If you’re a part of a support team which spans the whole Asian region then chances are at some point you will find yourself on a business trip to another office. If you’re not based in Hong Kong (in my opinion the Mecca for tailored clothing) or Singapore, chances are you could benefit from getting some shirts and/or suits made up.
I’ll give some general advice in this post, then give some specific recommendations by region in follow-up posts.
- Suits are 100x more difficult to get correct than shirts. If it is your first time getting tailored clothing made, my recommendation is to stick with 5-10 shirts. Even these, you’ll need about a week for the initial measuring, second fitting, then final fitting and pickup. If there is a mistake (they spelled my name incorrectly on the sleeve one time) then you may need another 1-2 days (or risk getting them to send the items to you via air mail). For suits, you really need two weeks.
- Asian tailors don’t have the same sense of fashion as Western tailors. For starters, most Westerners who have had suits tailored in Asia will tell you that the first suit they ever had made up had enormous shoulder pads. Whereas on Saville Row you could walk in and the tailor would make suggestions based on their experience, you’d be hard pressed to find one in Asia who would make suggestions you would be 100% satisfied with. The moral of the story is to have a good idea of what you want before going in, especially in the case of suits. Research is key (and takes time, but the feeling of satisfaction when you first try on your garment will make it well worth the effort)
- You get what you pay for. The labor in Asian countries is where the major savings are, but more than half of the cost of the final garment is going to be for the fabric.
- Having said that, again, the more research you can do on fabrics and expected costs the better. You will find people who work with the same suit and shirt fabrics which are being used on Saville Row. This is particularly true of Hong Kong. However, don’t try and squeeze the last penny out of your tailor (especially if he is the person who actually puts together your garments, instead of sending it away to a sweat shop over the border). Bargain with him if you feel confident, but let him make a profit too.
- When you go in to the tailor, go there looking awesome. If you already have tailored clothing which is of good quality, wear that. Otherwise, well-fitting name-brand business attire, or in a pinch very stylish casual wear will also do. Spend a little extra time on your hair. You will be shocked at the difference in service.
- The same applies to the number of shirts you order. If you only plan to order one shirt, forget about it – it’s not worth his time, and because the tailor doesn’t care about your repeat business you won’t get something that is representative of his best work.
As a rule, I try to stick to five shirts, but invariably end up getting about seven or eight. I swear, there is something in the material swatches to which you get addicted (apart from the finger-sweat of 1000 customers who have flicked through the swatch booklet before you).
- Getting shirts and suits tailored is addictive, so make sure you set a budget and stick to it. Again, research is key so you know the prices.
- It’s also addictive in the sense that if you use a tailor more than once, you fix all the things that were not quite right the first time. This is an important point, especially when considering suits: You probably won’t get the perfect garment the first time you use any particular tailor. In fact, for suits in particular, it’s a process of continual improvement (think Japanese “kaizen,” that buzzword in manufacturing from the 80s). A good tailor should keep notes about you too, so by the time you have had a few suits made up he will have a pretty good idea of how to put together a suit which is perfect for you.
- Prices vary greatly. As a rule, if you have chosen your tailor well then you can expect to get what you pay for. Avoid anywhere that is offering USD100 suits, or any place which has touts out on the street. USD400 would be the minimum I’d expect to pay for a very nice standard first suit, with two pairs of trousers, Japanese, Italian or English wool fabric.
- If you are trying a new tailor and already have a shirt that fits you well, bring it along! Asian tailors have made me “copy” shirts of designer labels that are better tailored than the original!
Hopefully these tips will get you started down the path to getting some perfect garments tailored on your next business trip to Asia (and avoid getting ripped off by the infamous touts!)