Jake writes: My wife and I are looking to take a trip to Asia in the new few months and I was wondering about your opinion of the custom tailoring outfits available there to get some suits made (specifically we are looking at Hong Kong and/or Bangkok). I’m sure there are very fine tailors there that take a long time, but I’ve been told that there are places where you can get a pretty quick turnaround (necessary considering that we’d be abroad for ~2 weeks). I’m worried that something made so quickly will be of poor construction. Even if the suit were mostly fused, would there still be a value to getting something cut to my dimensions?
I get this question a lot, Jake. The promise of a $250 custom suit is powerful siren song. But will you be happy with what you buy?
The bad news is that if you buy a suit for a couple hundred dollars from a tout in Bangkok or Hong Kong, you’ll likely be disappointed. The good news is that buying a high-quality suit is possible, for a reasonable price, with a quick turnaround.
There are two challenges: the first is quality, the second aesthetics. Without knowing the terrain very well, you run a high risk of erring in one of those two areas. You can find a tailor who does good work, but who lacks a sophisticated understanding of your (presumably Western) aesthetics. You can also find someone who simply doesn’t make a good suit. It is, however, possible to address those problems and come out on top… but it’ll probably cost you more than the $300 you might be imagining.
First, time: by all accounts, you’ll need at least a week or so. If you do have that bit of time, though, most Hong Kong tailors are used to making clothes for visitors with limited timelines. Make sure to go for your first fitting at the start of your trip, and make sure the tailor can schedule two fittings before you leave. Generally the tailor will do the fittings, make adjustments, and mail you the final product.
Using a good tailor will cost you more than a couple hundred dollars, though. In Hong Kong, expect to pay somewhere between $800 and $1500 for a well-made suit. That’s half what you might pay in the States, but it isn’t $300. Do a lot of research, and you might find a passable suit for a few hundred dollars, but I’d really only recommend this to folks who both don’t have the money for better quality and need custom clothing because they can’t wear off-the-rack.
When you choose a tailor in an unfamiliar, choose carefully. I’ve never been to Hong Kong myself, but many users on StyleForum and other clothing fora recommend Gordon Yao, Lee Baron and WW Chan. Ascot Chang is a legendary Hong Kong shirtmaker; on the budget side, many enthusiasts like Jantzen for cheaper shirts. You can check out this exhaustive thread for more information.
Outside of Hong Kong, it can be tougher to find quality makers of tailored clothes. Some of the Hong Kong tailors have branches in the mainland, but places like Thailand and Vietnam have a much smaller tradition of quality tailoring. Some places, like South Korea and Singapore, do have a broad tradition, but you can run into the aforementioned aesthetic issues. It can also be tough just to find decent fabric, especially in the second and third world, and if you yourself aren’t comfortable judging textiles you can easily be sold a bill of goods.
That said, shirts are a much simpler proposition than coats, and you can find decent quality shirt makers in places like Bangkok (or in Vietnam, or India…). My one visit to Bangkok lasted all of 10 hours, so I’ll refer you to these forum threads on Bangkok tailors for information there. Again, you’ll have to be vigilant about fabric and fit, but once that’s settled, you may be able to order shirts based on your pattern for years to come.