7 Rules for Buying Cheap Custom Suits While Traveling

Posted in Asia, Hong Kong, On the Ground

This doesn’t exactly fall under the food-focus of Fly&Dine, but as a public service I thought it would be worthwhile to share my experience of buying bespoke clothing on my recent trip to Hong Kong.

In September, I traveled to Thailand for one of the best trips I’ve ever taken. I zoomed around the country from Bangkok to Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai to Koh Samui, riding elephants, eating ridiculously good food, and staying in some of the nicest rooms I’ve even seen at various Four Seasons properties. The one thing I didn’t do was get a suit made and I’ve regretted it ever since. Realistically, though, it’s not smart to get custom clothing made unless you’re in one place for a week or more. You need time to return to the tailors for several fittings because no matter how good somebody is, they’re not going to get it right on the first try. This leads us to Rule #1 of Custom Tailoring While Abroad:

Rule #1: Don’t get anything made if you don’t have the time for multiple fittings.

When I started planning my trip to Hong Kong (which just concluded last week), I knew that one of my first stops was going to be a tailor to get some suits and shirts made. I scoured the internet and found this blog post about Manhattan Tailor on Nathan Rd. on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. From the sound of it, this guy Roger was exactly who I was looking for. The price seemed right — the post insinuated that two suits and four shirts could be had for $500 (all prices in this post will be in USD) or maybe even less — and the experience seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. I decided that Roger at Manhattan Tailor was exactly the guy for me. I was wrong.

Rule #2: Don’t base your choice of tailor off of one blog post.

Since I know next to nothing about suits, I wanted confirmation that this guy was who I wanted. I searched for more reviews of this shop and found a few scattered comments that the place was good and cheap and friendly and that was apparently all that I needed to see to make my decision. I kept on coming across names of more reputable places, like Sam’s Tailor and Simpson Sin, but the prices seemed to be much higher than what I expected at Manhattan Tailor, so I stuck with my gut. Before I go any further, I should also point out that I wasn’t looking for anything top-of-the-line. I don’t wear suits often beyond weddings and funerals and I was hoping to get some cheap suits that looked pretty good for a small amount of money. Unfortunately, I got the cheap suits but I still don’t know if they look all that good or not.

Rule #3: You will get what you pay for, even if you’re getting ripped off.

My first visit to Roger’s shop was less than comfortable. When I first arrived, Roger wasn’t there. The other Indian men working there (who would alternately be referred to as brothers and cousins of Roger — more on that later) knew English, but not exactly fluently. I told them that I was looking for two suits and four shirts and wanted to spend $500 (just as I had seen in the blog post mentioned above). They told me, yes, sure, we’ll put together a great package, best price, you will be so happy. Then they started measuring me. It was clear that they didn’t exactly know what they were doing. Luckily, Roger came in and took over. I can’t overstate this fact: when I was dealing with Roger, I felt comfortable. He was confident and thorough. I had already chosen some fabrics I liked and when I mentioned what I wanted to pay, he told me that he couldn’t make what I wanted for that price. Hmmm. I had evidence to the contrary, but I also know next to nothing about suits, and he kept insisting that the material for the suit I really wanted was very expensive and he was only going to make a little money on it anyway. “I want to become your personal tailor, sir, so I will give you this incredible price.” Like a sucker, I nodded my head. I wanted a personal tailor! I wanted an incredible price! I should have known this was a classic salesman tactic.

Rule #4: When you feel like you’re getting so much “Sales Speak” that it feels like you’re buying a used car, walk away.

I truly should have known. I’m usually very savvy about this kind of thing and my spidey sense was tingling. I felt like I was dealing with a used car salesman, but the price was still so much cheaper than if I had the clothing made in the US that I decided to go ahead with the deal. For two suits (including the so-called “very expensive” material as a three-piece suit) and three shirts, I was going to pay $665 with a $250 deposit. At that moment, I felt pretty good about everything. The real trouble started two days later when I came in for my first fitting.

Rule #5: Insist that the person you first dealt with will be the one you always deal with.

Roger is a busy guy. Or at least that’s the way it seems. When I was there, he was always darting in and out of the shop. I showed up on Tuesday for my first fitting and Roger shook my hand and told me the tailor was bringing over the first construction of the suit in a few minutes. “In a few minutes” became a common refrain at this shop. Every time I came in for a fitting, I was made to wait even though we had agreed upon a time for me to come in. The guys in the shop seemed to think it wasn’t a big deal as long as they offered me a Coke.

While I was waiting for the suit to arrive, Roger disappeared. There was another couple in the shop who was waiting for Roger as well. One of the employees gave a sob story about Roger having to visit an uncle in the hospital. Nobody’s going to argue with the “uncle in the hospital story, right?” Finally my suit arrived. A local Hong Kong tailor brought it (outsourcing?) and checked the fit. A gruff bald Indian man pretended to assist as well, but clearly had no interest in helping me. I asked when Roger would return and they bluntly said that he wasn’t coming back today. I wasn’t happy about this at all. Finally, they took the suit away and I made an appointment to return in another two days to check the fit on the fully constructed suit.

