Open Thread: The Best Asian Stores for Professional Clothes?

The making of Thai silk 10, originally uploaded to Flickr by Daffydus.We talked about the best stores in Europe for professional clothes… now let’s talk Asia! I’ve never been anywhere in Asia, but I’m dying to go.  To those of you who’ve been:

- Which are the best cities for shopping? (Do you agree with this Yahoo article?)

- If you want a bespoke suit or blouse (tailor made for you), where is the best place to go and what is the procedure?  (For example: I’ve heard some say that you should pick out fabric ahead of time, and bring a suit or blouse that already fits so the tailor can copy it.) Or — if you’re buying something like Thai silk, what do you look for, and what do you like to use the silk for? (A dress? A blazer?)

- Are there any duty-free shops in airports that are amazing deals, or spots where — if you only have an hour or so between flights or some such — that you highly recommend people go?

(Pictured: The making of Thai silk 10, originally uploaded to Flickr by Daffydus.)

 

Comments

  1. Travelling Rette :

    Vietnam is the best place for bespoke clothes and shoes. Thailand is great too, but I prefer Vietnam. Here’s the procedure – you find a reputable shop (check TripAdvisor for this), pop in, browse some catalogs, pick the styles you like, choose the fabric (it’s on bolts in the shops), get measured, and come back for a fitting the next day. The next day you might need another fitting, or you might be ready to take it home. Haggle, haggle, haggle, because the first price you’re given is usually twice as much as what the shopkeepers will accept.
    Good shops will also keep your measurements on file so you can order more once you get home.

    Uniqlo in Japan is pretty good for basics and staples at reasonable prices, but Hong Kong and Singapore are wicked expensive, and both cities seem to have the same inventory. I’ve never been in either city during their legendary sales so I am not sure how far discounted they can be.

  2. Lived in Asia and Prefer US Shopping-but some recs nonetheless :

    I spent the past year and a half living in Asia and I lived in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, and Beijing. Of the cities mentioned in the Yahoo article, I have also visited Tokyo (once) and Singapore (3 times). I still prefer shopping for professional women’s clothing in the US for the following reasons:

    - Shopping tends to be very high end/branded or much more low end. There aren’t many stores the level of, say, Banana Republic and the stores that are closest to that level are more expensive but with cheaper fabrics. I never once found a bargain on a Banana Republic-level clothing item, either.
    - I am petite but I have some curves. I was small enough overall to fit into Asian womens’ clothing, which is something many Western women struggle with, but the proportions weren’t quite right. For women 5’4″ and under who have slim but not particularly curvy build the shopping must be great.
    - I had quite a few items made in Thailand, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. Unfortunately most of these items didn’t stand the test of time. Regarding the earlier point, tailors weren’t so great at knowing how to flatter curves. Some of the fabrics were also pretty cheap and the clothes shrank. I still slightly prefer my J. Crew suit to my high end bespoke suit from Hong Kong for its fit, although the bespoke suit’s tailoring is out of this world. At all of the bespoke places I have been they have the fabric there and you can flip through a booklet of clothing and make selections of a style you like, have something you own copied in another fabric, and/or they fit you in a suit in their style. The one bespoke company that really did fit me well is a custom cashmere clothing company owned by a friend of mine that I really hope she will bring to the US. That company is woman-owned, woman-oriented, although they do some great things with men’s clothing. My friend is Italian and is able to work with multiple body types.
    - In much of Asia shopping malls are THE thing to do. A shopping lifestyle and mall culture isn’t my favorite way to shop. Branding is also a big part of the culture, so finding that great boutique with good prices and excellent craftsmanship just doesn’t happen as often.
    - What is considered professional in Asia is sometimes a little different than in the West. For example, in mainland China professional women sometimes wear sparkly headbands. I have seen professional women in Hong Kong wear teeny tiny skirts to work and tops without a full back. Also, the focus is more on trends than timeless style. I will say that Japan is an exception to this entire point-the professional women there dressed impeccably, they just weren’t as likely to be professional post-marriage/kids.
    - There are some pretty major social responsibility issues with the garment industry in Asia. Although US-based companies often outsource to China, they still have better (although paltry in my opinion) standards than Asian-based companies. There are lots of studies out there addressing this and I recommend the book “Factory Girls” for women who want to learn more about the garment industry in China in particular. It is probably easier to get fair trade clothes made in Asia in London than in Asia itself.
    - A few store recs of my favorite places throughout Asia: http://www.uluwatu.co.id/ http://www.disshanghai.com/ http://www.globalhandicrafts.org/ http://www.artisansdangkor.com/ Many of these places ship.

