I bought a suit for my wedding. In a Manhattan Hugo Boss, 600 bucks brought me as close as I thought I could get to looking like a million bucks. Add another $125 (!) to bring in the back of the jacket, hem the pants and perfect the waist.
Then I went to Southeast Asia and had second thoughts.
I’d read about Vietnam’s tailors, particularly those in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon) and Hoi An. I was curious but pressed for time. In their tailor shops, known for their silks, you can buy a custom-made, tailored suit for a relative pittance, but I was wary of the idea. I had visions of my pants blowing out in an important meeting. Or of buying something that looked good on paper. Or, or, or…
That changed in Saigon. Classic Journeys’ local guide, Mai, recommended someone who could be trusted, who was good, and who wasn’t going to take us for a ride. Impressively, they would come later that afternoon to our hotel and get the ball rolling.
“I could use a new blazer. And come to think of it, I need a black suit,” I thought out loud when I learned the prices. “Does this person make shirts?”
The tailor, Lau, was in hotel lobby that afternoon, a five-foot fireplug armed with a stack of fabric samples. We flipped through her stylebooks, figuring out styles we might like and made sure they’d work with the fabrics, then she got to work.
Lau had me stand up and started taking measurements. I’d been measured before, but nothing like this. Along with the more standard neck, arm and leg measurements, she measured several spots on my chest and even around my thigh, right there in the middle of the lobby. I glanced at my girlfriend. I waved an embarrassed wave at the bellhop.
She got what she needed and sped off on her scooter.
Less than 24 hours later, Lau was back with a suit, three blazers (two for my sweetheart), and a fitted shirt dangling from her fingers, all for a combined $500. I tried on the suit and Mai studied the fit, made a few marks and sent it away with her husband while we tried on the other garments.
My suit was back in 20 minutes, feeling like a second skin. It cost less than $200.
Back in my New York, I tried on the my two new suits on my apartment’s, um, ‘catwalk:’ Vietnam’s newest import versus Hugo Boss. My fiancé was impressed with the Hugo Boss, but her eyes opened wide when she saw my suit from Vietnam.
I’ll wear the Boss jacket at the rehearsal dinner. But I want to look as good as I can on my wedding day.
Acclaimed travel writer Joe Ray is the 2009 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of the Year from the Society of American Travel Writers. We first posted on Joe’s work in the Wall Street Journal last year in a story entitled, “In Search of the Perfect Gelato.” He’s also written another posting about exploring with Classic Journeys in Laos entitled “In Laos, a skeptic turns into an elephant man”.