Q & A with PG Editors: Should I Buy a Suit from a Bangkok Tailor?

Paul LUX

Q & A with PG Editors: Should I Buy a Suit from a Bangkok Tailor?

Hello Paul,

I’ll be spending some time in Bangkok in the near future, and I saw on the internet that there were many tailors in the city… and I’d like to get a suit or a jacket cut there.

However, I gathered strongly diverging opinions on the quality of the local tailors in Bangkok : some say you can get many great deals on suits made with quality VBC fabrics, while others say it’s basically a scam.

Do you know more about this ?

Thanks,

Alexis

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Dear Alexis,

Bangkok is a subject that seems to make tempers flare in our field, especially on the professional side, but actually, the matter is quite clear.

There must be, without exaggerating, about 5000 documented tailoring businesses in Thailand’s capital. However impressive this number might be, you can count on one hand the amount of honest, professional and qualitative houses in Bangkok – at least, according to the criterion we defend on PG. Two such brands are Tanika Tailor & Narin Couture, for reference.

The others, sometimes graded as high as 5 stars on TripAdvisor and sporting the coveted “Certificate of Excellence” award, amount to little more than glorified tourist traps, with dishonest salespersons swindling their sub-par products to throngs of naïve people. Of course, to do so, many vendors don’t hesitate to go the extra mile and claim their poorly cut jackets are made from the finest “luxury” fabrics available. Laughable, really…

In Bangkok, it’s fair game to sell crap to the naïve tourist. And as such, many offers are literally too good to be true : like a “Bespoke Package”, priced at $700, which includes three suits, two pairs of pants and five shirts. Such a “deal” is, of course nothing but fantasy ; don’t fall for it.

Fabrics offered are supposed to impress the gullible who might not know that much about tailoring in the first place. Don’t be surprised if you see fabrics with such hilarious tags as Louis Vuitton (sure), Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss (!), Kenzo, Dior, or even Patak Philippe (the typo is free of charge, thankfully). Great stuff and a fantastic April’s fools prank…except it’s actually yearround and dead serious !

If you’re serious about men’s style, then Bangkok’s tailoring “scene” is mostly a joke, and a very efficient one at that – as wagons of tourists from around the world get swindled while believing they struck a fantastic deal. TripAdvisor, as great a tool as it might be to plan a vacation, is NOT a reputable source for quality tailoring. You shouldn’t take advice on where to buy suits from people who may have bought only one (badly tailored) suit in their lifetime.

This is why you may often see raving reviews on Bangkok tailors on TripAdvisor because most of the time, the reviewer is a naïve tourist who is trying to persuade himself that he made a good deal, which in turn helps promote the charlatan that sold him the suit.

Judging the quality of a suit requires some basic knowledge and points of reference – you have to have experienced quality wool at least once in your life in order to understand where the difference lies between good and bad wool, for instance.

TripAdvisor is a website that pioneered a whole new concept – and we respect that effort immensely. However, as far as our favorite subject is concerned, the website isn’t worth a damn.

For instance, take a look at the comments left on the pages of Raja’s Fashions or Rajawongse. These two brands have been serving customers for more than 30 years, whom all seem very happy with their horrible, horrible purchases. Granted, these two brands are not the worst in the area by a long shot, but their products are still utterly ghastly, in every sense of the word, by any reasonably savvy standards.

I personally visited both places, and the experience promptly dissuaded me from spending a single penny there : not a single salesperson or tailor in either store, including the Raja themselves, were capable of telling me if their suits were canvassed or not. After checking myself, they were not – and tailors were mixing the very basic concepts of canvassing and lining.

Yet, their clientele is impressive in size, as are the many positive opinions, and business is good : many Australian grooms go there to get their wedding suit made, believing they will get the best bang for their buck, which is pretty sad.

Also noteworthy is the tendency of many of these salespeople to straight up lie to your face.

You’ll be offered pure wool or even wool and cashmere blends, that are actually nothing more than low quality synthetic fabrics with minute traces of wool. The wool / polyester blend is particularly popular – except that it will be sold to you as a 50% wool / 50% cashmere blend, of course.

I must admit to having had a few suits made in Bangkok when I was younger, and it’s a youthful mistake I’m glad I made. It did wonders to help me tell the quacks from the real deal as my knowledge on all things sartorial grew. Unfortunately, there are many such frauds in the southeastern reaches of Asia, and you must keep a watchful eye for the many offers that are ultimately and genuinely, too good to be true.

So please, don’t fall for the frames that hang from the walls of such places, especially if those frames contain “diplomas” or “Dolce & Gabbana Exclusive Retailer” certifications.

Now that we’re done with the bashing, I can recommend to you one of the very few honest and reputable addresses which I have personally tried in Bangkok : Narin Couture.

The house tailor speaks French, if that is a factor for you ; he was trained in France. Since the man is a real tailor, there’s no need to ask him if he can whip out a suit for you in 48 hours. The answer will be no, as it should be.

He will ask for at least two weeks, and two or three fittings, which is often a pretty good sign – even if such a delay shatters the unreasonable hope many occidentals have of having a (cheap) suit made in less than a day. So if you stay in Thailand for at least two weeks and if you drop by Narin upon arriving, you will be able to have a proper suit made for a very competitive price, especially by western standards.

Now, the service at Narin Couture is not necessarily the best you’ll ever receive. However, the house tailor knows his job and keeps a good collection of quality fabrics. The fully canvassed jackets are very satisfying, and the house shirts are a genuine good deal.

A small bit of advice though : considering the tax rates on imported European fabric, it might be a good idea to bring your own fabric with you. I won’t give you a flat rate, because I haven’t visited Narin for a couple of years now, but for a fully-canvassed CMT suit – CMT standing for Cut, Make, Trim (i.e. Bring-your-own-fabric) – the price at the time was around 22’000 THB, which totaled to about $700 with the exchange rate.

Simply put, Narin Couture is a good deal : it’s a serious house that provides serious work – buttonholes in particular, are a cut above average, compared to what you routinely find in Europe. And to reiterate, shirts in particular are excellent. I still have a few in my dressing rotation that easily compete against those from more established brands.