    • I second many of the points in this comment. I am very thin, but could not fit in any clothes in Japan or Hong Kong, the proportions were just off – especially at the shoulders, inseam, and waist/hips. Malaysia had more clothes that fit my Western figure (I think because of the more diverse population), but the quality was hit or miss. That said, you can get great skirts and dresses made in most SEAsian countries, if you find a good tailor.

    • Dear “Lived in Asia and Prefer US Shopping-but some recs nonetheless” and all,

      Would you be able to share details of your Hong Kong custom cashmere shop? That sounds like exactly what I’m looking for (and it’s hard to find!).

      NYC to HK

  3. Anonymous :

    Ascot Chang

  4. In the process of cleaning out my twenty-something single girl closet with the goal of dressing like the thirty-something happily coupled person I am now. I am hesitating on getting rid of some old favorites, even though they either don’t fit, don’t look good, or don’t fit my lifestyle. Anyone else struggled with the dreaded closet re-capitalization lately?

  5. I posted about this recently on another thread. I highly recommend Oxford Tailors on the 4th floor of OUB Centre at Raffles Place in Singapore. They did an excellent job. They made me a three piece suit out of grey cashmere wool (skirt, suit, jacket), copied a pair of pants for me (I brought a pair with me), and made four shirts (I got to pick details like buttons, cuffs, placket, how fitted, etc.). For the jacket, I got to pick how many buttons, where they hit, the lining fabric, etc.

    My best friend had lived in Singapore for a few years and she and her husband (he was an enormous British rugby-player type, and she was a very curvy (caucasian) American, about 5’7″) got all of their clothes there, as off the rack clothes in Asia were not even close. All of their officemates (from Shell and McK) also got their clothes made there.

    I was in Singapore off and on for a week (short jaunt to Vietnam in-between). I did an initial selection of the fabrics and got measured. Came back five days later for a fitting of the semi-constructed jacket, skirts, pants and shirts. Revisions were made and then I picked my clothes up two days later.

    I had never had such beautiful-fitting clothes. I am tall, short-waisted, curvy and have enormous ex-swimmer shoulders. Suffice to say, I normally sacrifice fit in some part of my body to accommdate something else. Anyway, I was raving about how much I liked everything while my friend elbowed me to shut up and play it cool. She told me afterward that it would have been cheaper if I had not raved so much. This was in 2007, and it depends on what fabrics you pick, but I got everything for about $550, if I remember right. They kept my measurements on file and gave me a copy too.

    Alex, the tailor, was amazing. If I ever am back in Asia, I am heading straight there to get a new wardrobe.

    And yes, all of the pieces have stood the test of time–gorgeous. They used super-high quality Italian cottons and shirts. And I didn’t have an issue with labor practices–the tailors were right in the shop, behind a curtain, sewing away (mostly older men).

    • Blonde lawyer :

      Thanks for this review. My husband went to high school in Singapore and we go back every couple of years. I am emailing him this review right now and it is on our “must do” next time we are there!! Your body and my body sound the same, minus the shoulders. My husband is also 6’5″ and can rarely by clothes off the rack here let alone there. He recently applied for a job that would require him to wear suits much more often. That alone might necessitate a trip to the Singapore tailor if he gets the job.

  6. Christine :

    399 Lujiabang Lu/Road in Shanghai. Are their tourists? Yes. Do they make fantastic bespoke clothing? Yes. But you have to be very picky about which store you go to. This is a fabric market with hundreds of little shops, so walk around and get a vibe for the place before deciding on which one you wanted to get your clothes made. I went to two stores. One specializing in dresses. I handed them a picture of a Calvin Klein dress that I wanted made and it was done perfectly. I have not had any quality issues. Another store specialized in suits. I had one made and again have had no issues with quality.

    If I am in Shanghai again, I will definitely return.

  7. G2000 & Crocodile in Hong Kong aren’t bad. I would say Crocodile is probably more like Banana Republic and G2000 like Express. For more casual clothing, I like Bossini.

    Most of the malls have very high-end designer stores and the general fit for clothing in general tends to run smaller and shorter than the ones in the US, though I was able find things in the places I mentioned above. I generally wear small or medium here, but had to size up to large & sometimes Xlarge.

  8. Alanna of Trebond :

    I am in Asia right now, so I couldn’t see this post until the next day, but the city where I am from in India (Kolkata) does not have very good options for western work clothing, as most women do not wear that sort of clothing here. I have had a suit made here in the past, but I do not think the tailors have a lot of experience with making suits.

