A Guide to Buying Couture Clothing in Hoi An, Vietnam

The skillful tailors of Hoi An are well-known throughout the world. Many of them can trace the trade through several generations of their family, and it’s not only women who are pulling a needle and thread. With deft fingers and a keen eye, they’re known by many as master craftsmen, able to copy any design they see. If you show them a picture of a coat, suit or dress, you can expect a nearly exact replica to be produced within 24-48 hours. The best tailor shops in Hoi An are well-known, and they are the reason that Vietnamese from all parts of the country will encourage you to visit this central city.

Unfortunately, not every business operates honestly. The city has seen an increased number of tailor shops over the years because of those eager to capitalize on the influx of tourists looking for custom-made clothing. A larger variety of shops isn’t a bad thing, but the fallout of this explosion is that many of these tailors produce shoddy work. The supply has yet to exceed the demand and, as a result, some of these shops have less-qualified employees using lower-quality materials. Worse, the demand for quickly assembled clothes has led to the creation of overworked sweatshops. If you aren’t interested in giving your money to a questionable operation, read on for our tips on finding a great Hoi An tailor and how to handle the process of buying custom-made clothes.

Hoi An, Vietnam

A street in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Avoid tailor recommendations from unreliable sources

Sketchy business practices abound in Hoi An. You will most likely encounter locals offering to tell you the best tailors the second you get off your train, bus or motorbike. In some cases, your taxi driver, hotel receptionist or a not-so-random local on the street will befriend you and urge you to go to a specific tailor. We even heard that some shops employ Western expats to approach tourists and bring them into their shop for a cut (a whopping 40% commission). Worse, the prices you will be quoted by the tailor shop will be padded with this extra cost. Yes, that means you will probably pay about 40% more if you take their recommendation than you would otherwise.

So what constitutes a reliable source? Probably no one you will meet in Hoi An, and definitely not the hotel you are staying in (the tailor business is even more lucrative than the hospitality business in Hoi An). Since there is really no telling who is getting a commission and who isn’t, trust your gut when you hear stories and suggestions from other travelers. The way a conversation goes is a strong indication of whether ulterior motives are involved. If they’re pushing a little too hard and ask for your name or give you a “discount card,” they are getting a commission off you. There is an unspoken honor code for paying out on these commissions, so one of the first questions a tailor may ask is, “How did you find out about us?” This even applies to posts you may find online. Mike and I promise that we are NOT receiving any form of payment, monetary or otherwise, from any tailor we mention in this post. Our opinions are our own and influenced only by our experiences with each tailor in Hoi An.

Tailor Shop Mannequins

Tailor shop mannequins displaying the shop’s handiwork.

Having said that, we found TripAdvisor to be one of the most trustworthy review sites. It ultimately led us to our favorite tailor shop, though we still visited and spoke with many others. Read as many reviews as possible to get a sense of each shop’s pricing, quality and customers’ overall experience with the tailor (at least those working in the front of the shop). Draft a list of shops that appeal to you and walk into each and every one of them (Hoi An is a very small city, so this should not take too long). Talk to the shop owners, look at the clothes on display and listen in on their interactions with other customers. There were shops that were reviewed highly on the site,but off-putting in person. What made these places unpleasant were employees who engaged in high-pressure sales techniques, making you feel as though you needed to purchase the clothes then and there. By the end of your first day, you should have a good sense of which shop(s) you would like to return to.

Plan to be there for a few days

While all tailors can have an article of clothing ready for you within 24 hours, it’s best to allow for a few fitting sessions. We spent four days in Hoi An, and in that time had three suits, three dresses, two winter coats and much more made for us. This allowed us to find tailors that we felt were trustworthy on the first day, then negotiate prices and get measurements taken. During days two through four, we went back in for fittings.

The biggest mistakes visitors make are not staying long enough in the city and not letting their tailor know how many days they have in Hoi An. Expect that alterations and multiple fittings will be necessary. It doesn’t make sense to go all the way to Hoi An only to skip out on the step that ensures your handmade clothes are perfectly tailored to your body.

Banh bao vac

The food itself is worth staying longer for! This is banh bao vac (white rose), a shrimp dumpling.

Another benefit of giving yourself time to return for alterations is that your measurements that the tailors keep on file will be more accurate. If you get back home and love a blazer you had made, you can call or email the tailor and ask to have another made and sent to your home address. This is becoming a more standard practice among the tailors, but still ask your tailor if they offer this benefit.

Know what you want

The first piece of advice we can give you when getting clothes made in Hoi An is that you should have an idea of what you want (A suit? Formal dress? Winter coat?) and even have a picture or URL to an image to show the tailor. However, if you have no clue what you want, you can search for a picture online (most tailors have a computer you can use), in a clothing catalogue (most tailors also have countless catalogues), or look at the clothing the shops have on display (they usually rotate their more popular styles on mannequins).

