Expats find exactly what they need with Vietnamese tailors.
Any expat who's been in Ho Chi Minh City more than a few months knows that it can be hard to find ready made clothes in large sizes here.
Luckily there's an army of small tailors throughout the city ready to design, cut and stitch together inexpensive but high-quality fabrics into custom-made additions to trendy wardrobes.
Juliana Botma, the chairlady of International Lady Vietnam organization, said she has had 40 different outfits made with Dai Hung on Tran Quang Khai Street, District 1.
A foreigner browses ao dai (traditional Vietnamese tunic) at a tailor shop in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. The city's small tailors are increasingly popular with foreigners looking for trendy Vietnamese and overseas styles.
But Lisa Chong, a Korean American with real estate company Platinum, had Botma beat.
"I made 60 items in two months while I was on holiday in Saigon," said Chong, adding that she usually bought evening dresses for around VND250,000.
She said she often goes to Tuyen at 71 Thu Khoa Huan Street in District 1 or sometimes Sunny on Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1.
"Sunny is very fast and can make 10 outfits in one week. And the price is good," said Chong.
Chong's colleague Lucille Botha also raved about Tuyen.
"Tuyen is my favorite. He understands fabric and cuts - and I like the fact that he has a fairly short turn around and does not ask a fortune."
Botha said her native South Africa didn't have as good a selection of fabrics as Vietnam.
Like many foreigners not interested in trying on pair after pair of pants that don't fit, Botha instead browses the cornucopia of fabrics for sale at local markets like Ben Thanh and Tan Dinh, or at small fabrics shops scatted around town, and brings her favorite colors and designers to her own personal tailors.
"It's very convenient," she said, adding that she usually bought dresses for VND350,000, suits for VND550,000 and trousers and shirts for around VND145,000.
"I can't have any clothes made in Paris, it's too expensive," said Thibault Paquin, a young, stylish Parisian and the General Manager of Development Asia at Accor
Hospitality in HCMC. "But my tailor Phuoc on Phan Ton Street in District 1 is the best. He's very talented and always surprises me."
Paquin said Phuoc does not speak English but has "amazing tailoring skills."
"His finishes are of very high quality and he works with a lot of creative clients, so he's full of interesting innovations."
Phuoc often suggests unique button and lining colors that "give a nice trendy touch to a rather classic cut," said Paquin.
Never out of style
Though less Vietnamese women are wearing ao dai (traditional Vietnamese tunic) these days, an increasing number of expat women are having the old-fashioned dressed fitted and made to order in a variety of fashions.
"I go to a very small tailor Phuc Loi on Pasteur Street in District 1 and I always work with Chi," said Marijke De Blaes, a Belgian. "She understands my taste and what I want."
Phuc Loi (for women)
136 Pasteur St., District 1
Tel: (08) 3 824 3171
Tuyen (for men and women)
71 Thu Khoa Huan St., District 1
Tel: (08) 3 827 4537
Cao Minh (for women)
47 Tran Cao Van St., District 3
Tel: (08) 3 822 4298
Phuoc (for men)
18/3 Phan Ton St., District 1
Tel: (08) 3 820 3448
La Ha (Swimwear)
139 Ly Tu Trong St., District 1
Tel: (08) 3 825 7553
T&V Tailor (for men and women)
39 Dong Du St., District 1
Tel: (08) 3 824 4556
Tailor Dung (for men and women)
221 Le Thanh Ton St., District 1
Tel: (08) 3 829 6778
Orchid Silk (for men, women and children)
86 Le Loi Blvd., District 1
Tel: (08) 3 829 9754
De Blaes said she often took designs already on display in the shop and asked the tailor to make small alterations, such as a change in the collar to "make it more comfortable and natural."
She said she wore modern ao dai at private parties and at home.
Eileen Sonnack, a public relations representative at Global Village Foundation, was very excited about her Christmas Santa Clause ao dai tailored at Thu Ha, 25 Nguyen Van Giai Street, District 1, which she will wear with a non la (traditional Vietnamese conical palm-leaf hat).
"Thu Ha chose the fabric and her finish work and her English are good."
She said the dress cost a total of VND270,000.
Get what you pay for
All this is not to say that there are no disappointments with Vietnamese tailoring here and there.
Anglo-Indian Anupa Horvil, director of luxury accessories group Phanu, said that while she bought shirts for her husband at Cao Minh on Tran Cao Van Street in District 3, the shop did not have a great variety of fabrics but she added what it offers has great quality.
Laura Comber, a freelance French photographer, said a few outfits she had recently done in Hoi An were inexpensive and quick, "but after 4 months they are already dead."
"In general [tailored clothes in Saigon] are OK, but if you look at the details, they are not very well finished. You get what you pay for and it depends on the price you are willing to pay."
Soma Roy, assistant director of Food & Beverage at the New World Hotel Saigon, said that "the skill is there" if you were able to make Vietnamese tailors understand what you want.
"Sometimes it is difficult to communicate certain styles, designs and patterns and foreign trends," she said. "But when it comes to Asian and Vietnamese designs, they know exactly what they are doing."