    It is a wonderful spot to buy scarves (silk; pashmina), jewelry, shoes, and handicrafts. It is also an extremely good place to get existing garments tailored, and shoes or other items repaired at very good prices.

    Personally, I am really glad that it does not have the name brands etc. that other cities seem to be having because I think these brands really detract from the native culture of that city. I think I would be extremely sad if I came here and I saw the same brands that I see in NYC, etc.

  9. I am Asian and have always lived in Asia but prefer US shopping. Reasons are similar to those given by the poster above.

    In India, professional clothing doesn’t translate to dresses or suits for women so that is an exception.

    But in Singapore or HK or tokyo, women are dressed in a very girly or very very blah/meh way. It is usually a choice between v high end or v low end. Hemlines are v high compared to the West. Maybe because the ladies are so slim. I don’t know.

    Fabrics are very floaty, and I’ve even seen sheer blouses etc at work. After years of hunting, I have just given up and now order online from the US. It is always cheaper despite ridiculous shipping costs.

    And if you are in any way curvy or b@@by, forget shopping in the Far East. I am a size 10 and STRUGGLE to find stuff that fits.

    Average woman in the far east is a size2-4 and A/B cup.

    So much as I would like to shop locally, I’ve given up. Except if I ever went back to India to work!

  10. Here are my favourite off-the-rack places around Asia, assuming the sizes work for you.

    : Tomorrowland, United Arrows, Beams, Ships and Journal Standard are excellent Japanese boutiques which mix designer imports and their own-label products to great effect. I particularly like their own-label for user-friendly interpretations of runway trends and quality is impeccable. I try to buy made in Japan but find that even made in China/ India/ Vietnam for the Japanese market seems to be of very acceptable quality. All these stores have large branches in Shinjuku, Shibuya or Ginza. Tomorrowland and Ships skew more office-friendly, the others are somewhat more youthful.

    : Giordano Ladies is a knit/ jersey based line, spun off from HK casual clothing company Giordano. I like their tanks and t-shirts – quality is good, colours run to ivory and muted neutrals which work great with formal suits, prices allow frequent replacement. They also have a line of matte black jersey dresses which reappear every year with minor seasonal variations and which are great for travel and day-to-night. There are branches all over HK, also Singapore, Taiwan and big cities in China.

    : Thailand has a young designer scene – quality is high and I occasionally find something work-friendly. Siam Centre shopping mall in Bangkok is probably the best place to go – some stores to look out for are Senada, Greyhound and Fly Now. In Bangkok, I also like a shoe shop called Ballet for guess what, ballet flats. They take orders, with a huge range of custom colours and my purchases seem to last forever. They also have wedges and Capri-style sandals, although I wouldn’t wear these to work. There are multiple branches but some handy ones are in Siam Square (across fr Siam Centre) and nearby Amarin Plaza. I also like Jim Thompson for their 3-quarter length t-shirts (and these are available in large range of foreigner-friendly sizes) and beautiful high-quality cashmere scarves.

    : Thai silk comes in 2, 4, 8 and so on up to (I think) 16 ply. I’d buy 2-ply to run up a skirt or top in a flowy style (will happily machine wash these, which breaks down the fabric a bit), 4 or 8 ply for a dress and the heavier weights for upholstery. I like ikat designs and multi-coloured weaves for fitted sheath dresses, and muted neutrals for separates to break up a suit (the great thing about Thai silk is that you can get in a huge variety of shades, so you can match a tricky greige or off-white or blue-black suit). Be aware that the fabric does not give at all – I would avoid making a jacket for fear that I’d wear it in buttoned-up discomfort and tapered trousers for fear that I wouldn’t be able to sit. What works for me : sheath dresses, fitted sleeveless tops, A-line skirts (the latter 2 to break up existing suits).

    : FabIndia is a clothing and housewares emporium with has multiple branches in big cities in India including a big one in South Bombay near the Taj hotel. They have beautifully made white cotton and silk tops which will work with a suit, and much else that’s very desirable although not office-friendly.

    : Airports in most Asian capitals are modern wonders compared to North America (India excepted) but I wouldn’t really consider them shopping destinations. The few worthwhile ones which come to mind are the Jim Thompson outlets in Bangkok’s Suvarnabumi airport (similar prices to downtown) and the Shiseido outlet in Tokyo’s Narita airport, which carries a hard-to-find perfume line (Serge Lutens).

