During my time living in Vietnam you could regularly find me getting clothes made in Ho Chi Minh. From gowns to t-shirts, the process is as fun as the product.
A lot of people might argue with me about the best place to get clothes made in Vietnam saying that it is Hoi An. I’m not really here for that argument since I’ve never gotten anything tailored there. I do though, know that as a major city with more than just tourists, you will be amongst locals getting clothes made in Ho Chi Minh and you won’t be targeted for the tourist you are, which I reckon just might be happening in Hoi An, being the hotspot that it is.
I lived in Ho Chi Minh City from 2013 to 2014 and went back for a visit in 2019. It is still a place I hold near and dear to my heart, a place I dream about, wonder about, and miss regularly. While the food, the people, the chaos, and the fun are all a part of that yearning, it is too in no small part due to the sheer enjoyment of getting clothes custom made – which I did regularly during my time there.
I worked at ILA – a large language school with hundred of teachers, many centers, and thousands of students. Each Christmas, at least back when I was working for them, they had an over-the-top, intensely decadent, painfully kitschy, extraordinary fun and drunken Christmas party. There were buffets and performers and doves and archways and everyone got dressed to the nines. Men in suit and tie, women in dresses. Or, more precisely: gowns. So when I mention the fun of getting gowns custom made, I am not merely hypothesizing, but more on that later.
There is a lot to know about getting clothes made in Ho Chi Minh, from the locations, to the process, to the prices, to when to name drop Kate Middleton. But, perhaps most important is plan ahead – that is, leave plenty of room in your backpack.
Pick Out Fabric
The fabric market is a marvelous place. And even if my oohing and awing throughout this post at how purely heavenly it is to get your clothes custom tailored in Vietnam doesn’t convince you to do it – I do hope you make a trip to the market anyways – it is no doubt worthy of your time.
You’ll find you might be overwhelmed with options here – take your time to find what you want. Something that is quite a relief here as opposed to other markets more popular with tourists – you won’t find sellers pushing you to buy things. If you engage, they will happily engage back, help, and haggle a bit – but they won’t be pushy.
If you know what you want – whether it’s a material or a pattern – tell or show a seller with a large stock and they will know if they have it or not. I sometimes go with patterns in mind but sometimes buy fabrics I fall in love with when I’m shopping.
If you know what you’re having made – you can easily look up measurements ahead of time. If you haven’t done that, or if you decide to get something done on a whim – just tell the vendor what it is you’re planning to do with the material and they will know an approximate quantity. If you’re unsure, or if they are, err on the side of caution with a bit too much – otherwise you might find yourself needing to return for a few extra inches.
While I would be upset if I haven’t convinced you to pay the fabric market a trip, you don’t necessarily have to go. Every tailor has a selection of fabrics available in their shop. While the selection will be significantly less than what you’ll find at the market, you can definitely choose to do it this way.
Choose a Design
Choosing a design and visiting the fabric market might happen simultaneously, one might happen before the other or vice-versa. It doesn’t really matter so long as you don’t actually buy any fabric without a product in mind – or risk coming up short.
Choosing a design is simple – go on Pinterest, online stores, bring in a piece of clothing you already have and love, or just tell your tailor you want a dress (or whatever) and see what they suggest. Also – if you’re feeling super snazzy – check Kate Middleton’s wardrobe for inspo – that’s what I’ve often done!
Go to the Tailor
The final step in the process – the tailor. There are tailors all over the country but I can hands down recommend Nam Silk on De Tham in Ho Chi Minh. There is a second Namsilk just around the corner – you could go there too but the front of house woman on De Tham is perfection.
When I moved away from Vietnam in 2014 the ladies here gave me a parting gift to thank me for being such a loyal customer.
In 2019 – when I went back to visit, I stopped in to get some things made. I had a t-shirt from home that I wanted duplicates of. As I was trying to haggle on the price of two, I told this woman (it breaks my heart I don’t remember her name, but I don’t) that I was going to buy a bunch of fabric and have a few other things made too, and plus I used to be a real good customer. She looked at me and squinted – I could tell there was no recognition.
“The dress” I said to her, “you’ll remember the dress, hold on – I’ll show you a picture”
I had a picture of me in my Kate Middleton custom-made Christmas party dress was one of my Facebook profile pictures a number of years back, I pulled it up and showed it to her. She looked at it, looked at me, and smiled a little – I could tell she didn’t know what I was on about.
She led me to the back of the shop to look at some other fabrics, and as she walked away in front of me she stopped and turned. “Kate-” she said. “Caitlin” I answered – pointing at myself – but there was no way she would remember my name, I’m not sure why she ever would have known it in the first place.
“The dress” she continued, pointing at my phone “Kate”
“When I made the dress she had no kids – now she has three!”
My life was made. She remembered the dress.
