An Bang Beach, Hoi An, Viet Nam
This is the second in our series of guest posts from Myles Stone, a Tucson physician who recently spent two months in Hoi An, Viet Nam, with his wife, Aimee, and baby daughter, Mimi.
Our son, Grael, daughter in law, Nona, and our then-16-month-old grandson, Conrad, spent two weeks visiting the Stones there this spring.
These are slice-of-life pieces that provide insights into what Viet Nam — a country that played such a huge role in the baby boomer experience of the 1960s — is like today.
You can read about the usefulness of their local neighborhood “fixer” in Myles’ first post.
In this post, Myles treats us to a visit to one of the many tailoring shops in Hoi An, where you can get custom-made suits, shirts, and other items of clothing made from scratch for a tiny fraction of what you’d pay in the U.S.
By Myles Stone
Photos by Aimee Stone
Look at the tag on your clothing.
There’s a very decent chance that it was made in Viet Nam. The country is a major garment producer, and Hoi An is its fine tailoring capital.
Hoi An was essentially the primary trading port of Southeast Asia from the 900s to the 1800s. During that era, textiles were a major commodity.
So over time, with the world’s textiles passing through Hoi An — and with traders from all over the world needing clothes during their stays here — a major tailoring industry developed that persists to this day.
There are tailors all over Asia, some of them good, some of them less good. And of course, there are the sweatshops and poor labor practices that frequently come to light. So getting a cheap suit in Asia is not always a harmless decision.
Tailor-Made for Visitors — and Locals
But thankfully, the Hoi An tailoring industry developed three hundred years ago for the express purpose of making me a suit.
Seriously. The tailors here are not being pulled out of existing garment factories or away from other critical industries. They exist to make nice clothing for visitors using the textiles that pass through the town.
Sometimes these too-good-to-be-true deals really are, and can have a harmful effect on local economies. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.
In fact, just the opposite. Nearly every block in the city has a tailor on it, and most have far more. The tailoring industry here is booming, and it’s not entirely just for visitors.
We noticed that the owner of our house is always wearing a nice sun dress, and it’s because she doesn’t ever have to buy clothing off the rack. Many people here have a few pieces of very well fitting clothing, instead of a closet full of crap. That’s something I can definitely get behind.
A Rare Opportunity to Get a Custom Suit Made
I’m not a huge fan of shopping for clothes. But I had been looking forward to getting a custom suit since we first heard that it was an option.
|The master at work|
|Our landlord, Ha (background) was a much needed tour guide through this process.|
And when I say custom, I don’t mean pick a suit off the rack and get it altered to fit your inseam. I mean pick a fabric roll off the shelf and tell them how many buttons you want, how many flaps you want in the back, and what color you want the lining to be.
And since there are dozens of tailors in the city, they jump at each opportunity for a sale.
When we walked into the a tailoring shop that our landlord recommended to us, a small army of tailoring assistants swarmed. Like actually swarmed.
One asked us what material we wanted, the other one showed us color samples, one got out the notebook to jot down our measurements.
Then the queen bee walked out and a hush went over the room. She looked me over, said nothing, took out her measuring tape, and made what must have been a hundred different measurements.
“Two slits in the back,” she said, making me self-conscious of my bum for the first time in my life.
But we were all looking forward to seeing how the suits turned out in — amazingly — less than 24 hours.
Meanwhile, we have two babies hunting down pin cushions while Aimee was trying to snap at least a couple of photos before one of the babies runs out onto the street.
One of the assistants asked Aimee if she wanted something made for her, and with a baby in her right arm, and her day bag in the other, she muttered something along the lines of, “Good God, no.” Which was a step up from curling into the fetal position like any reasonable person might in that situation.
And the suits? A perfect fit.