    I’m not sure if going to a tailor is a great idea for a visitor in Asia unless you have a friendly local like MJ did above, or you have some experience with custom tailoring or dress-making on your own. I’ve been going to the same dress-maker in my hometown for years but it has taken a number of disasters (paid for ‘em, never wore ‘em) for me to understand what’s going to work and what’s not – much of his other business is with various prominent political wives, whose style isn’t quite what I’m aiming for.

    If your heart is set, then I think the best approach would be to ask a local colleague, preferably white, a guy if necessary, where they get their suits done, and to stick to a very classic style if you’re paying up for nice fabric. For a first time, I would not bring something to be copied since you would be testing the tailor’s pattern-making ability on top of everything else. I would simply ask the tailor to work from a pattern he’s already familiar with but properly sized and fitted for you.

    But I’m not really the right person to comment about best cities for shopping … I’m the sort who manages to find stuff to buy in the strangest places.

  11. I bought a black dress from G2000 in Simgapore last year which is definitely one of my favourite dresses. I love the brand as they carry size 32 ( I am petite and wear 00P at BR). However, I found the trousers were too tight at the hips. (I am South Asian and curvy so I wear BR’s Jackson fit).

    Local boutiques in SG sell nice dresses too – I found some lovely pastel dresses at a store in Suntec City. And the service at SG malls was excellent – you can explain what you are looking for or just ask for suggestions and they will be happy to run around and get things you might like.

    Esprit on Orchard Road had the stuff I can get in London but it was a bit more expensive. Similar experience in Zara – a dress I bought for 40 pounds should have been 80 or 85 so I was a bit surprised that the price tag read 100 SGD.

    In Malaysia, there’s a chain called Padini that sells workwear – they have a store at the Pavilion but I didn’t go in so I can’t opine on quality or sizing.

    I’ve bought shoes and wallets from Charles and Keith in Malaysia and Singapore. Their store at Changi airport was a bit disappointing so I was glad I’d already got my stuff from the store at the Ion on Orchard Road. I’d say you can kill 10-15 mins at the airport store if you plan to buy something.

    I had a suit made in Shanghai and while the jacket was a good fit, the trousers were too tight. Even though the tailor took my measurements, I guess he didn’t know how to sew trousers for someone with a curvy bottom. I knew the trousers were past saving when I went for my first fitting and if I’d had more time I might have had a skirt made.

    I think Hong Kong is also a great place to get tailored suits. I haven’t been there but I’ve seen HK colleagues wearing suits that fit really well.

    • 'rette in Singapore :

      Padini has sizes probably up to UK 14-16. The suits seemed a bit too obviously polyester-y for me, though.

      In my experience, shoes from Charles & Keith don’t hold up all that well, although they are fairly inexpensive. I’d recommend shoes from Gripz instead, especially the ones with leather uppers.

  12. in Singapore :

    Singapore: 

    I must qualify that although I live here, I don’t buy higher-end clothing here because prices are inevitably inflated. My office is also fairly casual. The recommendations below are for less expensive choices along the lines of the bargain pieces featured by Kat, and omit stores you might find elsewhere, like Mango, Zara, Dorothy Perkins (although I love DP for dresses).

    Orchard Road – department stores like Tangs or Isetan (in Wisma Atria) are probably better bets for inexpensive professional clothing. In Tangs – try Allure, Martina Pink. In Isetan – they have a higher-end floor and a lower-end floor. On the lower end floor, try Glitter Glam (seriously) if you are US 8-10 or smaller. Burgundy in Wisma Atria has some very classic dresses with a twist, if you are US8-10 or smaller. 

    Try Raffles City / Citylink Mall / Marina Square if you are in or close to the business district. If you see pushcarts in the basement of Raffles City selling leather handbags imported from Korea, they are worth a look – wallet friendly (USD 50 – 120) and decent quality. FOND in Marina Square has interesting dresses and separates that could work in the office. 

    Bali, Indonesia:

    Body and Soul sometimes has work-appropriate dresses and separates, and has outlets everywhere in Kuta and Seminyak, and probably elsewhere in Indonesia. 

    On Jln. Raya Seminyak (start walking up the road from Bintang Supermarket) – Metana (jersey dresses in basic colors, very comfortable and hold up really well), Dinda Rella (gorgeous jewelled evening dresses). On Jln. Oberoi – Joy Jewellery has very pretty silver /gold elastic bracelets. 