The day of the next fitting, I used Whatsapp to text Roger and confirm that he would definitely be there. He promised that he would be. As luck would have it, he came through. I arrived at 2pm and Roger was there. My suits, however, were not. I had to wait yet another 20 minutes for them to arrive. When they did, it was clear that things were wrong. In fact, I realized that I hadn’t been consulted about many of the details at all — lining, buttons, lapels. As a suit-buying neophyte, I should have come in much better prepared and instead trusted the expertise of the shop, which is, of course, a major mistake.

Rule #6: Know the right questions to ask.

The fitting issues didn’t seem like a problem, though, because I had time for them to fix everything. I left with another appointment for Saturday, the day before I left, and I assumed that after two full fittings that I would pop into the shop, try everything on, and walk away satisfied with my brand new custom clothing. This was the last time the word “satisfied” would enter my brain in regards to the experience.

On Saturday, I planned my entire day around going to the shop to pick up the suits. I came in at 2pm, as agreed upon, and *big shocker* my clothing wasn’t there. Roger was, though, so that was something. When my stuff finally arrived 30 minutes later, I tried everything on and there will still issues with one of the jackets and both pairs of trousers. Even though I was getting a much cheaper price than I would in the US, I wasn’t going to leave with clothes that still needed tailoring. Roger told me to come back at 5pm and everything would be perfect. By the way, he kept using the word “perfect” throughout the process. It’s the equivalent of somebody telling you how honest they are. If they have to say it, it’s not true.

At 5pm, I made my way back to Manhattan Tailor and was shocked to find that not only was Roger not there, but THE ENTIRE STORE WAS DISMANTLED. The shelving was all covered and all of the furniture had been dragged into the hallway while men were painting the ceiling. “Just a little remodeling, sir.” Um, what? Not only that, but Roger wasn’t there. Just the Indian kids who didn’t seem like they knew what they were doing and the asshole bald guy from a few days ago. Great.

They claimed that Roger was on his way with my finished clothing and he’d arrive in a few minutes. After ten minutes, no Roger, no suits. After twenty minutes, no Roger, no suits. I’m sitting there staring at one of the Indian kids with an angry look on my face that caused him to avoid eye contact at all costs except when offering me a Coke at five minute intervals.

At 5:30pm, the suits show up but not Roger. I fly off the handle a little bit. They claim that they didn’t tell me that Roger was coming (a lie), then they say that Roger had to go to visit his uncle in the hospital (a lie — definitely heard that one earlier in the week), finally they claim that Roger’s own brother was officially designated to help me by Roger himself (a lie — the “brother” told me that Roger was not his brother earlier that day). I go into the empty shop, try on the suits. They’re nowhere close to perfect. That said, I have no recourse. I’m flying home the next day and already laid down a deposit. I make the guys knock $15 off the final price and take my suits back to my hotel room. In retrospect, I should have left the suits there and done a charge-back via my credit card to get the deposit back.

Rule #7: Don’t accept the final product if you’re not satisfied.

As you can tell from the previous 1500 words, I had a bad experience buying cheap custom suits while I was traveling. The bottom line is that I got less than what I paid for and I still feel like I overpaid. In the future, I’m going to do much more research on the tailor I use and the suits I want made. I’m going to be an informed customer because feeling like I got taken is no fun whatsoever.

Oh, and if you’re considering using Manhattan Tailor on Nathan Rd. in Hong Kong, I personally think you’d be much better off with somebody else. I don’t recommend them at all.

A TL;DR recap of the 7 Rules of Buying Cheap Custom Suits While Traveling:

Rule #1: Don’t get anything made if you don’t have the time for multiple fittings.

Rule #2: Don’t base your choice of tailor off of one blog post.

Rule #3: You will get what you pay for, even if you’re getting ripped off.

Rule #4: When you feel like you’re getting so much “Sales Speak” that it feels like you’re buying a used car, walk away.

Rule #5: Insist that the person you first dealt with will be the one you always deal with.

Rule #6: Know the right questions to ask.

Rule #7: Don’t accept the final product if you’re not satisfied.



    • Ajay, Roger and his entire staff are of Indian descent. “Indians” like you had nothing to do with my experience and the inclusion of their ethnicity was in no way meant to denigrate Indians as a whole. In Hong Kong, however, there are a large number of Indian tailors, specifically in Kowloon, and I thought it was an important detail for those reading. My apologies if you were offended by the inclusion. If they were British or Chilean, I would have mentioned that as well.

