi Strauss during San Francisco’s gold-rush years, blue jeans have become the most iconic – and ubiquitous – of American fashions. Since most of us spend more time in our jeans than any other item of clothing, it makes sense to get a pair that fit like a second skin. That’s where bespoke jeans come in. A growing trend across the US, outfitters large and small are offering made-to-order denim in the cut and colour of your choice.
Levi’s does made-to-order at its store in NYC’s Meatpacking District (www.us.levi.com). In Nashville, Imogene & Willie (www.imogeneandwillie.com) does retro shades of indigo in a former gas station.
Qipao, Shanghai, China
Girl wearing a blue qipao. Image by Anissa Sariatu / Flickr / Getty Images.
What’s more elegant than the qipao, the slim, high-necked dress worn to such stylish effect in Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 film In the Mood for Love? Traditionally, the qipao (also known as cheongsam) was a loose garment, but socialites and high-class courtesans in racy 1920s Shanghai helped evolve it into the slinky dress of today. Shanghai is still the best place to have a qipao made, and the iconic tailor shop Han Yi is the top choice for in-the-know fashionistas. Choose from hundreds of fabrics, plain or embroidered, and be fitted by the shop’s expert tailors. One week later, you’ll look like you’re ready to drink a martini at the bar of the storied Cathay Hotel circa 1932.
Han Yi is at 221 Changle Rd in the Luwan District.
Bras, Paris, France
Everyone wonders how French women achieve their classic, effortlessly elegant looks. Well, turns out they start with a proper foundation: custom-fitted, custom-made bras, mais oui! At Cadolle, the legendary lingerie atelier, the Cadolle family has been making soutien-gorges for everyone from European royalty to the infamous spy Mata Hari. Make an appointment to get your décolleté outfitted in the finest silks and laces, all measured and cut to order over a series of fittings. They don’t come cheap, but take another tip from the French: you get what you pay for and quality clothes are worth the price.
Cadolle (www.cadolle.com) is on Rue Saint-Honoré in the 1st arrondissement.
Guayaberas, Miami, Florida, USA
Legend has it this iconic Caribbean and Latin American shirt was invented by the wife of an old man who loved picking guavas (guayabas) and needed some pockets to hold them. The guayabera, distinguished by its four front pockets and two rows of pleating, is almost a uniform for Cuban men of a certain age in Miami, and its retro look has become newly cool among a younger crowd as well. Tailor Ramon Puig (‘king of the guayaberas’) made shirts for the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Bill Clinton for 60-plus years before passing away in 2011. Today his store sells ready-to-wear and custom guayaberas with delicate embroidery. Stop by and get fitted on your way to the bars of South Beach.
Ramon Puig (www.ramonpuig.com) is at 5840 SW 8th St in West Miami.
Cowboy boots, Austin, Texas, USA
Row of cowboy boots. Image by Kraig Scarbinsky / The Image Bank / Getty Images.
In Texas, cowboy boots are considered appropriate attire for everything from roping broncos to black tie galas at the governor’s mansion. So it’s no wonder that Austin, the capital of the Lone Star State and where traditional Texas meets the avowedly alternative, is also the world’s capital of handmade cowboy boots. Get ’em in ostrich or alligator, vintage-style or cheekily modern, with fancy stitching or classic plain. Heritage boots is a hipster favourite, selling self-described ‘fancy boots’, Capitol Saddlery attracts a more old-school crowd and Texas Custom Boots satisfies rockabilly types with exotic leathers like eel skin and glitzy inlays of feathers and diamonds. Giddy-up now and ride ‘em, cowboy!
The shopping website Racked (www.racked.com) offers a handy map of Austin’s top boot shops, including those mentioned here. Search the site for ‘Where to Shop Cowboy Boots in Austin’.
Sandals, Athens, Greece
Greeks have been rocking sandals since the days of the Peloponnesian War. When in Athens, do as the Athenians do and pick up a custom-made pair, just the thing for island-hopping in the Aegean. In Greece’s capital, the Melissinos family has been making sandals of gorgeous, pliable Cretan leather for nearly a century. Stop by their shop to have the sandals – shaved, moulded and oiled with local olive oil – fitted to your feet on the spot. They were good enough for Jackie O, Princess Diana, John Lennon, Sophia Loren and Jeremy Irons, and we’re certain they’ll be good enough for you.
Find Melissinos (www.melissinos-art.com) near Monastiraki Sq.
Leather gloves, Milan, Italy
From the grandpa sipping grappa in the corner bar to the chic young woman riding a Vespa in 6-inch heels, Italians just seem to have a certain flair. In Milan, the country’s fashion capital, located in the chilly north, handsome custom-made gloves are a major part of the equation. Sermoneta, on Milan’s Via della Spiga, has been making fine gloves for more than 50 years. Just one pair, which come in materials from kidskin to deerskin to peccary (a kind of wild South American pig), takes the work of 10 separate artisans. Go ahead, live la dolce vita and treat yourself to a pair.
Sermoneta (www.sermonetagloves.com) is on Via della Spiga in the Quadrilatero d’Oro, Milan’s upscale fashion district.
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