Are top tailors worth the extra expense or are you better off at the fabric market? Time Out gets measured up for dress shirts at budget fabric markets, mid range bespoke boutiques and high-end tailors around Shanghai to find out.
Jennifer, South Bund Fabric Market
Price 160RMB without bargaining
The South Bund Fabric Market can be a minefield of dodgy dealers, argumentative shop owners and ripoff merchants. Jennifer is one of the better options we’ve found among the bewildering bustle of this go-to tailoring hub. She offers a good range of 100 per cent cotton fabrics and a handful of patterns not found at other outlets, though there’s still a lingering suspicion that all the shops here are using the exact same material. We opt for a petrol blue and white spots number, which set us back 160RMB.
We’re measured quickly but gently and Jennifer pulls out a box of collars and cuffs to show us various styles. When we tell her we want something casual, but still well-fitted, she nods in understanding, adjusts the measurements slightly and picks out the styles she thinks will work, which we agree with. The whole process is over in less than 15 minutes. Turn around time is a week and when we return to the market we’re offered a dingy side room near the toilets to try on our purchase.
The shirt fits really well, with the balance between fitting and casual that we requested. There’s the odd loose thread and a few chalk marks, but nothing major and we’re generally very happy with the result. Jennifer gives us the original measurement sheet as we leave, ‘for next time’, and we will be back.
Jazz Shirt Tailor Made, Shiliupu Lu Fabric Market
Price 160RMB, bargained down from 200RMB
The ‘other’ fabric market, just east of Yu Garden, has four floors of fabrics with a selection of denims, leather, velvet and suede that bests the South Bund fabric market. Shiliupu also has several stalls with quality shirt fabrics, and there are fewer tourists and the disreputable tailors that they attract.
We like the wide selection of pure cotton fabrics at Jazz Shirt Tailor Made. Shirts made from most of the materials start at 130RMB, though the asking price from one rack, where we found a strawberry milkshake shade with a diagonal weave, is 200RMB. That’s embarrassingly high for a fabric market shirt, and we bargain hard just to get the price down to 160RMB.
The shopkeeper, Zhang Xijie, measures us up by herself and offers some stylistic advice – ‘It’s better without a pocket; ask your girlfriend’. She says a fitting won’t be necessary (though she says she will fix any mistakes) and, blaming Golden Week, asks for an exorbitant ten days to turn the shirt around. On the day it should be available for pick up, we call before leaving and we’re told we’ll have to wait until the afternoon – news to us. Despite the hassle, the shirt turns out great. The semi-spread collar and curved cuffs are as we requested, the fit is good, the stitching is robust and even the buttons are better quality than we anticipated.
Price 500RMB, bargained down from 650RMB
There’s a strip of mid-priced tailors along Maoming Lu between Huaihai Lu and Changle Lu, with many offering three shirts for 800RMB, and two to three suit sets with shirts and ties they turn around in two days for 4 6,000RMB. These guys are mostly from Hong Kong, from where they say they source most of their fabrics. These shops are much more relaxed and better staffed than stalls in the fabric market. There’s more space to look at fabrics, the tailors make more of an effort to help you find what you’re looking for, and they have someone else to write down numbers when you get measured up.
At Eleganza Uomo, we’re shown a wide selection of cuffs and collars and offered monogramming at no extra expense. While there’s a good selection of fabrics in the shop, the tailor, Raymond Kiang, says the grey herringbone we like needs to be ordered from Hong Kong, and so makes an appointment for a fitting six days later. At the fitting, the fabric we chose forms the body, with the cuffs and collar mocked up in muslin. Instead of having to guess at and then argue for changes, as is usually the case at the fabric markets, Kiang calmly suggests sensible changes, narrowing the neck and waist.
When we go to pick up the shirt it looks fantastic, except for the sleeves, which are too long and have the wrong cuffs. The sleeves are immediately pinned up and we’re told we can come back to pick up the final shirt 2-3 days later. Great service, great shirt.
The ‘modern’ part of Modern Tailor is that you can ostensibly get the perfect shirt (or suit) made from behind your computer screen. Based in Shanghai and available in English, French and Chinese, the whole process is completed online, so you don’t have to come into contact with another human being if you don’t want to. Modern Tailor offers over 2,000 different shirt materials to choose from, ranging from a pure cotton white Oxford to striped flannel.
