To ensure your sartorial creations don't miss the mark (and trust me, they sometimes can!) here are a few tried and tested tips to keep in mind:
1. Know how it works
Most of the 'tailor' shops are actually fabric stores with a middle man. The person you deal with is most likely not a trained seamstress, but more like a go-between who finds out what you're after, measures you up and briefs an outsourced tailor.
2. Who to choose
There are SO many tailor shops in Hoi An and they all look the same (bar a few higher end ones) so how do you choose? A differentiating factor is the level of English and customer service offered by the staff. It's a no-brainer, but go with a place where you feel a rapport with the shop staff, since you don't know who they outsource their tailoring to or how skilled they are. I go to Quyen at Hoi An Cloth Shop - friendly, fun and speaks perfect English!
3. Keep it simple
The tailors in Hoi An are accustomed to making simple, structured clothes like business shirts, pants and winter jackets, and can be particularly good at copying existing items. For dresses and skirts, the simpler the shape the better, and stick to fabrics like cotton rather than anything too obscure. I've seen some women getting evening dresses made that turn out looking cheap and nasty. Summery, cottony day dresses are a safer bet - sometimes the store may even have a model on display that might appeal, or bring along a magazine picture or something you want copied. On my recent trip to Hoi An there just happened to be a trench coat on display which was exactly what I had in mind, so I had one made to fit me. Because it was something they were well versed in already, it turned out perfectly.
4. Finding fabric
Hoi An's tailor shops all stock reams of fabrics (from cottons and polyester blends to wools for jackets and suits) but if you're really picky about quality or have a specific print in mind, it may be best to shop for fabric before heading to Hoi An. Try the markets there or in other cities (for example in Saigon, there's a whole row of fabric shops on Hai Ba Trung, across the road from Tan Dinh Market).
5. The end result
Feel free to request adjustments be made before your clothes are finalised and purchased. The shops are happy to send clothes back to their tailors for nips and tucks (at no extra cost) until your creation fits perfectly. Oh and turnaround times are really quick - you can usually pick up your clothes the next day (or on occasion, the same day if you're measured in the morning).