The Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market
A guide to buying a custom made Suit, Winter Coat, Shirts, Jeans, Khakis, and Scarves.
Yes I may have a shopping disease. However it is easier to cope with that then food poisoning. Over the last several months I have bought several things: a few shirts, khakis, jeans, scarves, a winter coat and a custom made suit at the Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market.
The Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market is the go-to place to buy custom made clothes such as: suits, shirts, jeans, pants, blazers, coats, scarves, leather jackets, belts, etc. There are over a hundred stalls selling generally the same type of clothes. The designs of the jackets are very similar but they are quite good material. Essentially you are paying for a good fit and decent fabric. I will go into detail about what to look for when buying certain items. Furthermore I will elaborate on bargaining tips for the South Bund Fabric Market. Let’s start with the basics.
The South Bund Fabric Market is a 3 minute walk from Nanpu Bridge Line 4, Exit 3. It is probably the best place for affordable custom made clothes. I had a friend who went to the fake market by the Science and Technology Museum and his suit was a bit too polyester for my taste. It was cheaper by a hundred RMB, but it is better to pay a bit more and get something you really like and feel confident inside. A good fit will make you feel more confident and possibly get a few more compliments.
When you first arrive at the market you should know there are three floors of stalls selling the exact same stuff and every shop lady and man will ask you if you want a scarf, suit, jacket, or their second born child. It will be overwhelming with choices and it will be hard to look at items without being harassed by people selling. Just look quick and keep moving on. Actually better yet have a solid idea of what you want before you come to the Fabric Market. I am talking about having pictures ready to go on your phone or the actual piece of clothing that you would like to be copied and made. The three floors can be daunting but my advice is head straight to the escalators and go to the very top on the third floor. Then work your way down. General knowledge says the third floor is cheaper then level 1&2. However it all depends on what you are getting and your bargaining skills.
Everything is from Italy or England and is 100% silk, 100% cashmere or 85%wool and 15% cashmere. No just kidding. My best educated guess is most of the fabric is from China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and/or Thailand. Every shop will have signs or they will tell you that it is handmade only from the finest qualities. I actually have no idea if any of it is true, I think not. That does not mean it is bad quality on the contrary you can find many good things and get good clothes that make you feel confident and sharp. Just remember stay as far away as possible from polyester and make sure you they measure you right. When asking for anything custom made, tell them SEVERAL times if you want it loose fitting, thin fitting, semi thin fitting, super tight, or any other option I haven’t listed. They may think you are crazy saying how you want it to fit your body over and over again but you will appreciate it when you pick up the final product.
Haggling for custom made clothes at the Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market.
I am pretty positive you have read many guides on bargaining in China or elsewhere, although to my knowledge bargaining with people who make your clothes is kind of like bargaining with your butcher, there are slightly different rules to the game of bargaining. We will start with the basics of general knowledge then get slightly more specific.
- First lets start with items at the Fabric Market that are not custom made: belts, scarves, underwear, gloves, ties, cufflinks, etc. When you briefly look for a quick second or accidentally look at their section the salesperson will ask if you need any of the items; it is like when you look up to sky and you accidentally look at the sun, you will get burned. Now let’s say you want to buy underwear, they will first ask how many items of underwear you want before telling you the price. Now let’s say you want two or three items. Do not say you want two or three, just be persistent on asking the single unit price of the particular item. This will give you a better idea of how much one item should cost (THIS DOES NOT RELATE TO SCARVES). Then with the power of mental math you can bargain for a better price when you enter into the equation that you want more than one. Generally speaking underwear should cost you 10-25 RMB depending on how many items you are buying. Also guys, who are deciding that they want underwear, remember the underwear may be a knock off of Calvin Klein but they are not American or European sizes. Their Chinese. Furthermore they shrink when you throw them into the dryer, so always go a size up. I generally get medium for American underwear. I bought the medium size and threw them into the wash & dryer. I now use the underwear for either a rag or whenever I feel like cutting off circulation to my nether regions.
- Be cordial to the person making your suit they have the power of making you looking like a 6 or a 9.
- When bargaining for a Suit or a Coat, you can move the price down but remember sometimes that 50 or 100 RMB that you want off may perhaps bring the quality slightly down (Maybe I am just a weak bargainer). It depends on how old you are and how aggressive the shop keepers are that day.
- Don’t go in the mornings you may think your beating the crowds or getting it out of the way, but you are setting yourself up for constant smothering and very tough negotiations. The culture norms dictate that the first sale of the day will be the general guide for all the sales that happen during that day. Meaning the shopkeeper will be bargain really hard to get the best price out of you, thus ripping you off.
- Go late morning to late afternoon. I have never tried this but they may want to sell faster if it is right before lunch because they are starving and want to make a sale so they can eat lunch. So you just may have an advantage but I actually have no evidence to back that claim. So I will leave that one up to you.
