custom-made clothing in china

in case you missed it, The Husband and i went to Luohu many many weeks ago to get some clothes custom made. i had been looking forward to this forever, and i was blogging about it long before we ever came to china. well, we have since picked up our clothes and worn them on several occasions, but i never wrote about it because the whole experience was… i don’t know. kind of meh. i’ll just get to the point and share with you what i learned.

1. it seems that western people are just about the only ones who get their clothes made in china. i have asked just about every chinese person i’ve met if they ever get their clothes custom-made, and the answer has always been a resounding ‘no.’ why? because it’s more expensive than clothes off the rack, it’s more unpredictable, and it’s just a giant hassle, they say. this is all true.

2. you can’t take anything for granted. you have to communicate every single detail of the garment you’re ordering. do you want lining on your dress? make sure you tell them. then tell them you want it in silk. then tell them it has to be 100% silk. then tell them what color silk it should be. The Husband ordered a couple shirts, and because he didn’t specify (thinking a men’s shirt is pretty straightforward), it was completely different from what he imagined: collar is too small, fit is too slim, there are no pleats in the back so it’s hard to move, it’s got a placket front or something where the buttons are, etc., etc.

3. it’s so confusing to choose the right fabric. all you see are tiny 2-inch strips of fabric swatches, and it’s impossible to tell how that would look or feel as an entire suit covering 70% of your body. it also doesn’t help that the tailors are not very clear about the materials. they tell you it’s “good quality!” “better quality!” “best quality!” and later you find out it’s, like, some weird wool-poly blend. that sucks, yo.

4. fabric options are limited. you know how you go to the NYC garment district, and they have so many kinds of amazing fabrics and trims that you want to buy and just make stuff out of, and you can just spend all day stroking them and having fantasies about them? (no? am i the only one?) well, anyway, the fabric market here (at least the one i’ve been to in Luohu) is the opposite. most of the patterns are so very painfully ugly — oh God, i can’t even describe them to you. my eyes! my eyes! the solids are definitely better, but most colors look dated somehow and are not very inspired.

5. you can’t try them on before you pay. yes, this should be obvious, but i sometimes forget that even if a dress fits me perfectly, it could still be totally unflattering. when you bring in a picture (with, like, a supermodel wearing the dress), you sometimes forget that it may not look so hot on your shorter, doughier body. also, if you do bring in a picture, make sure that the picture shows a lot of details from all angles. otherwise they will just make things up, and you may not like what they make up. in general, it’s best to stay with the very classic, plain styles — the more adventurous the garment, the more ways there are to mess it up.

6. that shirt you love so much? you can ask them to make another exact same one, and they will do a very good job, except when they kinda don’t. the blouse i asked them to copy turned out beautifully, except they added a tiny bit too much shirring, and it makes my chest look huge — and not in a cute, sexy way. more like ‘i’m nursing twins’ sort of way. the difference may be small, but it could have a *huge* effect when worn. worst part is, i don’t know how this mistake could have been prevented.

7. when a tailor tells you that they can make anything, don’t believe them. most likely, they specialize in something — whether it’s evening dresses, suits, coats, whatever. and depending on their specialty, they would be able to make better recommendations about fabric, fit, etc.

8. at the same time… it doesn’t really matter which tailor you work with because they’re probably not the ones making the clothes anyway. it’s kind of an open secret that most of the clothes get sent to the same factories. the difference is how well you communicate with your specific “tailor,” whether they speak English well, whether they’re good at helping you choose the right fabric, if they have decent fashion sense, etc. so that’s where it helps to work with the right tailor.

so… i guess that turned out to be a very long list of things i learned from my first tailor experience. i know it sounds like a whole lot of negatives here, but i’m still keen on going back to get a suit made. because it’s still hella cheaper than buying a suit in the US and it is highly unlikely that i will be able to find a decent off-the-rack suit in china. now that i’ve adjusted my expectations to reality and know what to ask for, i’m hoping that i’ll do better than i did the first time around. i hope. well, whatever happens, you will hear about it.

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2 Responses to custom-made clothing in china

  1. Steviek says:

    Yeaaaaaaah, the best is to just get them to copy stuff you already have, or you will have no idea what you will get.

    I do recommend that if you go to Shanghai, go to the Silk King. It’s the government runned silk shop. They have lots of great fabrics – silk and wool, they do a mock up with you can try on before they finish the whole suit. I got my suits all 100% silk lined and they are some of my favorite suits….the only problem is they are just as if ore more expensive as suits in the states, bc you have to pay for the high quality fabric and then the labor costs. But it is probably the nicest suits I have…and they are tailored to you…..

    • eunnie says:

      ooh, this is good advice. i don’t know if we will make it out to shanghai, but we will definitely check it out if we do.

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