I spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in March 2001. Apparently, The Thing to do whilst in one of the larger Vietnam cities is to have clothing made at a tailor. There are tailor shops all over the place, and you just have to pick one that has fabric you like, and take the plunge. Or not take the plunge - follow along with me.
I found a great shop, wandered inside, and began picking through various gorgeous fabrics, trying to find one that would make the perfect dress. We were having an "event" on the big ship we were sailing on, and it required a dress.
I found a beautiful silver silk fabric with a sort of black Asian plants pattern (fronds and such), and decided that would be The Dress. The little Vietnamese tailor-ladies in the shop then ushured me over to several large, flopping books full of patterns for the dress type. This was much more fun than when I was 7, and my mom made me go to Jo-Ann Fabrics with her and look through all those musty Butterick books, surrounded by suffocating rows and rows of ribbon, buttons, and rounders with lace, and blah blah. This shop was just so much more elegant, intimate, and exotic. I was fancy-shopping in Vietnam.
The pattern I selected was fairly basic - mid-calf length column dress; close-fitted to the body, with thin shoulder straps. Easy, right? Yes. Easy until you get to the part where you have to explain to the little Vietnamese tailor-ladies where you want the neckline of the dress to fall.
I was pointing to a spot a couple of inches south of my sternum - nothing racy, as I am devoid of cleavage, but I wasn't going to be wearing the dress to church either. I would point to that spot and say "here", and then the two little Vietnamese tailor-ladies would look at me, shake their heads, and point their fingers 3 inches higher, at collarbone level and say "No - HERE". So I would point my finger back down 3 inches and say "Um, I'd like it HERE". And then they would do more of the vehement head-shaking and move the pointed finger back up to my collarbone and say "HERE". We went through this 3 times, before the little Vietnamese tailor-ladies stepped back, nodded and said "Okay, okay". I was happy to leave the shop as I was beginning to feel a bit like a hussy. Slutty Americans.
I returned to the shop 4 days later, and the dress was ready and waiting for me, hanging on a small rack next to the cashier's desk. It looked fantastic! It was bizarre to me to have chosen my very own fabric, and then see it turned into a dress - I realize this is what people who sew DO, but since I don't sew, it was like magic. I stepped behind a heavy velvet curtain into the small dressing room and tried the dress on to make sure it fit.
And the neckline was right there. Up at my collarbone.
Well, last year I finally showed those little Vietnamese tailor-ladies. I had my friend Sally turn it into a strapless dress. Neener neener neener.
Ed. note: the dress cost $27 - crazy! If you're in Vietnam, definitely have something made for yourself. If you ask nicely, Sally will alter it when you get back. And you can be slutty wherever you want.