If you need a something custom-made or a piece altered, don't wait until your next trip home just because you're intimidated by the prospect of a Chinese market. Going to the tailor is easy, frugal and fun. And it's surprisingly simple, even if you have zero Mandarin proficiency.
Shanghai is full of talented and affordable tailors. There are also plenty of not so talented or affordable tailors. The old tried and true locations to search for are both near the Bund: The South Bund Fabric Market has been a favorite place to find tailors for years. You can find it in Huangpu district at 399 Lujiabang Lu (near Nancang Jie). Taxi is easy or you can take Line 4 to Nanpu Daqiao Stop. Perhaps a bit lesser known is the Dongmen Lu Fabric Market, which is, you guessed it, on Dongmen Lu (near Zhonghua Lu). That's easily accessible by taxi or Line 10 Yuyuan Gardens.
Fabric markets in China consist of floors and floors of options. Unless you have a reliable friend's recommendation, it can be a bit daunting to choose a tailor you trust. Don't look at the clothing displayed on the mannequins; they're for show so of course they're the highest quality. Instead, in order to judge true tailor quality, look at those shirts that have been made and are ready for customer pick-up.
Keep a keen eye for details like buttons and hems -- are they nice and neat or tacky and hastily done? The devil is in the details. If the tailor presents a fabric sample book, ask to see the original bolt, or, even better, a completed item made from the same fabric.
You can also ask your potential tailor to do a "fabric test". Want to be sure your clothing is 100% cotton (or silk or linen)? Natural fabric fibers will flame and crumble to ash, while man-made fabrics will smoke and form a hard plastic bead.
Of course part of the fun of the fabric market is getting brand new items made. But we all have a favorite piece that's seen better days, even though we're not willing to part with it yet. Well, now you don't have to. Take it to your tailor and have she or he produce a brand new one. Choose another fabric and have it made in more colors. Leave your piece with the tailor and wait for your finished product!
When you go to pick up your piece, of course make sure to try it on. Don't be shy; if there's a problem, ask them to fix it. Otherwise, wear it outta there and enjoy looking and feeling good.
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