Ok! After a brief respite for books & nonsense it's back to 'Nam!
I know, I know ya can't say that.
One of the main highlights / tourist traps of Hoi An is to have clothes tailored. Basically every other store front, if not every single one, houses a tailor shop, samples of their wares hanging in the front window, everything you could imagine: leather goods, handbags, sun dresses, pants, baby clothes, all fit to order and in a few-day turnaround, too. One night at dinner we overheard a posh British couple discussing their purchases, the gent had stocked up on two tuxedos and a linen suit which Brian and I found HIGH-larious, like, what is your life, sir that it requires so much formal occasion suiting? But then recounting the tale back in the states, a friend revealed the he, of course has several tuxedos and a linen suit. Are these normal items to own?? Is Brian an unsophisticated, underdressed louche? Is everyone going to fancy parties without us???
Our handy-dandy Lonely Planet: Vietnam writes "The tailor-shop business in Hoi An is out of control" and they are completely correct. Actually all shopping in Hoi An - and Vietnam as a whole is out of control. The nicer stores keep it slightly calmer, but some places you can't so much as glance at out of the corner of your eye without the salesperson yelling at you "you buy? you want? buy! buy! buy!" and good luck doing something like calmly rifling through postcards without them physically shoving things in your face. On top of that it's all about the barter. No stores list prices, you have to ask how much it costs and then haggle with them until you find a price you like. Some people get off on this sort of thing and it just makes me want to barf. Neither of us is good at it. Brian gets frustrated and impatient and just leaves and I get so worried about upsetting the store person that I end up stammering and stalling and then getting in too deep and then panicking and just like, running away.
Which doesn't always work! At one store, I looked at some bowls, talked to the shopgirl, decided it wasn't worth the price we settled on and wandered away and she CHASED ME DOWN THE STREET screaming after me.
I don't understand the economics behind it all. Does this earn you more money in the long run? Just tell me how much it costs! Give me some space and breathing room and don't physically touch me and don't try to tell me that the exchange rate is 22 cents on the dollar when I KNOW it is 21 cents on the dollar and I might be more inclined to spend money in your terrifying store. Gah! I'm getting physically stressed just thinking about it again now. Oy.
This obviously did NOT stop us from throwing down some cold hard DONG (um, is this the first time I mentioned how the money is called "dong"??? BECAUSE IT IS. Never got old and never will.) We whipped the dong out all over Vietnam, eventually bringing home a bunch of scarves, some bamboo baskets which were um, interesting to cart home, pillow cases, some handwoven coinpurses, many, many pairs of pillow pants (which you'll learn more about in the next installment) and several couture ensembles.
We'd read up a ton about the made-to-order clothing industry in Hoi An before we went but still were woefully unprepared. I had a vague idea of one dress I wanted to have made ... and that was about it. We were overwhelmed by the literally hundreds of options, some seeming super fancy and others possibly trashy and the rest somewhere in the middle. We ended up visiting a few based on Tripadvisor reviews and after a bit of a Goldilocks scenario we finally found one that seemed just right.
An Na (two words! Not Anna! I kept wanting to call our tailor...whose name I now forget, I'm the worst..."Anna" but that's not it!) was this cute little shop off of the main drag in between downtown and our hotel, run by a woman (who I now know is named Phuong, because I just looked it up on the internet!) with the help of her sister. It was totally cozy, homey and low-key, unlike some of the bigger, crazier stores. She didn't try to haggle us, just talked with us about what we wanted and showed us some photos of her past work.
It was suuuuuuper easy to get swept up into the enthusiasm. We had to wait a few minutes while another couple tried on their wares and her work was so good and the other couple so effusive. Suddenly my one dress turned into three dresses, a shirt and some pants and Brian was getting fitted for a full suit and three button-downs.
I wasn't blown away by the fabric options in her store, so she took me to her storehouse nearby. I hopped on the back of her motorbike and we rode ~5 minutes to a small store literally stacked floor to ceiling with fabric. It was wild! Other seamstresses were there grabbing various cloths and I climbed around and found a few I liked. So fun.
While I was away, Brian befriended Phuong's little nephew, this amazingly chubby toddler with a bowl cut who was scooting around the shop. Brian had purchased a beer from the corner store while I was gone and sat on a stool on the patio outside to wait for me. When I returned, his little pal had pulled up his own stool, grabbed a can of soda and was "cheersing" Brian over and over again and giggling every single time.
