I just moved down to Shanghai from Beijing, and I am in the market for a good tailor. Or at least a decent one — really, I probably wouldn’t know the difference. Anyway, I have a wedding to go to back in the States in August, and I think a new suit is in order. Any ideas? J.B., Shanghai
We here at Shanghaiist are not always of like mind, thankfully. So, J.B., today you get two responses for the price of one. (Really, it’s the same price no matter what — we love giving away our opinions for free!) First, Adam provides a more budget conscious response. Then Brad will offer his advice with quality in mind. (FYI: Adam and Brad both mention tailors named Dave, but they are not the same person. There seems to be some dispute locally over who the “real Dave” really is.)
Adam Williams: Cheap Cuts
Bespoke tailoring can be one of the most affordable pleasures of living in Shanghai, and locally-available fabrics are now leaps and bounds ahead of the scratchy plaid stuff you’ll see most of the tailors sporting. Homebase should be the Dongjiadu Lu fabric market near Zhongshan Lu (董家渡路市场：董家渡路近中山路), a sprawling heap of small stands, each specializing in different fabrics and garments. Shop for fabrics wherever you like -– if you care about drape and sheen, you’ll spot something good fairly quick, but take your time. Haggling is the norm, so get a quote for one meter and work from there. Pick out a jaunty lining among the Thai silks. Quality shirting material is tougher to find, though there’s bales of colorful stuff everywhere. Linens are in season right now, too.
The market is a bustling ant colony of henpecked tailors. Visit a stall with products hung up that come close to what you’re after and you’ll get the best results. Agreeing to let a dressmaker sew you a blazer will only end in tears. Since every odd-shaped foreigner in the city gets clothing made there, many tailors have an excellent working vocabulary of English. Bring a magazine or catalogue clipping of what you want, and they’ll give it their best shot. Still, everything turns out pretty much identical. Expect to pay 250 to 400 RMB ($30-48) for a jacket and pants, which can be made in four days flat. Sadly, one measuring is usually all you get. Request a matching waistcoat just for the hell of it. They’ll return to vogue one of these days.
Another option if you speak a bit of the putonghua is to have a tailor visit you at home. Tailor Chen has been consistently innovative with our requests. Buy your material and make an appointment with him to come to your place and take your measurements. He’s fast and exceptionally good. Don’t believe the metrosexed consumerist tripe that GQ and Esquire print -– there are no sub-rosa secrets of suiting known only to wizened Italians with buffed nails. If you want cuff buttons that actually function, ask for them and you shall receive. Hand stitching is a disgustingly overpriced luxury elsewhere, but not here. A suit from the house of Chen runs from 600–800 RMB ($72-96), not including material. Done in a week. His mobile is 138-1738-3017.
A final option is to visit the old man on the only hill in the city -– The Portman Ritz Carlton’s Dave’s Tailoring. Dave has the finest selection of fabrics and shirting in the country. Apart from a visit to Hong Kong, Dave is the final word on suits in the mainland. However, as old faithful for moneyed expats with sizeable bulges that only the best tailoring can hide, he doesn’t come cheap. Packages start at RMB 2,500 ($301), a mere song back home but not necessarily suitable for an old China hand.
Brad Ferguson: Quality Control
You may not think you can tell the difference between a good suit and one that’s merely decent, but the minute you put on a jacket custom-fitted to your body you’ll know that bespoke is something special. Many people use the words “bespoke” and “made-to-measure” interchangeably, and with so few true bespoke tailors left it’s forgiveable. Made-to-measure means that the tailor will measure your major dimensions and make some basic alterations to a pre-existing pattern. Whereas with bespoke, the tailor designs a personal pattern for you based on dozens of measurements. There is nothing inherently wrong with purchasing a made-to-measure (or even off-the-rack) suit, but the tailor may not be able to modify the pattern to compensate for all facets of your physique.
If you’re content wearing cargo pants 364 days out of the year and just need a suit for a special occasion, there are quite a few tailors in the Dongjiadu fabric market who will happily cut you a suit for less than 1,000 RMB. However, if you’re in the market for a suit that will last a few years and still look and feel great, Shanghaiist recommends spending a little more and getting the best you can. Dave’s Custom Tailoring, located at #6 Lane 288 Wuyuan Lu between Wulumuqi Lu and Wukang Lu ( 五原路288弄6号，乌鲁木齐路和武康路之间), is generally considered the best in China. The owner, Dave KC Shiung, has been in the tailoring business for more than thirty years, from Taiwan to Hong Kong to the Mainland. He has a great selection of fabrics, and can design suits in the standard English and American styles, as well as adjust for current trends and your taste. Suits from Dave’s start from 3,500 RMB ($422), and take two fittings and 3-10 days for completion.
Another option, for the brand-conscious, is a designer off-the-rack suit. Discount shopping in Shanghai isn’t nearly as popular as in Hong Kong, but there are some good deals to be had around the three major national holidays in January, May and October. Zegna, Boss, and Armani boutiques occasionally mark down the previous season’s fashions as much as 50%, meaning you could purchase a designer suit from 2,000-4,000 RMB ($241-482).
Remember, the most important thing about a suit is how you feel wearing it. A confident man in a cheap suit is much more attractive than a nervous man in a $1,000 suit, pulling on the buttons and worrying about spills.
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