After sorting out your drop-dead gorgeous wedding gowns and your groom's dashing suit comes the next important step; making sure your zany entourage of bridesmaids and ushers look just as fantastic. In case you're getting clammy palms about spending a bomb on matching outfits for your bridal party (particularly if you've got lots of people to dress), one budget-friendly solution is a hop and skip across the ocean in Vietnam.
Vietnam is famous for its talented local tailors who can easily custom-make evening wear, cocktail dresses, suits and more for a fraction of the price. The best places to visit, which are crammed with tailoring boutiques, are the beautiful heritage town of Hoi An and the bustling capital city of Ho Chi Minh.
If you choose to go down this unique, cost-effective route, bear in mind that you've got to be prepared, and hit Vietnam's shores with a clear vision of the wedding outfits. To help brides-to-be create an action plan, we asked experts Natasha Scanlon and Vicky Briggs – the founders of online wedding attire store Matchimony, which creates oh-so-stylish made-to-measure dresses and suits using tailors in Vietnam – to share their top tips.
What do you need to prepare and take with you to Vietnam?
Take as many pictures of samples as possible, or bring along an actual dress to copy. If you're making do with pictures, make sure you print them out so that the tailor can keep them. Think through each of the fine details of the design, sketch them out if you can't find an exact example. What type of fastening will you have and where will it be located? Do you want padding in the top of the dress? How will the hems look? We went through a large number of prototypes before finalising Matchimony's dress designs. A bridesmaid dress needs to be practical and comfortable, as well as stylish, which can be hard to balance!
How long do you need to be in Vietnam for?
Many of the tailors in Vietnam promise to turn around items in one to two days, but this usually means they're rushed and may need to be sent back if there are issues. You should allow five days to find a tailor, locate your desired fabric, experiment with a prototype and approve all of the final designs. If you can, do two trips; that way, you can have one dress made on your first visit, take it home to show your bridesmaids, and then get the rest made when you return. Tip: if you get the dresses made in two stints, buy the material in bulk to avoid any risk of mismatching if the tailor runs out (or be prepared to have the first one remade). The material stocked at the tailoring shops is always changing, so bear that in mind.
Who should we take along for the trip?
Ideally, you'd be able to take along your entire bridal party so that the clothing can be made to measure. This will probably not be practical, unless you want to combine it with the hen and stag dos! Otherwise, be sure to take precise measurements of everyone, particularly the girls. You can even take a snap of your desired design to a seamstress at home, and ask them to show you which measurements will be the most important. Measurements should be taken in centimetres as inches aren't accurate enough. If you're going to try doing everything in one weekend, go with your fiancé so that you can buy both male and female attire to match. If you can do two visits, have a girls' weekend with your bridesmaids and then go back with your man to sort out his crew.
What should we look for and ask when choosing a tailor?
When Natasha and I came up with the idea for Matchimony, we thought that actually designing the dressses and sourcing for a tailor and fabric would be easy. Natasha lives in Ho Chi Minh City, known for its amazing tailors and beautifully-made silks, plus we knew exactly what we wanted. As it turned out, choosing a tailor was the most difficult part of setting up the business! For us, asking about the ethical side of the business was extremely important. Lots of tailors have shops, but the items are actually made in sweatshops, using cheap labour. It's worth asking for pictures of where their items are made, plus who will actually be producing the items.
To check for quality, ask for pictures or physical examples of their past work. You can also hit a travel or Facebook forum and ask for recommendations based on where you'll be getting the wedding outfits made. If you bulk buy everything straight up, rather than playing with a prototype, bear in mind that many tailors will force you to pay up to 50 percent for items upfront – so make sure you're happy with the quality! With that said, a lot of tailors will fix anything that you don't like - if the zip is the wrong colour, the hem is too long, etc.
How can we choose the best materials?
There are two ways to choose your fabric. The first is to visit a fabric market and buy them first, and then find a tailor. The second is to get the tailor to provide fabric. Both will cost roughly the same, although you have to be very careful that the tailor uses the agreed upon fabric for the designs. There have been cases where the final items were of a different fabric to high-quality samples in the shop! If you're particular about a certain colour, choosing a fabric will be slightly more difficult. In Vietnam, bright colours are very popular, but looking for lighter shades can be problematic. Very light colours often vary in tones considerably, so you'll need to buy reams in bulk to guarantee a colour and quality match.
Another tip; make sure the fabric you choose is flattering for all your bridesmaids. Silks are beautiful but will show every lump and bump! Silks are also made in shorter lengths in Vietnam, so you'll need to keep this in mind when designing your dresses.
How much can we expect to pay, and can we haggle for a better price?
Your bridesmaids dresses and menswear will be far cheaper in Vietnam than most other countries, which is amazing when you think about the fact that they're made to measure. Therefore, price shouldn't be the first thing you ask the tailor about (they won't give you a number until you choose the material and explain the design, anyway). Once you've decided on the fabric and style, you can start negotiating on the price – the more you buy, the more you can negotiate. The best way to haggle is to bulk buy, and reduce the final price by around 15-20 per cent. Dresses typically range from US$40 for something really simple in affordable material to US$150 if you want something complex in expensive fabric.
Any final tips?
Be careful with choosing an unusually-coloured bridesmaid dress. If you want the whole bridal party to match, it can be hard to find the exact shades you need. And if you don't want to spend hours walking around department stores while carrying fabric samples when you get home, remember to ask the tailor to also make your ties, cravats, waistcoats, and other extras while you're there.
Thank you, ladies! For brides who don't fancy the challenge of hitting the streets of Vietnam - or simply don't have the time of budget for the holiday - Vicky and Tash's company is all about doing the hard work for you, but with the same inexpensive, made-to-measure results. Check out their wedding attire site Matchimony, which is packed with stylish, versatile outfits in an array of colours for the whole bridal party. Want to find out more? Get in touch with them at firstname.lastname@example.org.