The Dangerous Allure of Tailoring in Hoi An

Hoi An was the siren of Vietnam. On the surface, it’s a gem. The streets are lined with yellow-painted French buildings, the cafés have luscious coffee, fresh fruits are everywhere, then you hear the melodious singing voices of the tailors offering exquisite clothing. Hoi An captivates you, puts you at ease, and then suddenly you find yourself unwittingly captured by a tailor, money flooding out of the palms of your hands as you see chiffon dresses, smart suits and suave brogues all around.

Hoi An Street tailoring in hoi an
Ambling the streets of Hoi An, eating fruit, browsing at art, and…

Hoi An is famous for it’s tailors. You can get anything – dresses, suits, shoes, trousers, shirts, skirts – fitting perfectly. You can also get a good price if you don’t mind a bit of bartering and shopping around. However, getting clothes tailored in Hoi An is really stressful. I’d be tempted to go as far as to say that getting tailor-made clothes actually ruins your time there.

Haggling with tailors, viewing samples, discussing styles, choosing materials, being measured, having a first fitting, having a second fitting, waiting for alterations, finally collecting and paying for your clothing, all takes a very long time. And this time is spent indoors, away from the sun, with a measuring tape up your thigh. Your time outside of the tailors becomes haunted with indecision about whether you chose the right items, trusted the right tailor, or could’ve got the same thing made cheaper/better elsewhere.

Dresses in Hoi An tailoring in hoi an
Dresses available to have tailored to fit your body shape in Hoi An.

Before arriving in Hoi An, we hadn’t planned on getting anything tailored. We’re not exactly a couple known for our banging fashion sense, and we travel on a pretty tight budget, our (small) splurges are reserved only for speciality coffees. When we were wandering in the streets on the first day, we noticed so many excited people tumbling in and out of tailors, and we couldn’t help but browse in the windows. We read online about some beautiful – and sometimes practical – clothing people had made when they’d visited the town. Soon we were thinking of all the things our wardrobes actually needed, and that was it…

tailored brogues hoi an tailoring in hoi an
Luke trying on his brogues for the first time.

We both bought shoes.

As travellers and walkers, our shoes are constantly falling apart. We’re usually wearing hiking boots or scuffed up trainers. Neither of us had a nice pair for wearing around town, let alone to a nice café or bar. So that was that. Luke designed his own pair of blue/grey material brogues. Cost: 1,370,000 VND (£39.50) from Friendly Shoe Shop.

blue brogues tailoring in hoi an
Luke’s brogues

After being driven around on the back of a shoe-sellers motorbike to the shoe-makers’ workshop because I didn’t like any of the leathers in store, I still couldn’t find what I wanted. I’d previously owned a pair of brown leather boots which had fallen apart and wanted a copy of those, but I didn’t have them on me. Instead I printed a picture of something similar and described what I wanted, I had no intention of settling for anything less than the exact fit. This is not a good way to shop because it’s super time consuming, made me very critical of what people were selling, and annoyed the fuck out of my other half. Eventually I got the boots I wanted though. Cost: 1,200,000 VND (£34.50) from Hieu Giay (Thang) Shoes Shop.

hoi an boots tailoring in hoi an
My new boots from Hoi An (left) and my old boots (right)

We both bought jeans.

Both of us asked to have a replica of our previous worn-out jeans made. However, the tailors don’t work with denim, so the “jeans” they make might not be what you’re expecting. The material didn’t bother Luke, but I much prefer the feel of normal high street denim and found mine pretty uncomfortable. Each pair cost 760,000  VND (£22) from Hoang Kim.

hoang kim jeans hoi an tailoring in hoi an
Luke having his new jeans adjusted by Kim.

I bought a skirt.

I couldn’t resist. I didn’t want to buy a dress because I just never have anywhere to wear them. I’m also not keen on wearing dresses or getting dressed up, so for me it would’ve been a waste of money. I had meant to get something more day-wear, yet some swift sales tactics and a bargain price from a woman who was half my height but doubly as ferocious sold me something a little more evening-wear. Cost: 420,000 VND (£12.15) from a shop in town that didn’t have a big name board.

Skirt from Hoi An tailoring in hoi an
My full length skirt from Hoi An. Silky on the inside, chiffon on the outside. A perfect fit.

