Hoi An is a beautiful town in central Vietnam, known specifically for its tailoring and shoe cobbling. We had no idea that when visiting that the entire city of Hoi An is all about tailoring. We were just told to visit because it is a nice place to go. The moment we ventured out into the city on foot, we were approached by many the salesperson inquiring, “Where you from? How long you here?” And then nodding and smiling, saying, “Come. Have a look…” at whatever clothing they were peddling. I got into the habit of replying, “WHERE you from?!!” which made them laugh because obviously I knew where they were from….but it was a joke that they could understand. I still smile when I think about how many SEA people I’ve asked.
So Kiki and I go “have a look” at some of the clothes offered. Mind you, we visited Vietnam in late September, so it was quite hot and AC wasn’t the norm, at least outside of our hotel room.
The coats were beautifully presented: mannequins lines up with a rainbow of wools to choose from, interesting asymmetric zippers, hoods, and colorful silky linings, all beckoning. But come on, it was like 90 degrees (F) out, the last thing we were thinking about was a coat. But nevertheless, the pushy sales tactics got the best of us, and within the first few hours of us landing in Hoi An, Kiki and I were trying on woolen winter coats in the heat of summer with nothing but a fan blowing hot air at us.
The salespeople help you into the coat, put you in front of a mirror, and ooooo and ahhhh over how nice you look. Of course they do that! I start to sweat even more (how is that even possible) and immediately start to disrobe. When I tried to remove my arms from said coat, the sleeves of the coat acted like a Chinese finger trap, seeming to pull my arm further into the sweaty, sticky fabric. I eventually was freed from the heavy fabric, and we were able to pick the fabrics for our coats. Yes, we were sold. We were…getting tailoring in Hoi An.
Buying a coat isn’t the first thought you might have when traveling in a tropical country, but Kiki and I grew up in Michigan, and have faced our fair share of winter storms, so we thought, why not?
The most amazing and awesome part of buying a coat in Hoi An, is the customization. Custom clothes! They measure your body (arm length, shoulder width, torso, bust, waist) so the coat perfectly fits just you.
As a 5’10” (1.75m) tall woman, this was amazing! I usually have sleeves that are too short, but not with my custom coat from Hoi An! I picked out a dark grey, striped tweedy wool with a dark turquoise silky liner for a mid-thigh length, toggle button front with drape-y hood coat. Kiki chose an asymmetric front, zippered, navy blue coat with lime green silky trim and fold over collar. The coats are really quite stunning, and were definitely the best purchase in Hoi An. The coats each cost around $60. Crazy deal for a custom fitted, tailored coat (with long enough sleeves)!
Kiki had 2 dress shirts, and a pair of travel shorts made, again, everything customized (each shirt was about – $22 , shorts $20 ). One shirt was purple with darker purple stripes, and she picked white cuffs and a collar to really set it off. The shorts were modeled after a pair she purchased before our trip, including a zipper to close the pockets, which comes in handy while traveling (can stop a pickpocket).
I also had a dress made out of jersey fabric- navy blue with a magenta stripe, just below the bust (around $20). Here is where we had the shirts and my dress made, I’d highly recommend it: Bi Hanh Hoi An Tailoring.
We also purchased a few pairs of shoes. I really should have taken advantage of this as I have a size 11 shoe. But again it was the same scenario, you get to pick out everything for your shoes. As you can see we had a little fun with it. I picked out the purple suede loafers and Kiki went with the other two pairs. All of the shoes cost anywhere from $20 – $35. It was much more expensive for boots. Some need a little breaking in, but they are well made and have stood up to the test of time. Here is where we had our shoes made.
The skills the tailors and cobblers have are really amazing. Many people will bring a clothing item to them, and say, I really like this dress, can I have 6 made? And pick out the fabric, and be done. The time that is required to turn out these garments is really impressive too. They can have anything ready the next day for you to try on, and then fix for the next day, and so on. If you are leaving, then they don’t really have anyone to answer to if the stitching starts to fall out. So I will say, if you are inclined to get any tailoring done, do so on the first day so that you have time to have your garments altered, if need be. Also BE PICKY! If you don’t like how something fits – say it! Once you leave, you’re stuck with it! I had to have a few fixes on my dress, but other than that, the custom shoes and custom tailored clothes are amazing!
The thing I can’t really comment on is the working conditions for the seamstresses who make the clothing. You can visit a tailor in the afternoon, and have something to try on the next day, so I have to imagine that they are working into the night, probably only getting paid pennies for each garment. I’m not saying that it’s right, but it is probably the only way these people are able to make money in Hoi An. There are plenty of tourists, and plenty of people looking to get clothing made, so I like to think I’m helping the local economy. Many of these people don’t attend high school because they need to make money for their families, so the job prospects are limited. I know that this is a simple way to look at it, but when I visit other countries, I try to be realistic.
I will say the coats have held up quite beautifully as far as stitching, however, the zippers seem a little cheap, but those are easily replaced. My dress traveled with me to NYC for the summer, is very comfortable, and has washed well. Kiki has worn her dress shirts a few times, but doesn’t really have a need to wear dress shirts that often, so we will see how they hold up. She wore her tailored travel shorts the rest of the time we traveled around SEA, and they held up beautifully.
If you visit Hoi An, be ready to be pestered to buy something you don’t really think you need, but end up loving. I remember Hoi An every time I wear my coat, and it makes me remember this amazing little city in Vietnam.
If you’re interested in another post about Hoi An – Check out A Tale of Two Banh Mis.
Where did we stay in Hoi An?
The Nhi Trung Hotel – A little outside of downtown Hoi An, but a great location with a nice breakfast.