Note: Nobody can really seem to agree if buying a suit in Hoi An is a good idea or not. The subject divides opinion so I will just tell you my experience.
Faced with the best and worst dressed mannequins in Vietnam I found myself unable to answer a simple question. Do I need a suit? Right now, of course, I don’t. I live out of my backpack and I can honestly say I have never felt very under dressed in South East Asia compared to many locals and other backpackers.
So why can’t I bring myself to say no? Of course it’s the price but also something Kelly said, “We are back in England in a few months, remember the suit you bought last time you were home, you wore it all the time.” She was right, the last time I was in the UK I went to 5 weddings, 3 job interviews, a funeral and I also used it for a temporary job I picked up for a few months.
The chances are I’m going to need a suit on more than one occasion, one that I perhaps keep in England as that’s where my social calendar seems to demand it. (Even though I’m only there for a couple of months at a time.)
If you don’t already know Hoi An, it is a small riverside city in central Vietnam that is full of clothes shops. Every other storefront is either suits or dresses of varying qualities. After a lot of thought I decided I would check out some of the stores and get a good idea of the prices and the quality of suits on offer. After a couple of hours looking around the shops I was still none the wiser, it was just so hard to imagine these rolls of material as a fancy looking suit.
I decided to read up online and other peoples experiences were so varied I ended up more confused than when I started. I then found a handy guide to buying a suit in Hoi An on the wikitravel page which gave me some great pointers.
I dragged Kelly out to help. I really still did not know what I was doing and she didn’t either to be honest. After a visit to a few shops and still feeling uneasy we wandered into a shop called Aobaba. The shop itself was little different from most the others, maybe a little tidier. A lady handed us a bottle of water on our way in,which was a nice little touch. The staff presented themselves and the suits very well and were very helpful which made me feel a lot more comfortable.
We looked at a few fabrics from different price ranges (full suits $50-$250) and there was one at $75 that stood out to me, it even seemed to look nicer than some of the more expensive ones. We decided to go grab a drink and some spring rolls and made a decision. While we ate I checked the trip advisor for Aobaba on my phone. There were 28 reviews: 27 positive and 1 negative written in French which I couldn’t translate. That sealed it, I was buying a suit.
The Slow Process of Buying a Suit in Hoi An
We went back and spoke to a young lady called Wendy. I asked for the material I liked and she showed me pictures of different types of suits. I had seen a jacket on a mannequin which I really liked. When she asked nearly every one of her questions about pockets, lapel , buttons I just referred her to the jacket I liked.
Wendy measured me and Kelly could not help but make fat jokes. Wendy continued trying to upsell every other item I could possibly need: “Another Suit? Second pair of pants? How many shirts? Shoes? Belt? Ties?” I decided to wait and see how the suit turned out before making any bigger commitments. We paid our $40 deposit and Wendy told us to come back by noon the next day for a fitting.
I honestly did not know what to expect, I had seen some pretty sub-standard suits in Hoi An. I had also seen some great looking ones. As we walked in Wendy appeared out of nowhere, handed us a bottle of water each and took us toward my suit-to-be. After putting it on and looking in the mirror I knew I had made a good choice. There were certain alterations to be made but Wendy was on it, marking the suit exactly where she thought it needed adjusting. At this point I trusted her, she seemed to know what she was doing and she had done a great job so far. I decided I would buy a fitted shirt to go with my new shirt. I picked a fabric I liked in the $17 range and I was again asked to return the next day.
At this point I knew I was happy. We wandered in and took our water and I proceeded to get changed. Wendy had nailed it, I really couldn’t find something to complain about. I looked along the stitching and to me it appeared well done. It was everything I had hoped for and I looked a million times better than I did in my old suit that came straight off the rack at a similar price.
I enquired about shipping it to England but even on a slow boat it would have cost close to $50. Wendy said she could pack it up small and safe for me and it now lives all packaged up at the bottom of my backpack. I left very satisfied with my decision to buy a suit. Reading some of the horror stories online I realise it could have been luck, I may have found the best tailors in Hoi An. It seemed to be the best value anyway, for $75 it is better than I could have wished.
Not to be outdone, Kelly immediately started dress hunting, although she paid much less than I did at $20. I had also got some glasses made to my prescription as my others had fell from a Tuk Tuk in Koh Lanta, Thailand. These set me back $70 which I was thrilled at considering what my lenses alone would usually cost.
Would I recommend buying a suit in Hoi An? (click to expand)
- You have time to shop around and a few days for fittings.
- You see something that you genuinely like.
- You are willing to take a risk without knowing how it will turn out.
- You will actually wear it.
- You always wanted a fitted suit but never wanted to pay ridiculous prices.
- You have particular high standards when it comes to suits. I admit I don’t have enough experience to judge them against the best of the best but I imagine they are not quite up there.
- It’s gonna leave a big hole in your travel budget
- You have a nice suit at home that you never wear
- You don’t have room to carry it