The streets of Bangkok are lined with tailor shops, many with signs proclaiming “suits and clothing ready in 24 hours” or “one suit, four shirts and two ties for US$199.” False advertising? Not at all. You will get something back in 24 hours for the price advertised and it will be worth what you paid for it. But a suit put together in 24 hours for only US$199 will be hurriedly made and fashioned from relatively cheap materials. If it weren’t, the tailor shop couldn’t stay in business. That’s reality.
Does this mean you can’t get a good tailor-made suit in Thailand? Absolutely not. Excellent tailor-made clothing is available, but as in every other place in the world, you will get what you pay for. Ronnie Singh, principle at Universal Tailors, a business established by his father, Raj, on Silom over 30 years ago, puts it this way. “You can’t compare a quality suit on the basis of price alone.
A good suit is not cheap, but it will last a long time. At the end of the day value for money is what is important.” Finding a decent tailor, however, is another matter.
As Victor at Rajawongse, tailor to American Presidents and numerous diplomats, says, “I don’t like to say it, but about 95% of the tailors in town are tourist rip-offs.” To avoid the rip-off trap, you have to know what you are looking for and your expectation regarding time, cost and number of fittings have to be realistic.
Before considering how to negotiate the minefield, let’s consider the two basic types of ‘tailor-made’ suits available: ‘Bespoke’ and ‘Made to Measure’ (MTM).
‘Bespoke’ is one of those buzz words that is often misused in an attempt ride on the coattails of the famous tailors of Saville Row in London. The British Advertising Association requires that a bespoke suit be made from original patterns derived from measurements taken from the individual. Each suit must be entirely original and completely unique.
With a MTM garment, a person’s measurements are taken and then a pre-existing base pattern is selected that most closely matches those measurements. The pattern is then altered to match the customer’s specific measurements and a garment is created from this altered pattern.
At this point it appears there is little difference between bespoke and MTM, but the differences are significant. With MTM, the garment is created after the measurements are taken and the original pattern is modified. Fittings are then conducted in which changes, if required, are made to the garment that has been created.
A bespoke garment involves several fittings conducted at various stages in the creation of the garment, starting with a skeleton baste. This is followed by additional fittings in which hand-sewn changes are made until the piece of clothing precisely fits the contours of the customer.
The question that immediately comes to mind is whether or not a legitimate bespoke suit can be had in Bangkok. The answer is ‘yes’, but the overwhelming majority of suits made locally are MTM. A significant problem in Bangkok is that the people buying suits are often tourists who don’t have the time to wait for a bespoke or a high quality MTM garment. A bespoke suit will take more than two weeks to craft and a quality MTM will probably take at least a week.
In addition a bespoke suit, and a quality MTM suit for that matter, involves the customer meeting directly during fitting sessions with the tailor creating the garment, not a salesperson only involved with selling the suit. This is usually not done in Bangkok. The reason? Suits at the majority of Bangkok tailors are crafted away from the retail shop, frequently at backstreet workshops
handling jobs from several different tailors. Communication between the customer and tailor is non-existent and the communication between the shop and the actual tailor is often rudimentary.
VJ at Moon River, a tailor catering to men and women, puts it this way. “What distinguishes us from our competitors, is that we have our own in-house workshop, enabling us to have better quality control. It also allows our actual tailors to be present during fittings so they really understand the changes that need to be made.”
Another important factor is the background of the person who meets and greets customers when they enter the shop, in Bangkok often the owner. If this person, like the experienced Raj Singh at Universal Tailors and B. Narin at Narin Couture, is a trained tailor, it is likely to have a positive impact on the outcome.
Narin graduated from Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and spent five years working in Paris before returning home to open his own boutique tailoring service. His background is undoubtedly one of the reasons his suits receive high marks for style.
It is also important to remember that fit, workmanship and style are only half of the story, the other half being the quality of the materials used. Unfortunately, local or regionally made fabrics are often of inferior quality and much of the wool is actually a blend. Excellent imported fabrics are available, but are often significantly more expensive. Peter at Sodhi, another well-established tailor, explains that import duties on fabric are no longer significant, but that many tailors select lesser quality materials because they are cheaper. “They are not looking for repeat customers,” he explains. “So they select cheaper fabrics. We use better fabrics because we are interested in repeat customers, but many shops simply aim for tourists who are unlikely to return to Thailand.”
That said, tourists without enough time to purchase a bespoke or quality MTM suit are not completely out of luck in Bangkok. Quality, MTM shirts can be had at very reasonable prices and take only a couple of days to make. As with a suit, aim for a reputable tailor and don’t skimp on the quality of the fabric.
So there you have the fundamentals of how to get a quality tailor-made suit in Bangkok. And watch this space because over the next few months we will be highlighting Bangkok’s best tailors in individual articles.
– Our pick of Bangkok’s tailors –
Duly (shirt maker)
55/2 Sukhumvit Soi 49 (near Villa Supermarket)
Nearest BTS: Phrom Phong
0 2672 2891-3
Lucky Angel Tailor
26-26/24 Soi Ruamrudee 2 Ploenchit Rd (behind All Seasons Place)
0 2650 7577, 08 0559 2655
Moon River by VJ
288 Sukhumvit Rd (near Sheraton Grande Hotel)
0 2229 4457
180 Sukhumvit Rd (between Sois 8 &10)
Nearest BTS: Asoke; nearest MRT: Sukhumvit
0 2251 9237
2/1 Silom Rd (opposite Silom Complex)
Nearest BTS: Saladaeng; nearest MRT Silom
0 2233 9236, 0 2267 0622
888/40 Ploenchit Rd Mahatun Plaza Arcade
Nearest BTS: Ploenchit
0 2252 9680
130 Sukhumvit Rd (near Landmark Hotel)
Nearest BTS: Nana
0 2255 3714
294/3 Silom Rd (near Silom Village)
Nearest BTS: Chong Nongsri
0 2635 9670
252/2 Silom Rd (near Soi 18)
Nearest BTS: Chong Nongsri
08 1611 2313
Tailor on Ten
93 Sukhumvit Rd Soi 8
08 4877 1543
By Micheal Moore