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.