    Silver jewellery near Ubud / Celuk – these are fixed price stores with both work-appropriate and statement pieces where the quality of the silver is guaranteed – Prapen and Rama Sita (considerable overlap in designs as they are related), Angel to Angel and UC Silver (higher-end, Angel to Angel is worth a visit to gawk at the showroom alone). 

    Bangkok, Thailand:

    The sizes here were VERY tiny the last time I visited, but friends have told me that The Platinum Mall is great for affordable shoes. 

    Japan:

    Uniqlo for great basic button-downs and jackets which aren’t always sold in overseas outlets, but largest sizes are probably UK 16 and smaller. 

    This is not exactly a clothing rec, but I could spend hours (and incredible amounts of money) in cosmetic departments and drugstores in Japan. Matsumoto Kiyoshi – discount cosmetics – look out for suisai beauty powder, which is basically powdered pore-clearing cleanser in teeny-tiny single-use cups which are great for travel /gym/office. Kose Addiction has buttery-soft eyeshadows in beautiful colors, and the SAs do fantastic mini-makeovers. 

  13. Korea absolutely has the best clothes on the cheap. You can shop 24/7 in their malls and they have the best quality goods, on-trend styles and best prices. Of all of my clothes that I have bought in Asia, it’s always the Korean ones that people comment on and can’t believe I got so unbelievably cheap. (Their jewelry is also excellent – dainty and incorporating great stones and materials).

    For bespoke clothes, I prefer Shanghai. Hong Kong is good as well, but I think for the money the clothes in Shanghai are better. As has been said, best is to bring an item and have them copy exactly. Second best is to bring a picture. I think people end up with clothes they are not happy more often when they have neither, and the style of the suit or shirt is then more “asian” and not what they had in mind.

    However, if you are looking for silk shirts and dresses with an asian flare, my favorite is Shanghai Tang. I wrote a post about it on my blog here http://www.chinafulblog.com/blog/2012/3/14/shanghai-dreaming.html.

  14. Israel has amazing clothes as well. The style tends to be a mix of Europe and the East/Middle East. Less unisex than American clothing (so more European in that way, more tailored, feminine, fitted), but with some touches of Middle Eastern and/or Indian style (Israelis love India and all things Indian). Fit is great if you are petite in height; clothes are not made for the 5’7″ or 5’8″ woman like they are in the U.S., but more for the average woman who might be 5’4 or 5’5″. However, if you’re above a size 12, you may have to go to a store for “women” or older women, as opposed to for younger women.
    That being said, there is a great “plus-size” chain called “Matim Li” which probably starts at size 10/12 (so plenty of non-plus sized women can actually shop there) and goes up I’m sure well into size 20-plus.
    Clothing is often very unique, as is jewelry, with an unusual artsy touch. Flowers, funky designs, cut on the bias, some assymetrical details that tend to be figure flattering as well.
    Very feminine and often sexy.
    Great designers are Ronen Chen (check out http://www.ronenchen.co.il or http://www.ronenchen.com), Dorit Sadeh, etc.
    Tel Aviv is the best city for shopping, you will find everything there, in the northern and central parts of the city, all the major chains as well as small boutiques from individual designers. Go to Sheinkin Street, the fashion and funky shopping capital, in Tel Aviv.
    But any city will have malls as well as a central shopping district with chains and boutiques.
    Pricing is moderate – not cheap but not super-high. Perhaps on par with the U.S. in pricing. However, styling is more unique and unusual. Unfortunately, quality may not be as high (sometimes cheaper fabric or handywork), that is the trade-off at times.

  15. Second on the Jim Thompson if you end up in Thailand. Great selection of handbags for reasonable prices, and bonus is that no one else will usually have them in your U.S. office. :)

    Also, I think it’s been mentioned above, but if you’re not a more petite figure, sizing at RTW stores can be a real issue. I lived in Asia (HK, Shanghai, KL, Bangkok) for over two years, and I’m a size 12 U.S. with a size 9.5 foot. I also have more caucasian proportions (not flat chested, some butt). It was not easy to find clothes at local brands (I could barley fit into the largest size suits that G2000 carries). Finding shoes was damn near impossible, even at western brands like Tod’s. They simply do not usually carry sizes above an 8. If you are smaller though, I also recommend Pedder Red in Hong Kong for shoes. Tons of super cute, cheap shoes.

  16. I’m living in Korea, and I’ve had the exact opposite experience as Courtney. Clothes here are cheap, but they are also CHEAP. Most Korean clothes and shoes have fallen apart after a few months, if that. And if you’re tall, or bigger than size US 10 you’ll be able to find clothes, but they are very boring.

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