While the climate is tepid to hot through the year, you will find they are no less skilled at making winterwear than summer clothes.

Selection of Materials

Selection of colors and materials.

Decide on a design and make sure to handpick every detail (even more on that later). You can either ask for material and color recommendations or tell the tailors exactly what you want. Be specific. If you want silk, don’t compromise on Japanese silk, as they are not the same. Know your fabrics and what you want for each piece of clothing. If they don’t have an exact match, ask to be taken to their fabric warehouse. Most tailors will accommodate this request if they’re truly interested in customer satisfaction. Ha Na Tailor (the tailor we used for most of our couture clothing) did this for a dress for Tara.

NOTE: From our experience, polyester is not a material that any tailor in Hoi An has access to. If you want dry-fit or workout clothing made, you won’t be able to get polyester. The same goes for jean material. They have an elastic jean material, but not actual jean material.

You get the quality you ask and pay for

It’s easy to find high-end tailors charging Western prices, but it is up to you to ensure you are getting superior work (a few of them are well-known for their intricate stitching or sequinned work) for the price you are paying. In a world where time equals money, this kind of detail isn’t – and shouldn’t be – cheap. But if you aren’t going to Hoi An for a custom-made wedding dress, there are tailors who create great formalwear (and casual items) at a lower price.

The best way to ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck is to carry a checklist of what you want. This “cheat sheet” should hit all the corners that some tailors cut to save time and money during the production stages. Having a concrete list will help you stick with what is in your best interest and avoid getting sucked into hard-sell tactics that would leave you will substandard items. (Mike had one tailor try to hard sell him on Japanese silk for a suit when the best blend for him would have been cashmere-wool.)

Inside a Tailor Shop

A peek inside a higher-end tailor shop.

Below is our checklist. Feel free to use it as a template and add your own ideas should you think of more things to ask the tailors.

  • What type of fabric or fabric blend will be used
    • Outside layer
    • Inside liner
    • Pocket lining
  • What color or pattern will be used
    • Outside layer
    • Inside liner
    • Pocket lining
    • Stitching
    • Buttons
  • All items should be double stitched, also called blanket-stitching (this ensures your clothes won’t unravel the first time you launder them).
  • Make sure design details are clear
    • Overall design (front, back, sides)
    • Pocket style
  • Confirm that additional fittings are free of charge (there should never be a charge for this)
  • Make sure your quoted price is inclusive of all taxes and additional fees
  • Ask for a detailed, itemized receipt before any work is started on your clothes (especially before you hand over any money)

Most visitors are not savvy enough to ask for some of these requests, so asking for them will show the tailors that you are serious about the quality.

TIP: If you don’t believe a tailor when they tell you that a material is 100% pure silk, ask them to put it to the fire test. Real silk will burn and synthetic will melt. Honest tailors shouldn’t have an issue with proving the legitimacy of their product.

Speak now or forever wear ill-fitting clothes

Too loose? Too plain? It really doesn’t matter what your complaint is. Unless you are planning on returning to Hoi An to get them fixed, this is your one chance to get your couture clothing made just for you. They have to get it right if they want to get paid. That isn’t an unreasonable mindset, as you would feel the same way about custom clothing you have made anywhere else in the world.

Mike's Fitting

Mike working with his tailor to get the perfect fit for his suit.

First, make sure the clothing is comfortable. Test it out by walking around, sitting down and raising your arms up and down and out to the side. Inspect the stitching to make sure they double stitched every part. Check the buttons to ensure they are sewn on tightly. Consult your checklist to ensure that all of your “demands” were met. Don’t be timid! You don’t want to have buyer’s remorse later because you didn’t speak up now.

A majority of the clothes we had made required slight alterations. Unless your clothes magically fit perfectly (doubtful, but miracles can happen), inquire when your next fitting will be. In most cases, tailors are able to meet a 24-hour turnaround. Make sure you’re on time to your fitting so you don’t end up having to wait around for others to finish.

Provide helpful feedback

Once you wear the clothes you bought, go to TripAdvisor, travel forums or our comments section below and tell people about your experience with a particular tailor. Let others know about good and bad experiences so they can arrive in Hoi An and make better informed decisions. This will help weed out the bad apples and allow the talented tailors to continue their good work.

Read about the tailors we used and our experiences.

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  1. […] This blog post lays out some pretty useful tips on finding the more ethical tailors. Amid the onslaught of touts and false reviews it’s not a precise science, but maybe if new customers can add a bit of ethical research to their due diligence on price and quality the deal could be sweetened for everyone. […]

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