      • Public Relations Manager at Manhattan Tailor, responded to this review,

        Bespoke tailoring involves a trying on and final corrections step, in case anything is amiss. This is standard: We never usher people out of the door and we always complete this step.

        In your case we apologise that the Suits &Shirts are not up to the mark . This is why we offered correction and delivery, with no charges, as is of course our responsibility.

        We are sorry you felt we were brusque, but we can assure you that we do have plenty of experience of making Men’s clothes, we have a dedicated section of our website showcasing just this.

        So please rest assured, your Suits and Shirts were not as you expected , We Offer you A Total Refund and Also we can Make you a Free suits and Shirt just to make a nice smile on your face because we never compromise the satisfaction and service at Manhattan Tailor.

        Please feel free to contact me at any time, I am always hear to help you and get you a perfect size and right Fabric

        Warm regards

        Roger (Manhattan Tailor)

        • First of all, replying a year and a half after all of this happened shouldn’t make anyone feel all that great about your customer service. I was never offered correction and delivery. Actually, Roger, you never even showed up for my final fitting that occurred in your store that had basically disappeared. Offering a refund now, so long after this all transpired seems disingenuous and merely a public relations move.

          While I appreciate the apology, I stand by my account of the events that transpired and hope it serves as an example of what people can expect from dealing with bespoke suits while they’re traveling.

  1. Any good suggestions for koh samui suit purchases? Or is the island cost prohibitive. Sadly in Bangkok for a couple days and Hong Kong for one. That is the only location we will be at for some time.

    • I wasn’t able to check anyone out on Koh Samui, but beware of the tailors that say they can get it done in 24 hours. I would go to one of the luxury resorts on the island and ask the concierge for recommendations.

  2. Oh so helpful post. Thanks! I wanted to get a nice custom suit made while in Bangkok last year but didn’t have enough time. Your tips are very helpful. Thanks

  3. Great advice! I’m going to Thailand for ~3 weeks in November and may see what my options are. In your research did you find any reputable suit makers? My guess is that $800/suit should yield a good quality (with good fabric) custom suit in that region.

    • I actually didn’t do any research on Thai tailors because I knew I wouldn’t be in one place for long enough. When I was searching for Hong Kong tailors, styleforum.net kept coming up in my search results. May be worth checking out.

      Also, $800/suit should net you a great suit in Thailand. I think it’s actually much cheaper there than Hong Kong, so $800 may even net you more than one quality suit.

  4. Tailor business in Asia is usually a scam. They advertise on magazines, hotels, give flyers on the street. Walk away!!! I also don’t trust concierges in Asia. It seems they are all part of the same scam since they all know each other. In my mind if you are getting two suits and four shirts for $500 you cannot have high expectations. You cannot expect they are offering you a high quality Italian or English fabric for that price. Forget about the labor but just the plain cost of high quality fabrics for all those clothes cannot be covered with $500. Thus, if you are going for the $500 deal keep your expectations very low and be happy with what you get. If you want really high quality stuff be prepared to pay the price in Italy, England or in high end stores in the US.

  5. Hi Jason,
    I came across your blog and found your story very funny and very intertaining. I experienced the same situation in Africa and in Thailand. Our expectations are higher than what they can deliver. They use old patters and even if you bring a picture of what you want they will not deliver the exact same thing. Sewing is all about details and the style. Anyways just wanted to let you know that reading your 7 rules “ frustrations“ for buying a custom made suit made my day.

  6. Reminds me of the movie “Father of the Bride” where Steve Martin was given an Armani tuxedo. The wedding coordinator pointed out that it was blue and not black. Steve Martin then said it was a genuine Armani…and the corredinator replied. “Armani doesn’t make polyester!”

  7. Well, the first thing wrong you did was quote what you wanted to pay (USD500). Never state the amount at the beginning, let the salesman/saleswoman start the price quote and then negotiate from there. That’s so gwailo (鬼佬)!

    The second mistake was not doing enough research. You only researched tailor shops and didn’t research how a bespoke suit should be constructed, its workmanship, materials, etc.

    For future reference (time permitting), you should purchase your clothing materials (cloth, buttons, zippers, etc) in Hong Kong and have them tailored in Manila (this applies to both men’s & women’s fashions). The tailoring and detailing is of a higher quality in Manila and absolutely no problems there with the English language.

  8. may I suggest you email my tailor, prince, at prince@bbogiescollections.com. prince comes to most major US cities frequently, from his shop in bangkok. his suits are of spectacular quality- beautiful material, perfectly tailored. it takes 6-8 weeks to receive, so this isn’t a rush job. he’s also not cheap, but as others have noted, you get what you pay for! his prices are waaaay below retail for a similar product. trust me- prince is the tailor you’re looking fo.

