I had seen the Top Gear Vietnam Special a couple of years ago, and a few of us decided to have a little viewing party of it before we arrived in Hanoi. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Anyway, that small little glimpse of Vietnam served as basically the entirety of my knowledge about what modern life was like in Vietnam (as compared to the wartime Vietnam that I had always thought of). And I was stoked. From the show, I had amassed a short list of things that I wanted to do while in the country, which included: seeing Ha Long Bay, eating strange foods, drinking snake wine, and getting a suit made. I have always been the unfashionable one in my family, relative to my very fashion-forward brother, and couldn’t wait for the opportunity to finally one-up every stylish thing he wears by having my very own custom-made suit.
Fortunately for me, this proved to be a lot easier than I had expected. I simply told our Vietnamese student guides that a couple of us were hoping to get some suits made during the week that we had in Hanoi. As it turned out, the group before us had done the same thing and they already knew of a tailor a block or so from our dorm that could do it.
Conner, Erik, Nam (one of the guides), Huy (another guide), and myself all walked over to the small hole-in-the-wall shop. It was a little more than the size of an average bathroom and the walls were covered in bolts of fabrics, and hung with suits of every color. To the left side was a table that took up a large portion of the floor space, and a ladder next to it leading up to his apartment, where his son was watching TV. In the back was a changing room that was barely big enough to move in. The tailor himself was a very animated man and had a sense of style that only someone who regularly made his own clothes could wear. As the tailor spoke no English whatsoever, Nam and Huy explained the situation, including the time-frame. He was little weary about the small amount of time available before we left but decided that it could be done.
He handed us some magazines of style options and told us to choose a fabric that we would like our suits to be made of. Looking through the hundreds upon hundreds of options made me realize that I didn't have any idea of what I wanted. What color? How slim did I want it? What line would the lapel make? How many buttons on the sleeves? I was terrified. I had to choose now. And it had to be right….
Luckily Erik and Conner opted to go first because they weren’t too concerned with all the little details that were terrorizing my every choice, which not only allowed me a chance to watch the process unfold as they were measured and told him what they wanted, but as we had other obligations that night, my measurement session was moved to the next morning. While this allowed me an extra 12 hours to decide, it also left me another twelve hours to fret about the decision. Oh well, I’m still glad I had the time. Mostly because it gave me time to think about little choices, like the color of the buttonholes that I would have completely forgotten about had I needed to make my choice earlier.
Conner was first up to be measured. In order to aid with the process, our tailor had him change into some nicer clothes so he could actually see where he would like the seams to go on a suit, rather than guessing based off of the t-shirts we were all wearing. He took twenty or so measurements, added them to his notebook, asked for styling choices and stapled little swatches of our fabric choices to the page next to his notes. Afterwards, he moved onto Erik and repeated the process. All in all it was a simple process and once the stressful part of decision making was over, there really wasn't much to it on our part.
A little less than a week later we headed back to the small shop to take delivery of our brand new suits. Naturally, he had us dress in them to make sure that they fit properly. Unnaturally, he seemed unhappy with the way that we had tucked in our shirts and decided that he needed to show us. It’s been a very long time since someone else has tucked in my shirt for me. It felt pretty strange. Oh well, he did do a much better job of it than I had. Eventually, we were all dressed in our brand new suits. Since Conner and Erik had opted for a slim fitting vest, he had placed the buttons while they were wearing it to get the perfect fit. Since my clothes were less form fitting, this wasn't necessary for me. Coincidentally, we had all chosen the same black fabric for our suits and Conner and I had chosen the same white fabric with little blue stripes for our shirts. We decided that we would wait until the Christmas banquet to reveal our suits to the rest of the group though. Until then, it was our own little secret how awesome they are.
The custom clothing didn't stop there with me though. Once bitten by the bug, I needed more. Luckily one of our stops along the length of Vietnam was in the city of Hoi An. This city is known for having custom made clothing shops everywhere. And most importantly, they were able to have things done within a couple of hours. I opted to have a couple of shirts made in addition to about 15 or so pocket squares. It was glorious.
Tomorrow I’m going in search of a place that can make me a cape to match my suit… because capes are awesome. I may get a grey suit made as well. I think I might have a problem…