I can readily admit that one of the things I was looking forward to the most about my time in China was a visit to a tailor and to have some shirts made for me.  I wasn’t sure what to expect on price, but figured it had to be better than what I could do in the states, so I made it known to my hosts of that primary request.

On the day we went to the tailor, I really didn’t know what to expect.  We went to a medium-sized warehouse-looking building called the South Bund Soft Spinning Material Market.  Outside were blankets of religious artifacts for sale and there is a wraparound “porch” covered with people selling all kinds of other items.  Dr. Dre Beats, luggage, and silk scarves seemed to be the most common items for that crew.  Once entering the building, I saw crammed booths of tailors, each seemingly focusing on either men, women, or children’s clothing.  Most of the booths were maybe 12×12, but a few were larger.  The walls were stuffed alternatively with samples of their work and bolts of material.  I learned later that there were nearly 400 different tailors in this one building across 4 floors. I never left the first floor.

The owner of the stall we went to was ultimately summoned for the negotiations on price, but I get ahead of myself…  The process of having clothes made for you was a bit daunting at first.  In addition to the bolts of material bulging from the walls, there were also books filled with swatches of materials and patterns.  Overwhelming, to say the least, and I wasn’t sure exactly how to pick being used to looking at already finished goods and not having to change my perspective from this 2×4 inch rectangle of material into imagining what it would look like in a finished shirt.  Somehow, I managed, and somehow I seemed to keep picking things with purple.  And if there was no purple, I had replaced it with pink.

Suits, of course, is where they make more money, so they kept pressuring me to buy two (or more) of those.  Rare is the occasion anymore when I wear one, so I hesitated at first, but then they pulled out a bolt of dark chocolate cashmere and laid it across the table.  Sold!

Over the course of this first trip (yes, I went back for more) I ended up with six shirts and one suit.  As much fun as I had picking everything out, I had more fun negotiating for the price.  Most places in China are not fixed price – especially the tourist areas.  Any price you’re given, you immediately have to counter with at least 50% or less of their initial offering.  One of the first Chinese phrases I learned was “Tai gui le” (tie gu-weh le) which means “too expensive.”  That turned into my immediate first response on any negotiation – throw my hands in the air, close my eyes and toss my head to the side like I was completely offended while offering my “tai gui le” and put the item down while I walked away.  They would chase me and then I would get down to the business of negotiating.

A truck full of options remained to be determined on the shirts and suit, as well.  I got to choose the kind of collar I wanted (regular with slots for collar stays, please), whether or not I wanted a pocket (I may be a geek, but no pockets!), what kind of cuff (French is fun, but let’s stick with regular for now), how many buttons on my suit jacket (I’m not my
father,  2 buttons), how many vents (Jimmy wants 2), and the length of the jacket (just a bit longer than regular, but no zoot suits, please), and so on…

I parked on one side of the table and George, my friend that took me there parked on the other while we took turns playing good cop/bad cop in this back and forth over price with Kathy, the owner.  It’s difficult to argue for a lower price when the first offering is so cheap compared to what I would spend in the states for equivalent items.  For the shirts, she started at 140 each and the suit at 900.  Tai gui le!  George said he could get shirts for 80 and the owner said my shirts would take more material than his.  She dropped 20 on each shirt.  I suggested that maybe I just get one shirt and maybe pass on the suit for now until I could get a chance to receive a finished product and judge their quality.  She dropped 200 off the suit.  I was ready to shout ‘DEAL!’, but George wasn’t done yet.  He said it was still too expensive and we hadn’t even been to any other tailors yet and we should take time to shop around a bit.  She dropped another 100 on the suit and 20 on the shirts, with the caveat that any more shirts would be 120 each and suits would be 700 due to the volume of material required for me.  Now we had a deal.  Total price was 1200.  But keep in mind, that is 1200 RMB, not dollars.  Exchange rate sets that at just under $200 for the entire set of six shirts and a suit.

Smile on my face, I paid my money down and waited a week while they constructed my order.  To say I was giddy to not only get custom-made clothes, but to get them at that price would be quite an understatement.  I’ve made arrangements with them to keep my measurements on file so even if I don’t manage to make it back over there, all I have to do is drop them an email and they’ll ship my order to me.

When my family arrived several weeks later, we went back to the same place.  The owner of the shop I went to and her sister own 4 stalls in this building – one of them does women’s clothing so we had a couple of dresses made.  A picture of Ketti in her qipao is in the gallery below.

My chest, still swollen with pride over the initial round of negotiations, did feel the need to buy a couple more shirts and cement the original agreement on price for subsequent purchases.  Still had purple in the mix, but also brought in a black/white striped number and a dark brown with a second material for the backing that seemed too out there to be an entire shirt, but I liked it enough that I needed to include it somehow…

So, please, if any of you ever go to Shanghai, ask me for directions to this tailor’s booth.  I can vouch for her quality and I also did promise that I might be able to swing some more business her way.

The move back from Shanghai to Seattle obviously is now complete.  We’re all unpacked.  When I’m home, the dog won’t get more than about 2 feet away from me.  He’ll run off every once in a while to double check that everyone else is still there, but he comes right back.  Yes, Danner, I missed you too…

So, it is the same closing:  Click the first picture below and start up the gallery.  Zai jian!