Saturday, August 6, 2022

Adventures in the Cloth Market of Hoi An

As briefly alluded to in my last post, the entire purpose of my current sojourn to Vietnam is single fold: to obtain a custom wardrobe for my future travels through hot and tropical areas. Specifically, I wanted items that would fit several criteria:

  • Able to stand up to constant sweat
  • Somewhat modest (i.e. knee length or longer, shoulders covered, no cleavage)
  • Still cute and stylish
  • Blue, green, blue-green, teal, or black/grey/white 
The first requirement is fairly straightforward, I would think. Being of almost exclusively northern European ancestry, and growing up in Seattle, my body is not designed for 90 degree nights and 100% humidity. I start melting pretty much straight away. I am looking for things that won't just immediately become a giant sweat stain, or start to smell immediately. 

The second requirement, particularly in combination with the third, is what really sent me looking for some custom-built pieces. I can buy things to wear in extreme heat in the US, but it generally involves spaghetti straps, plunging necklines, short hemlines or slits up to there, etc. I'm finding that most of the countries and areas I go to with tropical weather have more conservative cultures. Sure, they've gotten used to tourists prancing around in bikinis, but it's still appropriate (and yields fewer creepy guys) to be a little more covered up. Different areas have different norms surrounding precisely what parts of the body should be covered, but generally speaking I was aiming for items that would reliably cover my shoulders, thighs, and chest. But still look cute and fashionable and be something I am excited to wear - over and over and over again. 

The final requirement - the color scheme - is one I strictly stick to in order to stick to a single carry-on bag rather than checking luggage. Every single item, from my shoes to my head, needs to be able to coordinate with every other item. Basically, anything on the spectrum from blue to green, or white, black, or grey. Jewelry is also strictly silver. 

In anticipation of this, I literally only packed three items of proper clothing as I set off to the other side of the world for two months: a pair of capris (grey) and two shirts (sage green t-shirt, emerald green t-shirt/blouse). Plus my sun shirt, which I consider more of an accessory than actual clothing item. It goes over whatever I am wearing. 

My first full day in Vietnam, I waited until the worst of the UV was over (so, down to 8 instead of 11, basically) and started to wander in the general direction of the cloth market, which I understood to be the place to get my clothing made. I figured I would get the lay of the land, maybe poke around and see what fabrics I liked, find the store I had seen recommended on a blog, etc. 

Instead, I got about half a block away from my hotel and was immediately outclassed by the sales ladies. My GOD those women are a force of nature. I managed to walk away from the first one (Flower), but found myself swept down a winding maze of tailors shops by the next one and ended up a custom shoe stall. I wasn't even intending to get shoes! I now have two pairs of custom walking sandals. While I'm sitting there, having bottle after bottle of cold water pressed into my hands by about five different people, Flower, the lady who first found me outside comes by, spots me, and waits until I'm done with the shoe lady to snatch me up and whisk me away to her tailor shop. I'm plunked down, immediately given another bottle of water, and given book after book of designs. Now, I did intend to buy clothes, so I settled into this one a lot easier, and told them about what I was looking for, and we ended up selecting a few designs and making modifications so that they would fit my requirements and be something I was excited to wear. They took me around to different stacks of cloth to choose my fabric for each item, took exhaustive measurements, and that should have been the day.

Except another lady, Ahn, came and grabbed me as soon as the tailors turned me loose, and dragged me off to her souvenir shop. I did a better job of turning down what I truly didn't want, but still ended up with a few more trinkets and knick-knacks than I intended. I'm probably going to leave some of it behind in my hotel room. And as I'm trying to make my escape from Ahn, she grabs my hands and decides I should get a manicure. And... dang it, I do want a manicure. Which somehow escalates into my being pushed into a chair in an empty luggage stall with yet another lady threading my eyebrows. She did an excellent job, but the brief terror as I felt her zipping around my eyebrows without so much as a by-your-leave was startling. Then she reached down, rubbed my legs, decided they were "too hairy" (this barely a week after having them waxed, mind you), and proceeded to thread my legs for the next half hour, while her daughter in law pulled up on a scooter with her manicure kit and started doing my nails. 

I finally made my escape after promising to get a pedicure when I came back for my fittings the next day. And I did indeed get my pedicure - the lady sat me down in a chair, and then whipped out an honest-to-god straight razor are spent an hour shaving off every last callus. She did a great job, my feet are still nice a smooth over a week later, but it was intense, to say the least. 

And I got my clothes! These are the two I am wearing the most often thus far:

We added small cap sleeves to cover the shoulder, and a higher neckline. This is me after two hours of walking in 110+ weather and sky high humidity, and it still looks fresh and lovely!

A light floaty fabric that is a dream in this kind of humidity. Higher neckline, and nice sun-blocking long sleeves 

I also ended up with a maxi dress (blue and white stripes), and a pair of green capris, that in particular go perfectly with one of the shirts I brought. And another dress that has no business being in my bag on a trip through weather like this, it was just a really fun design and I found the perfect teal fabric and went nuts and got it. 

I'm going to kind of end this post here with a thud, because I've gone on to have a few more Vietnam adventures and now I'm in Bali, and I don't want to get too behind! I really do want to properly keep up this blog again. See you in the next one!

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