If you are planning on having clothes tailored in Thailand or anywhere in Southeast Asia, please read this. So many people get ripped off by this that I am surprised that it is never included in the guides nor has anyone I know of written an good guide to negotiating the pitfalls of this venture. It should be a boxed text in LP Thailand. This attempts to correct that.
The first thing you have to ask yourself when considering having a suit tailored in Southeast Asia is, "What do I expect?" If you have some fantasy about getting a "bespoke" suit equivalent or even close to what is produced by top notch tailors in England, New York, and Naples - then reconsider.
First of all, bespoke means hand sewn - no machines folks. Despite that every Bangkok tailor calls himself bespoke, it just isn't the case. True bespoke work takes a lot of time and I have never seen a tailor anywhere in Asia, except Japan and Hong Kong, that offers this service. This does not mean that a machine made suit can't be superb - it can. It just won't stand up to top international standards. What you can get from some of Asia's better tailors is a bit of hand detail work - and even that is enough to increase the dollar per stitch value of your investment considerably. Bespoke also generally means that you are working directly with the tailor who designs, fits, and cuts the pattern for your garment.
Second, 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. And, I am not just talking about the fabric, I am also talking about the thread, the interfacing, the lining, etc... You can't make a 60 dollar suit anywhere in the world using anything except crap material. A suit made of bad material will look like you found it in a ditch after one use because this sort of material simply can't hold its shape or structure.
Third factor is workmanship. Most of the shops that advertise themselves as "tailors" are not tailors, but material salesman. They take your measurements and pass them on to actual tailors who do the work. So, already, you are not getting bespoke, but "made-to-measure" which is a whole different category of tailoring. Most of the people who do the actual "sewing" of your suits you will never see, don't speak a word of English, and don't know much at all about making a good suit. So you are out of luck and will inevitably get a poorly fashioned garment. Remember, top tailors don't apprentice for eight to ten years because making suits is easy. 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.
Fourth factor is time. Yes, despite 24 hour turn around guarantees, it does take time to make a good suit. Making a good suit requires shaping, pressing, reshaping, stitching, shaping, pressing reshaping, etc... until it is perfect. There are also several necessary fittings before a final product can be arrived at. Minimum turn around time at a proper tailor who is making a suit only for you - 2 weeks.
Fifth, design sensibility. Most tailors in Asia have absolutely no design sensibility or if they have one, it is very different from your own. You simply cannot trust a tailor in Asia, as you can trust a tailor on Saville row or in Naples, to read your mind and produce the garment that you really want. Here, you have to ASK for EVERYTHING that you want. Now ask yourself, are you in a position to do so - to even know what you want? Well, if you can walk into a shop and say you want a "single breasted three button roll to two button double vented jacket with peak lapels, a natural shoulder, high small arm holes, high waist suppression, floating canvas, a patch left breast pocket, angled side flap side pockets, with a ticket pocket on the right", then you might be ok. If not, copy this and tell them, became it is probably what you want anyway. The problem is, if you don't know what it means and why and if your tailor does not speak perfect English, you still won't be able to communicate what you need to get a good suit.
One warning, tailors in Thailand, even the good ones, love big shoulder pads. This is probably because Thais are naturally small in the chest and shoulders. If you are even a moderately build westerner this can make you look like a football player. You most likely want some shoulder padding, just strongly impress on the tailor to use VERY SMALL shoulder pads.
So, is it hopeless? What can you do? There actually are good tailors in Bangkok. Most are on Sukimvit around Asok and Nana BMT stations. The best I've found is Narin Couture, but others are also quite skilled and a little dedication and research can turn them out. This doesn't mean that you'll get what you want, but at least you won't get robbed. Look for a tailor that uses 100% wool fabrics from Japan or Europe or bring your own. To test if wool is 100% wool, take a swatch of it and light it with a match. Wool will smell organic and burn a bit. A synthetic with cumble and melt like a plastic fork in a fire. A good tailor will work with your frabrics just as happily as he will sell you his own. His work is making clothes, not selling overpriced synthetics.
Not to equate money with value, but sad to say, if you are not ready to spend around 400 USD for good custom tailored suit (this includes fabric), I doubt you will get something worth while. This is about 4 times the street price from the Indian tout-tailors, but at least here you are not waisting your money and will get a garment you can wear frequently and which will stand up in a formal situation. If you are not willing to spend this much, a ready-made product is the way to go. There is nothing inherently wrong with clothing manufactured for companies like Zara, Banana Republic, or the Gap. These clothes usually use 100% wool or cotton, are well made, and designed to fit almost everyone. And if they don't fit you perfectly, that is when a cheap tailor can really come in handy.
Shirts are one place when you can do very well in Southeast Asia. I have had shirts made from several tailors in Bangkok, Laos, and in Vietnam, and many have stood the test. I have taken several Bangkok made shrits to top tailors in New York and London and they were frequently impressed with the products. Better tailors will have a good selection of 100% cotton (there is great cotton shirting made locally as well as in Japan and China) fabrics and charge about 20 - 30 USD plus fabric to stitch a shirt. If your tailor does not have 100% cotton (the burn test works here too) then use another tailor. If your tailor does offer 100% cotton, there is still no reason not to go to Sampeng Lane and purchase your own shirting. I have found cotton fabrics there for as little as 6 USD per meter that are being sold not so far away at the elite Siam Paragon for 75 USD per meter! The merchants there also tend to be honest about fabric quality and composition. Another test, take a bit of the fabric and try to rip it. If it tears easily - it is bad fabric. Also, think about design. Several photos or a sample of a shirt you love is a good way to go. It is not a bad idea to buy a shirt for any amount of money necessary to use as a sample. With a good sample, the tailors of Thailand can generally produce a magnificent copy with all of the improvements you might ask for. Pants also tend to be done well here and follow the same rules. In general, be careful with suits, jackets, and overcoats.
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