The huge selection is easily navigable thanks to a range of filters, including price, colour, pattern and thread count. Prices start from 19.95USD (125RMB) and rise to 189.95USD (1,188RMB), though most hover around 50USD (344RMB). We opt for a light grey Oxford at 59.95USD (375RMB) and wade through the large range of collars, cuffs and buttons available, before submitting our measurements, following the site’s recommendation to take them from a shirt (we use the fabric market one we’re satisfied with) rather than our person.
Once our order is submitted and paid for through Google checkout (they also accept Paypal, Visa, Mastercard and American Express), we receive a confirmation email telling us that our shirt will be with us in three weeks. Perhaps spoilt by the quick turnarounds of the fabric markets, we’re a bit shocked by this wait and request the expedited service, which promises delivery within eight days. As this option wasn’t available when we ordered, we have to email the helpdesk and authorise a separate payment.
When our shirt arrives exactly eight days later, we’re disappointed to find that the grey is actually silver and the cuffs are far too big. After an email exchange, they offer to take in our cuffs (for 10USD), but this involves returning the shirt (another 5USD) and even with these alterations, we’re still not keen on the silver. They point out that it is possible to buy a Modern Tailor fabric swatch book, together with a tape measure and three 10USD vouchers, for 25USD (156RMB) to avoid future fabric let downs. The shirt is good quality and it’s not a bad service, but overall we’re more satisfied with the fabric market.
Dave's Custom Tailoring
Dave isn’t in when we visit his beautiful shop on the ground floor of an old French Concession villa. His assistant tells us he’s in Shenzhen, visiting the factory where his wares are produced. There are some wonderful fabrics here, soft with a high thread count, though many are in noisy banker stripes and plaids. Over half the fabrics are by Thomas Mason, costing 1,200RMB/shirt.
There’s little attempt to help us find the fabric we want, though, and we aren’t offered stylistic advice, monogramming, or even asked what pocket shape we want. We’re told a fitting won’t be necessary and that we can pick the shirt up after seven days. When we do, the result is middling.
We backed Dave to do the difficult – make us a black shirt that doesn’t look too slick – but the result is a little glossier and somewhat slimmer than we were looking for. The tailor says to wear it for a bit and if we’re still unhappy he’ll happily let out the darts in the back.
WW Chan & Sons, with one branch at the Portman Ritz-Carlton and one in a new spot on Maoming Nan Lu, is one of the few Shanghai tailors that can claim a direct lineage to the ‘Red Gang’ of tailors who mixed Chinese, Russian and British influences during the city’s concession era. Although he didn’t establish his own service until 1952, Chan was schooled in the Red Gang ways from a young age.
Hoping to join the ‘exclusive niche of elegant men’ that WW Chan & Sons claim to have served over the years, we’re a little disappointed to find someone snoozing behind the counter when we enter their Maoming Lu shop. Another member of staff greets us brightly, however, and after enquiring what we’re after, shows us the various fabrics on display – a medium-sized range of pastel shades and patterns. Shirt-wise, you can pay 800RMB for Turkish or Xinjiang cotton (which mostly seem to carry labels from the recently closed Sam’s Tailors) or 1,200RMB for Italian. Regardless, it’s buy-two-get-one-free.
Given the heritage, not to mention the price tag, we decide to go for something timeless in the hope we’ll get more wear out of it: a classic light blue dress shirt. The shop assistant comprehensively fails to find the colour we’re after among the cheaper fabrics and even when she gets close to our desired shade, the cheaper fabrics she pulls out naturally aren’t as easy on the eye or to the touch. We find a Turkish cotton that we’re happy with and she reluctantly talks us through the cuff and collar options before we’re quickly measured.
Having paid our deposit (400RMB), we’re told to come back for a fitting in three days’ time and that the shirt will be ready two days after that. Our fitting is a much more pleasant experience, mainly thanks to Eric, an assistant who wasn’t on hand first time round. His advice and suggested tweaks to the fit of the shirt are spot on, so that when we come to pick up the finished result (eventually ready two days later than we were told), we’re satisfied with our purchase. If you’re after a quality dress shirt, then WW Chan & Sons is a good, if pricey option. Just be sure to ask for Eric.