Lonely Planet Writer

Handmade memories

TAILORThe clothes may make the man, but making the clothes is a different matter.

When we travel we’re often looking to bring something special home as a souvenir. There’s something captivating and intimate about having someone make something for you, and if it’s a local artisan in a strange and wonderful land, it can feel even more magical. Creating the suit, the dress, pants or blouse is an investment of conversation and experience. And every time you wear it back home, you’ll recall that exchange – so much nicer than buying off the rack in a store that could be in Anytown, USA.

But be warned. Finding your tailormade take home isn’t always straightforward. How do you know if you’ve found a reputable tailor? Where do you find the right fabrics? What if you’re a different body type from the locals? Are there conventions or taboos you're expected to know about when having something fitted?

geographicus has outstanding advice for any traveller with designs on the handmade. ‘Ask ‘What do I expect?’ and avoid getting lost in a fantasy of exotic finery. 'First of all, bespoke means hand sewn - no machines folks.'

He also stresses the importance of ingredients: '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.'

Other things to consider are time (be realistic – quality takes time, even if the tailor is fast!), specifics (the more you can describe exactly what you want, the more likely you are to get it), and reputation. Key there, trust the locals and watch those who protest too loudly: '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. '

For the rest of geographicus' excellent tips, read his popular Tailoring in Thailand thread.

The Thorn Tree is full of other helpful suggestions to help you find the perfect garment maker, whether you’re wanting a wedding gown, a rush job or a reliable talent in an out of the way spot. CMBurns reminds us of the old saying. 'Of fast, cheap, and good you must pick two, and only two.' While maureenm points out the subtle differences between having clothes made and authentic tailoring (and reminds travellers to consider how climate will impact their request and what’s on offer. A final word of advice from Celestine for voluptuous lasses looking to have something tailored. In her experience, 'petite tailors...mostly ... don't understand the function of a dart.'

You'll find tailoring debates and chatter all over the forum, but most of it occurs on our South East Asia branches, where adventuring off to find a personalised suit is a popular pastime for tourists.

Have you ever had clothes made while travelling? What advice would you give someone who'd like to try it on for size?

[Photo: Portrait of tailor in Khan al-Khayyatin (Tailors Market), Tripoli, courtesy Lonely Planet images]