All of these purchases came with a reasonable amount of stress. Many a sunny hour was sucked away before we’d even realised it, and a sizeable chunk of our budget too. Shopping also puts my relationship in jeopardy if I’m not careful. This said, we both have a swanky pair of shoes, one of us has jeans to wear, and there’s a skirt looking pretty inside my wardrobe.

Have you been to Hoi An? What was your experience with tailoring there? Or, if you were to go, would you get something made?

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

15 thoughts to “The Dangerous Allure of Tailoring in Hoi An”

  1. We skipped Hoi An because we only had 10 days in Vietnam and decided to spend as much time exploring HCMC and Hanoi as possible. And it’s probably a good thing we did! I was very fond of visiting the fabric market in Shanghai and having things made :-)

    1. Hanoi was definitely my favourite place in Vietnam, though I wasn’t too keen on HCMC. How did you like them both? Hoi An was amazing, but yes, it sucked away more money than we would’ve liked haha!

  2. My boyfriend is dead set on buying a couple of suits in Hanoi and shipping them back home, I can’t really dissuade him. But it’ll be one day tops devoted to the whole thing, I hate to miss out on sunshine and I can’t stand shopping. That said, I’ll probably end up buying something! That’s a really lovely skirt you bought there :)

    1. Apparently a lot of people do that actually. When we were in Hoang Kim, she has just shipped an order worth $500 to an Australian businessman who only buys his clothes tailored by her now. I also hate shopping, but was unwittingly lured into it. I thought we’d be able to get it done swiftly in a day as well, but that was just not the case.. Good luck to you! And thank you, the skirt turned out much better than I thought it was going to – I’ve nowhere to wear it though!

  3. Hanoi was amazing when I visited it last time. It was so historical yet charming and these cafes… I could sit there all day long starring at lanterns hanging out on trees and drinking Vietnamese iced coffee. Love your shoes – so stylish! :D

  4. Hi Charle,

    I love the boots and luke’s brogues. How did they turn out in terms of comfort after wearing them? Are they durable or they wear out really fast? I love my shoes and I am flying there soon. Contemplating if I should make a pair.

    1. Thanks, KK! My boots are really comfortable, the leather was a little stiff on the first wear and then after that they were lovely. Luke says that he’s used to wearing slouchy trainers, but that his brogues are the most comfortable formal shoes he’s every worn (as they are leather on the inside).

      We got them in November 2013, and we both wear our shoes a couple of times per week. Luke’s brogues have lasted much better than the jeans he had made.

      Also, they make a semi-complete pair first for you to try on, and you can use that opportunity to say if they don’t feel comfortable. The people at the Friendly Shoe Shop were crazy about the shoes being perfect (because they really don’t want bad reviews on TripAdvisor, as that can wreck a business in Vietnam) – so I would definitely recommend them if you’re worried about service/or shoes not being perfect – they’re really intent on making them just how you want.

  5. Great info. We’re on our way to Hoi An. Tossing up the idea of having clothes made but not sure about time. Can you give any ideas on how long did it took to have these items made. Thanks

    1. Good luck! The shoes and the jeans took about 3 days, but the skirt and the alterations made to my partner’s existing clothes were done overnight. 4 days is probably a good amount of time to leave for tailoring and alterations to be sure you get exactly what you want.

      Thinking back on this now, the shoes were a really good investment and my skirt is stunning for such a small amount of money. However, the cost easily adds up and the jeans were an unnecessary expense for both of us. Nonetheless, Hoi An is a great place to get anything you need made! Have a lovely time!

  6. Thanks so much for the great recommendations. I love those brogues!

    I fell in love with a bridesmaid dress I found on Pinterest and want to get it made for my wedding. I have one of the dresses already, which should help with understanding my vision. And hopefully I can just get the measurements done in the States and take them with me and it will take some of the stress out of it.

    Thanks again!
    Meagan | LifeOutsideOfTexas.com recently posted…Surprise! We’re engaged! Our Jeju Island Engagement StoryMy Profile

    1. Hey Meagan, Absolutely no problem, really glad that you found the post useful! Those brogues are the best, I love them (I wish they were mine even haha).

      You’ll definitely be able to get a really close to exact match to a dress you found on Pinterest for sure. I actually remember reading a post by Casey on A Cruising Couple on this – she went to Hoi An and had a couple of formal dresses made using photos she found on Pinterest; might be worth looking up so you can see how it goes from photo to reality!

      Good luck with your tailoring mission, and I’m sure a clear vision and measurements pre-done will make it pretty much stress free!

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