I care very little about fine clothes. This may shock some of you. I like my clothes to be clean, and comfortable, and if it’s not jeans and a T-shirt, I generally won’t touch it.
Besides, I can just barely tell the difference between plastic wrap and cotton.
But there’s a scene in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon where one of the characters goes to Shanghai to buy suits for his employees. He flies in with their body measurements, and flies out with some handsomely cut finery, for far less than it would cost probably anywhere in the world.
I just lived that.
Not the flying out bit, but the clothes bit. It’s all a bit weird for me. I’m quite comfortable wearing stuff that I bought in high school until its threadbare. Metrosexual is a dirty word.
None of that has changed, but my Financial and Menu Adviser has wanted to get clothes made since we started planning this trip. She’s been raiding clothing magazines, cutting out things she liked and pasting them into a book. Originally, this was all going to turn into a new wardrobe in Hoi An, Vietnam, which is known for its seamstresses, but Shanghai is more famous for it.
Also, on the Yangzi River cruise we took, we met a Belgian couple who live in Shanghai and gave us their tailor’s card. What did we have to lose?
And as I discovered one day, peering over her shoulder, she was clipping men’s suits as well. “What’s that?” I asked.
“For you,” she replied, and went back to her clippings. I don’t mind wearing a suit when I have to, and when she pointed out that it would be cheaper to buy it on the road than in the States, there wasn’t much else to say. Arguing was out of the question, no matter how many comic books or novels or DVDs that money could otherwise be spent on. I was getting clothes made.
We made it to the Shanghai South Bund Soft-Spinning Material Market late in the day on Monday, and zipped to stall number 196. Amy, the proprietor, spoke excellent English, and gave us a big smile and a big discount when we mentioned our friend from the cruise.
The process was painless. The FMA picked out two kinds of dark, pinstriped material for me, as well as some soft cottony stuff for my shirts. Yes – shirts, plural. Both suit and shirts were lightweight, which was my only requirement, since I tend to sweat like a pig at the barest mention of wool. She handed over a Paul Smith design for a single-breasted suit and then they took my measurements.
In the end, she chose for me one wool-silk suit and one pure wool suit, and I got five French-cuff fitted shirts, which means I need to find some cufflinks. Mao cufflinks, perhaps. All for much less than it would cost to get one of those suits off the rack.
It took the FMA a bit longer, since her designs were more complicated and she wanted to find suitable material. I didn’t really understand much of it, but said it looked nice when it did and said it didn’t when it didn’t. She probably didn’t need me there for any of it.
She got a Chanel suit made out of 100 percent wool Chanel fabric, a 100 percent cashmere Ralph Lauren-style waist-length coat, two pairs of wool-silk blend pants, a Dior 2007 “Resort Wear Collection” silk dress whatever that means, and a 2006 Spring chiffon Missoni. All that barely cost more than my suits and shirts.
If you live on the west coast of America or Canada, it’s probably cheaper to buy an off-season plane ticket and stay in a mid-range Shanghai hotel for a week while your clothes are getting made than to buy them off the rack at home. What an amazing place this is.