  9. I bought a suit and a bunch of dress shirts from a custom tailor in Hong Kong over 20 years ago. The suit still looks fabulous today! I grew out of the shirts, unfortunately, but they were all perfect as well. I can’t remember what I paid, but it was far less than I’d pay for one good quality off-the-shelf suit in Toronto. Not everyone is a scam artist! However, I did some research ahead of time, and I knew exactly what I wanted – double-breasted suit, notched lapels, extra-high rise on the trousers (you pay more for that!), lightweight lining so I could wear it in summer without sweating to death, and most important, TWO pairs of pants with the suit. The pants always wear out before the jacket, and with two pair of pants, the suit can last longer than you can.

  10. Hi Jason,

    I had a similar experience with Raja Fashions a couple of months ago. These guys s*ck big time. Very aggressive sales tactics, no expertise and they outsource the tailoring. The ”tailor” who was assisting me was obviously not a qualified one. They also didn’t ask me about the lining, buttons, lapels and what not. Overall I was very disappointed and felt ripped.

    Like you, I tried to get my money back through America express but they told me this wasn’t possible (shame!). The suit cost 800 USD and fits OK at best. Anyhow, it was a good lesson to learn as I am much better informed now about the whole process and what to look for in a tailored suit.

    In reaction to Ajay I do want to say this: I will never do business with an Indian tailor again. They are liars, aggressive and more importantly don’t know what they are doing. They are basically like mortgage backed securities: ONE BIG SCAM. Be smart and deal with a Chinese tailor when you have a suit tailored in Hong Kong.


    • Mroell, I’m sorry you had such a bad experience but I’m glad you’re taking it as a good lesson to learn. I will say, however, that lumping all Indian tailors in the same category seems very harsh. Just because you and I had poor experiences with tailors who happened to be Indian doesn’t mean that all Indian tailors are bad people or are trying to rip you off. It’s more a matter of finding the right shop with the right staff and, apparently, you and I both need to look harder next time!

      Thanks for your comment!

  11. It’s incredible how many people get into the tailored made suit bullshit. It has just happened the same story to me in Koh Samui at The Majesty Tailors in Bophut close to the Hansar Resort.

    Here’s my story:

    I was looking to get a Paul Smith Tux to go to a very important party, and as I was in Thailand in the weeks prior the event, I had decided to give them a try since Alex seemed to be a really nice guy.

    I hired them 4 days before my flight back to the USA, they assured me they could get the job done and they kinda of did, but not with the quality I was expecting. On the second try the stitches of the lapel was all crooked. They said they were going to fix it, and here I came to the third try, everything looked great until I started looking into the details, and for my surprise there was a problem with the lapels again. On the left lapel the stitches were perfectly straight, but on the right lapel the stitches makes a curve which is completely unacceptable such a defect in a tuxedo placed exactly where everyone will be looking at you.

    They argued they couldn’t fix in time and that I was not paying 10k baht for a suit, which it was very offensive since I told them to charge as much as it can get for the best material and their time to make a full quality suit.

    When I told the supposed tailor that I was really disappointed with the job he told me to just pay and go in a very rude way. And that was what I did.

    It all depends on your expectation.
    May be you can get a day by day suit if you are not that picky. But I had my lesson learned that yes I was not able to get a Paul Smith in Thailand.

  12. I think women’s suits are easier to make, easier to fix and less likely to go wrong. I’ve had different outfits made in Hoi Ann, Saigon and Chiang Mai without doing a huge amount of research and never had any shockers. All that you say is true particularly about needing time to attend fittings. In Saigon I had my first tailored suit made without time for any meaningful fittings. It was a last minute 12 hr job. Incredibly they did get it exactly perfect first time. I tried it on at the airport and was astonished. Cost about 170 Usd. I vowed never to buy off the peg again. But I ordered the same suit in a more expensive material from the same tailor to be posted and it wasn’t Quite right. I could amend the dress myself but the jacket will have to be altered here in the UK. The whole ‘keep your measurements on file and we’ll post to you’ thing really isn’t wise.

    As for the not being consulted on details – yea this is pretty bad they didn’t raise these questions and it sounds like you were messed about really badly.

    Sorry to raise the race point again but I was served by Indians just recently in Chiang Mai which was a surprise but they were punctual curteous and excellent. Although I did have to laugh as they did also claim to be brothers/ cousins/ sons of each other and each described their relationships differently. They made a point of ensuring I dealt with the same man each time even if he had to put himself out to get to the shop for my appointments.

  13. Hi Jason,

    Great story!
    I am travelling to HK this weekend for a 4 days stay and looking for a tailor made suit. Needless to say that I came accross your story just about the right time and will use it to aid me, so thank you for sharing with the world. I plan to post my expereince here!

  14. I have been considering getting some custom clothes made for a long time. I like the idea that they will fit me perfectly. Thanks for mentioning that you should be prepared to have multiple fittings. I will have to find time to fit multiple fittings into my schedule.

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