And if this isn’t reason enough to go and love on the ladies at Nam Silk – just wait until you see all of the wonderful things they’ve made for me.
After you’ve got your fabric and your design, Nam Silk will take your measurements. They’ll take to you about things like how loose you want the sleeves to fit or how long you want the pant legs – everything is made to measure. You’ll pay a deposit and then go away for a few days. They’ll be in touch when things are ready – or if you don’t have any way to be contacted they’ll give you a date to come back (usually it’s 2-3 days depending on the complexity and how much you are having made). You’ll try things on and either take them home or have adjustments made. They will keep going until you are completely satisfied. I’ve had 2-3 fittings on some items without any extra charge.
Clothes I've Had Made
Like I’ve mentioned – some of my tailor clothes come from very specific inspo – some of those photos I’ve saved. Here are the results of replicas.
I have a folder full of Kate clothes I want made. I had this photo with me in the fabric market and landed on this incredibly similar fabric. The tailor told me it needed a lining – but that was easily done from a white silk fabric they had in shop.
I think I found this one off Pinterest – but doing a little digging it seems like the original was sold by Roolee. This jumper is an example of not getting enough fabric. If you look really closely at the photo of mine you can see that the sash around the middle is slightly different to the rest of the jumpsuit. The tailors ran out of the material I got at the market so we used a different fabric from their shop – it ended up working out fine in the end.
I LOVE this dress. Kate’s worn it twice and each time she’s looked absolutely epic – o.k. that’s not hard for the duchess – but comeon. The back – in case you don’t know – is the same lace as the shoulders with buttons down the middle. This – by the way – is the dress the tailor remembered.
I don’t have the original inspo image for this dress. I think it may have come off Modcloth. I got this made at the beginning of my time in Vietnam and it was a go-to teaching dress. I think it may have shrunk a bit since then – but I still love it!
Again – no image to tell you what this was made from, and I think it may actually have just been a fabric that I liked and had made into a skirt.
On my way to move to Vietnam I stopped off in Berlin – yeah, Germany – I know. There was this Australian there who was clearing out her backpack and she gave me a few pieces of clothing – one was an H&M skirt – it was a navy maxi skirt with pockets and I wore it all the time. This one was modeled off of that. Cause yeah – when you get clothes tailored you can have pockets wherever you want them!
I believe this fabric came from the tailor and was being displayed for an ao dai – the traditional dress of Vietnamese women – but I had it made into this pencil skirt instead. I loved wearing it to teach in because every time the kids would go “teacher – house! – window!”
I just needed clothes to teach in – so here’s another pencil skirt in a fun, colorful pattern.
I love the pattern of this purple skirt. I don’t remember where I found the fabric but I love how it makes me look like I know what I’m doing when I dance. I believe I saw a friend wearing a long skirt with a high slit and decided I wanted one – thus was born this skirt.
This is one of the items I got made on my more recent visit to Vietnam. I found this fabric in the market and absolutely loved it. I committed to getting a top made – as far as amount to buy – and brought it to the tailor. I gave it to her and shrugged. She flipped through pictures and showed me a few – we landed on this. The bell sleeves go down to my elbows and I love it.
I’m not going to sit here and claim to be an eco blogger. But I do try to be conscious of what I consume and cut down where I can.
So, does getting custom clothes made fall under the umbrella of being sustainable? Well – there are a few ways you could think about it.
First of all, if you want a new top (or whatever) which is likely to stay in your closet longer; the one you got from H&M that fits well enough but is just what they had available – or the top that is exactly fitted to you, is the design you wanted, and the fabric you love? I’m gonna say it’s the latter.
Sure, a lux gown for a Christmas party might not be something I wear regularly, but I can promise you that dress is going nowhere.
In terms of how long these items last – some of them I have had for 7+ years. I’ve had a few buttons pop off, but no zippers fail. I’ve had one seem split. All in all – these guys are long lasting pieces of clothing that I love, that fit me well, and that are one of a kind.
I thought I had a log of what I’d paid for things – especially during my more recent trip. But, alas, I cannot find it.
I know that for my Kate Middleton gown I paid more than $100. But, I’ll bet you good money that Kate paid more.
For the more everyday items – you’re looking at H&M equivalent prices. So, approximately $12 for a top, $18 for a skirt $25 for a dress, etc. This does depend on whether you’re providing the fabrics or it’s being included in the price. If you add it all up you’re likely to spend less total when you buy the fabric at the same place where you’re getting the item made.
Basically – getting clothes made in Vietnam is affordable. And things like custom gowns or a custom tux are never going to be so within reach cost-wise.
Well, if I haven’t convinced you to get at least one thing made, or even to visit the fabric market, I have failed and I am sorry. But if I’ve been successful – let me know how it went, what you had made, and how much you loved the experience in the comments below!