Samui Wining & Dining
Measuring Up

Finding a tailor’s on Samui is easy. But things aren’t so easy when you’re looking for an excellent one as we explain.

How surreal can a situation be? You’ve come off the street and now find yourself standing to attention but with your arms slightly bent at the elbow, staring straight ahead. It’s a pose straight out of any spaghetti western. You look like you’re ready to draw both guns and fire.

There are, however, no guns and no holster. Not an enemy in sight. The reason you have to stand stock still is because you’re being fitted for a suit. You may by now be wondering if you’ve made a mistake as the clothes that are being fashioned around your body look a bit rumpled and messy. The tailor moves around you with a measuring tape and a pin cushion. Just watch those hands. They work nimbly and gracefully and appear to be as synchronized as a ballet performance. Under your gaze, what starts off as sections of cloth soon resemble real clothes and, in a short while, you’re actually beginning to look amazingly good.

Phew! You’re just completing what’s known as the first fitting – the tailors now have an astute idea of what the finished product is going to be. The following day, you come back for the second. Adjustments are made and soon your clothes are ready. If there’s any problem, it may be necessary to come back a third time, but this usually isn’t the case.

Finally, you leave the store in possession of a suit that is literally … tailor-made. This means that it’s made of outstandingly good quality material, fits you perfectly and makes you feel extremely comfortable.

That’s if you’ve gone to the right tailors, of course. On Samui, there are approximately 150 tailor shops that make a huge variety of clothing for both visitors and residents. The competition is stiff, to say the least, and you might wonder if there is room for them all to do business on such a relatively small island. But that question is rather academic. The one you’re probably more interested in asking is, “How do I tell which tailors are professional?”

Of course, not all them are of the caliber that you’re looking for if you want an excellent suit. Some are just trying to make a little money. Others are new to the business and have a lot to learn. And some, apparently, are so desperate for business that they will make outrageous promises and offer suits that are really way too cheap for them to have any durability. A few months after purchase you may find yourself moving all too cautiously in your new clothing. You probably won’t want to stand up too quickly from your seat at the opera for fear of leaving a sleeve or two behind.

The best way to find a good tailor is to ask local residents who they think is reliable and professional and who is not. Word-of-mouth is of vital importance on Samui if you’re a tailor and people soon know who is trustworthy (and who isn’t!).

Once you step inside a tailor shop, there should never be a feeling that you’re being rushed. The tailor shouldn’t be pushy, but relaxed. A good tailor takes his time with you. You sit down, and maybe have a drink. This is more than just politeness; the tailor needs to ask you plenty of questions about the suit you would like to have. The primary questions are, ‘What will it be used for?’, ‘Is it formal wear or casual?’, ‘Which season is it going to be worn?’, and ‘Do you want something for all year use?’ The list isn’t long, but it’s an important one, and the answers help the tailor provide you with the results that match your expectations.

Don’t forget to cast your eyes around the store. What are the dummies wearing? Look at the display photographs, too. If anything puts you in mind of a museum, then beware. Some tailors are about 10 years or more behind the times. Someone who’s a true professional should be up to date; he or she should know the latest fashions. The best tailors regularly travel outside of Thailand. They need to. They check out what’s in vogue and what’s becoming pass. They also personally select the fabrics they want to import to Samui.

In a reputable tailor’s, everywhere you look, bright bolts of cloth beckon; colours can be striking or subtle and textures can be delicate or robust. A professional tailor will stock a huge variety of different materials. Wool will come in variations (not just of colour but thickness) just like paper does. The good stores stock, for example, 120-, 150- and 180-gram wool, and if it’s cotton you prefer, then you can choose between Oxford and Egyptian or other varieties. And this being Thailand, silk is a popular choice amongst purchasers. Many stock what’s known as Jim Thompson silk, which is 100%. It’s known as Jim Thompson silk after the pioneer who single-handedly brought Thai silk manufacturing back from the brink of obscurity, then established it as a world favourite, before he disappeared in Malaysia many years ago, never to be seen again. Most tailors also stock cashmere, but it’s not always the real thing. Asked how to be sure if it’s genuine or not, the top tailors say that the best way to tell is to get a lighter and burn it. If it smells like hair, it’s for real. If it smells like plastic, then that’s what it is.

By now, you probably won’t need to resort to such inflammatory measures; the way the tailor has treated your requests so far should give you enough idea of whether he’s genuine or not. He should also be confident enough to steer you away from any poor choices on your part. A good suit shouldn’t look overthe-top or extravagant. Cary Grant’s father gave his son this piece of advice, “Let them see you and not the suit. That should be secondary.” Sound words, especially if this is your first foray into the world of fashion.


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