It was SO EFFING CUTE I was ready to get knocked up right then and there AND adopt a couple of Vietnamese babies and return to the US a poorer, uglier Brangelina, but somehow managed to calm down and return to my senses.
So our tailoring process ended up involving four visits, which was sort of annoying, having to constantly stop in every single night on our way home but like, not actually that hard, let's be real. The first visit we picked styles and fabrics and were measured, the second we tried on the first drafts, the third we did our final fitting and then, at last, moments before we headed out of town, we returned to pick them all up. It was a bizarre roller coaster of emotions. At first we were SO THRILLED AND EXCITED and then we tried them on and were a bit let down. I mean, everything looked great but was just, you know, clothes. Somehow I think we both expected these outfits to have some kind of transformitive, magical powers, like we'd wear them down the street and people would step out of our way and fall all over themselves to compliment us and beg to know our secret.
Instead we got some normal person clothes. Well fitted, to be sure, but not quite magical.
Enough talking! Let's see the goods!
An impulse purchase that I'm way into. Look at the cutout back! I'm adorable! (PS It has taken me HOURS to figure out how to make photos side by side, I may never succeed again, soak this up, world.)
I loved this fabric and loved the cut of this dress when I saw a sample on the mannequin at the shop but then remembered I HATE this silhouette on me. I feel it makes me look at once childlike and with child. 16 and Pregnant is some quality television but not quite the look I'm going for. Whatever, I guess I'll wear it?
And a peek inside the tailor shop! This was the dress I had envisioned from the start, I essentially wanted a cocktail length version of my wedding dress. I mean, if I can't wear my gown again, the least I can do is copy it in knee length navy, right? Not quite the same thing but still fab. But now I'm actually afraid it's too slinky and I may never wear it in public. It's just kind of snug and low and I'm so weird about being "sexy" it makes me so uncomfortable. GAH. Whatever, I'm in pretty good shape at the moment and from what I've heard, it's all downhill from here so I guess I better flaunt it. Brian's BFF is getting married Memorial Day weekend, and I'm planning to wear this. Friends attending, could you do my fragile ego a favor and pretend I'm knocking your socks off? Thanks in advance!
I also had pants & a top made but I forgot to take photos of them which is fine, your eyes would have glazed over anyway they are both the very definition of MEH. A sleeveless button down and black work pants. YAWNNNNNNNNNN. These were the most disappointing to me, I think, not any fault of Phuong's, but just because they are so basic and sensible and boring and like all the clothes I wear all the time. I mean, I had a chance to get ANYTHING at all made to fit my bod and the best I can come up with is this sort of grandmotherly blouse and some friggin' slacks? And yes, these are slacks. I mean, great for work but SLACKSSSSSSSSS. Slacks. Merp merp, boring.
And for the men's competition, let's take a look at Stanley Supermodel over here! Who are some male super models? Tyson Beckford? Yes, him. So here we have a slim, white Tyson Beckford modeling his bespoke grey wool suit.
Shake that little thing on the catwalk, on the catwalk baby yeah!
Additionally, Brian got these three shirts, all of which are now somehow too small, though they seemed to fit in the shop before we left.
It is possible they weren't pre-shrunk and got ruined at the dry-cleaner upon our return or that Brian just got a little overzealous when telling her to make them snug in the fittings. We may never know the truth! The way they're tailored, he should be able to get the seams let out so there's hope for him yet.
So in the end, our tailored clothing experience was kind of mixed, but possibly a result of our inflated expectations. Should you find yourself in Hoi An, I'd still recommend it, but be VERY prepared on what you want and like: images of styles, knowledge of fabric, etc and do your best not to get swept up too much by all the options.
And that about sums up our time in Hoi An! We had an afternoon flight into Cambodia, so we spent our final morning just kind of bopping around town, finishing up our nightmare shopping, sipping out of coconuts on the riverfront and dining on craaaazzzaaaay good banh mi at the suggestion of our good friend Tony Bourdain.
And that was that! Next up: Cambodia, where we tour some ruins, wear some hugely embarrassing outfits, face some harsh realities about financial imbalance in the world and drink a whole BUNCH of gin & tonics. Who's excited?!
xoxo Liz Ho