- Ask quickly on how much a scarf costs, there are different sizes of scarves and various colors. Then quickly move to another area where they sell scarves (not right next door, that’s just rude) and ask the price. You will be surprised with the price differences. For example, I was purchasing a big square scarf to hang on my wall, the first shop lady I asked for 120 RMB for a big scarf. So I thanked her and walked to another area. I then asked another lady how much a big scarf was (It was the same exact scarf) she said 280 RMB. From 120 RMB to 280 RMB in a matter of stalls on the same floor. Eventually I got it down to 160 RMB for two big scarves. But that took a while and lot of attempts to walking away. I think she was a bouncer in her past life. I could not escape.
- I think there are only one to three stores that sell cufflinks. I only bought one pair but they should be in the price range of 20-40 RMB.
- I never bought a tie at the fabric market but just follow the same principal as the scarves.
- If you get the price you want while negotiating you should pay, don’t make the shopkeepers lose face.
- It is ok to look, barter a bit (not too long, and don’t be aggressive if you are not planning on buying) and walk away, they will make you feel bad for it but just remember the Chinese people on the whole have survived a lot worst through out history. They are probably the most resilient people on this Earth.
- Have fun at bargaining, treat it as a game or like playing poker, you may get great deal or not and if you feel cheated, drink some Bai Jiu 白酒. Rice Wine.
Buying pants at the South Bund Fabric Market is quite simple, bring a pair of jeans or khakis you like and ask them to copy it for you or could just ask them to design it. I have bought khakis and jeans and I have to admit they are good material however it is not a great fit. I was a tad disappointed on the outcome of the pants but you cannot win it all. I got khakis and jeans at the same time for 150 RMB each. I bet you could go lower but that gives you a decent idea on how much it should cost. Overall if you want work jeans then I recommend buying a pair.
A winter coat is not for the purpose of staying exceptionally warm but it is more for the purpose of looking good in the winter with your suit on. I got a traditional mandarin winter coat and I must admit I really do love it. It looks great, it is comfortable, and I can wear with jeans if I want to. I highly recommend getting one. The coat cost 600 RMB at Stall 389. I recommend stall 389 for Men’s suits and coats. The people who work there are fluent in English and very nice. The coat and suit tend to be on the tighter fitting side but it fits to the body like a glove. Also the fabrics are nice and they give you a decent price for high quality clothing.
Buying shirts can be serious fun, there are a plethora of options and combinations. There is only one place to go to and that is MIKE’s stall 244. His shirts fit perfectly and are the highest quality of cotton. It is generally pleasant going there because they are not overly pushy when you are looking at different clothes; they give you space and time to think about your choices. If you buy more than one shirt, which I highly recommend, you obviously get a better deal. I paid 120 RMB, in my opinion is a great deal for the quality you are buying. To be fair I have not bought shirts elsewhere but from what I hear that is the standard price. Also average time is one week but if need be you can probably get it faster.
Choosing a collar I would advice to get one button down collar and one that is not button down (there are various styles). The button down one is nice because it will always remain tight around the neck. The non-button down collar after prolong use, eventually lose its ability to stay tight around the neck. Since the fashion trend seems to be going in the direction of not wearing ties, it gets annoying when collars look loose when wearing the shirt. Another reason to buy multiple shirts from Stall 244.
Buying a custom made suit is not as hard as one thinks. There are limited options on what to do with a suit and that is a good thing. This is a not a bespoke process so there are not as many various combinations you can choose from. I recommend keeping the suits simple, if you ask for too much customization the tailor may not do their best work because of too many factors. Custom made suits from the South Bund Fabric Market range from 700-950 RMB, depending on the fabric, size, age and which stall (Certain fabrics like 100% wool drives the price way up to a couple of thousand RMB). I bought mine from stall 389, they get it right the first time. I think the suit looks good and fits me perfectly. It is more on the tight side but there is room to breath, I feel suave, and most importantly it is still comfortable when you sit down, if you catch my meaning. Here are my general guidelines on buying a custom made suit:
- Stick to the styles they have on display. The tailors are best at doing those particular styles and it will look the best.
- Do not get sleeves that open. There is no real reason why you need that and it probably won’t look that good.
- Avoid polyester; it makes the suit or shirt look cheap.
- Take your time when choosing a certain cloth/color.
- Get two buttons and not one or three buttons.
- When choosing a color of your suit, try to think of possible shirt combinations that can go with the suit. Meaning don’t get a bright green suit, it will look just off.
- Set your expectations at a reasonable level.
- Do not suck in your gut, this is not the time to show off your body. The measurements will be off if you do.
- Be careful when buying a three-piece suit, the vest can make or break the entire look of the suit. I believe it may be better to stick with a two-piece suit; there are less variables in the equation.
- Enjoy yourself
Hopefully this guide helps your decision making process at the South Bund Fabric Market.