Tailoring clothes is definitely one of the best affordable luxuries that comes with living in China. You can have pretty much anything made or your favorite clothes copied for a very reasonable price.
Shanghai has a few fabric markets where most tailors keep shop. Robert and I recently visited the South Bund Fabric Market (南外滩轻纺面料市场), which is probably the most famous one among tourists and expats. It’s a shabby three story building with shop after shop of tailors and seamstresses making clothes and selling fabric, buttons, scarves, cashmere and other clothing related stuff. Even some jewelry and handbags.
I managed to restrain myself and only inspect materials and research prices for a long cashmere winter coat (seems to be somewhere between 800-1400 CNY), but Robert couldn’t help himself and ended up ordering two shirts and a summery linen suit jacket. The tailor took measurements and wrote down instructions on details as usual. We settled on a price of about 600 CNY and left with a really good feeling that the stuff was going to be brilliant. (By the way, always bring cash as most shops don’t accept credit cards, and even if they did, I wouldn’t use it there.)
We returned a week later to pick up the shirts and jacket, but unfortunately they were not quite as good as we hoped. Robert had instructed the tailor to make everything slim fit, but the garments were nowhere near slim. More like tent fit. But that was an easy problem that some extra altering could fix. The bigger problem was that the jacket was the wrong color. And a different fabric! Ugh… So annoying, but unfortunately not the most uncommon thing to happen. Luckily the new fabric was pretty nice and color not far from the original, and after the additional alterations the complete package turned out really good. Below you can see the original fabric on the left, and the final jacket that went home with Robert on the right. Not bad, eh!
Here’s a few tips that might (and I’m emphasizing might here) help make your trip to the South Bund Fabric Market a successful one:
1. Get a recommendation.
If you know someone who has good experiences with a certain tailor shop, try your best to find it! The amount of tailor shops is overwhelming, and regardless of how clean and organized the shop is, how good the stuff looks on the mannequins and how nice the staff is, you really don’t know how good the outcome will be until you give it a try. So a recommendation is gold.
2. Look at the clothes waiting for pick up, not the “show” pieces.
All of the shops have ready made stuff showing on mannequins or hanging on the walls. And most of it looks really good. But keep in mind that this is the stuff that’s supposed to get your attention and bring you into their shop, not the actual pieces that they produced for daily customers. Instead of the show pieces, you want to be looking at the shirts and jackets waiting for pick up. Don’t be afraid to poke around or ask to take a look. Take your time and inspect the quality of stitching, lining, the seams, button holes and other details.
3. Be patient and shop around.
Visit more than a few shops to get an idea of the price level. You might get a better deal if you visit the higher floors or the quieter corners as many visitors don’t get past the busiest section of the building. The tailors in quieter areas could be more eager to make a sale for a better price. Also, don’t forget to bargain!
4. Be specific.
When placing an order, describe what you want as specifically as you possibly can. Don’t assume anything. If you want something copied, bring the original garment with you and leave it with the tailor, but still make sure to point out what details should be exactly the same or different in your new version (different lining, color of stitching, buttons, collar etc). If you don’t have a garment to copy, take pictures with you that you can leave with the tailor. And this time it’s even more important to specify details.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for alterations when picking up.
If you’re not happy when trying on your new garment, just ask for alterations. This shouldn’t cost you anything extra. But be persistent, the tailor will often try to convince you that whatever they made already looks perfect. Alterations will of course take some more time, but push for it even if you are in a hurry. Robert got his final alteration made for the following afternoon.
6. Accept the fact that you are taking a risk…
…and that there’s a chance that your stuff won’t be exactly how you envisioned it. But don’t let that scare you, most of the time the tailors are very skilled and make customers happy. That’s why tailoring clothes in China is so popular.
Good luck out there! And remember, sharing is caring, so if you know a good tailor in Shanghai, pleeease leave the contact in the comments below! :)
Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market
399 Lujiabang Lu, near Nancang Jie (200m from Nanpu Bridge metro station)
南外滩轻纺面料市场, 陆家浜路399号, 近南仓街