China Couture: Having Clothes Made in Shanghai

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Shopping in Shanghai can be surprisingly limited for those with a mid-range budget and Western tastes and sizes. Chinese boutiques are plentiful but are often stocked with a dizzying array of animal prints and sequins, not to mention the petite non-Western sizes. High-end global brands such as Prada and Gucci are well-represented and the city boasts several glitzy shopping malls frequented by the upper echelons of society. For the rest of us, there’s Gap, H&M and Zara. But why pay US$50 for a generic Gap dress when you can have something created in the style and fabric of your choice, for a fraction of the cost? Having clothes custom made on the cheap was one of the greatest perks of living in Shanghai.

Whenever I wanted some China couture, I followed the trail blazed by countless expats before me to the South Bund Fabric Market, officially called the South Bund Soft Spinning Material Market.

South Bund Fabric Market

The market consists of hundreds of stalls spread over three floors selling every kind of fabric you can imagine: silk, cotton, lace, polyester, velvet, leather, faux fur … you name it, they’re selling it. Each stall specializes in a narrow niche of fabric and styles, which are advertised by the garments hanging outside their individual entrances. Linen pants and tunics, imitation Chanel tweed jackets, wool suits and jersey dresses are just a sampling of the items you can have custom made. Scarves, ties and table linens are also available for purchase.

Fabric Market Stall 337

Note stall 337 on the left – this is one of my favorites.

Fabric Market Stall 344

Beware stall 344. While they have a great selection of fabric and styles, I was disappointed by the workmanship and higher-than-average prices.


The market is also a terrific place to find replacement buttons!

Browsing the many stalls can be overwhelming at first, especially with the shop girls calling out as you pass by. If you have time, I recommend doing simple reconnaissance on your first visit, seeing what’s available and identifying the stalls you have the most interest in. Take a business card so you can find it again later. If you are quoted any prices, note them on the card. Be prepared to haggle once you are ready to have your garment made. You’ll get a better deal if you order in bulk or frequently return to the same stall. Everyone loves a repeat customer!

I knew I was going to travel throughout Southeast Asia, so lightweight and easy-to-pack dresses were my first order of business.

Thailand Dress

Halong Bay Cruise Dress

Have them made
Stall: 337 on the third floor (while many specialize in stretchy poly-blend dresses, this stall did the best work of any I tried)
Cost: 225 RMB per dress (about US$37 - this will vary based on your size and the amount of fabric needed)


For running errands in Shanghai and long travel days, I preferred the easy comfort of cotton tunics over leggings. I had six or seven made, and while I kept the style the same, I mixed them up with colorful fabrics and different necklines.

Shanghai Tunic


Have them made
Stall: 238 on the second floor
Cost: 150 RMB per tunic (about US$25 - perhaps the result of repeat orders and expert bargaining)


Sometimes the need for something a little more refined would arise, like a baby shower or garden party. For such occasions I relied on my sweet little lawn cotton dresses. Fully-lined with short sleeves and a-line skirts, they are lady-like while still being fun. Best of all, the material was light and breathable for those stifling summer days. I received a lot of compliments on these dresses and regret not having a few more made!


Have them made
Stall: 217 on the second floor
Cost: 280 RMB per fully-lined dress with hidden side zipper (about US$46)


For my sister-in-law’s summer wedding, I wanted something really special. I searched the stalls for just the right fabric, finally settling on light-weight ice-blue silk with an elegant floral pattern. I went with a modern take on a qipao – also called a cheongsam – which is a slim-fitting gown popularized by wealthy Shanghainese women in the 1920s.


Have it made
Stall: 224 on the second floor
Cost: 450 RMB per fully-lined dress (about US$74 - the stall owner won't bargain but this price is significantly lower than those quoted by his competitors)


When I needed new jeans, I took my favorite pair to the so-called “denim lady” and asked her to make me a new one. They fit just right and no one can tell they aren’t from Banana Republic!

Have them made
Stall: 340 on the third floor
Cost: 160 RMB per pair (about US$26)


My mom and I took advantage of off-season discounts to buy new trench coats. I seem to have lost the receipt in the move, so I can’t tell you the specific stall number, but the photo of the shop below will hopefully direct you to the right place. I believe we paid 300 RMB each, or US$50, though it could have been a little less. We did some serious haggling!

Trench coats

Notice the coordinating scarves – also purchased at the market!


Know before you go: After selecting fabric and style, the shopkeeper will take your measurements and note them on a slip of paper. You will be asked to pay a portion of the cost up front, sometimes as much as half the total; the remainder will be due when you pick up the garment. These are generally cash-only operations. Items usually will be ready one week after you order them, though you could probably have it rushed if you’re willing to pay for the privilege. You will be able to try them on and have additional alterations made if needed.

Another popular thing to do is to take in a beloved item from your own closet and have a copy made in a new color. Some tailors can recreate an item from a magazine or photo alone, but I was told they do their best work when they have something tangible they can copy. I had mixed results with this, though the flops were generally due to poor fabric choice on my part.

Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market
Address: 399 Lujiabang Lu, Huangpu, Shanghai, China
Getting there: The nearest metro station is Nanpu Bridge on line 4. Take exit 3 from the station and turn left at the top of the stairs, following the bridge left along Lujiabang Lu. If taking a taxi, it helps to show the driver a card from one of the stalls.
Hours: 9:00am – 6:00pm; many vendors start closing up shop at 5:30pm.


Have you ever had clothes custom made?

28 thoughts on “China Couture: Having Clothes Made in Shanghai

  1. Love, love that last dress you wore to the wedding! I remember when I was little, my parents brought me home something similar from a trip I didn’t get to go on. I actually wore it in my cousin’s wedding!
    Jennifer recently posted…The Long Neck Karen Hill TribeMy Profile

    • Thanks so much! I was a little nervous to wear such an unconventional dress to my SIL’s wedding, but the family loved it! I just hope I have another opportunity to wear it! What color was your dress? That’s a nice consolation prize for not getting to go along on the trip!

    • I usually go to the store with something very specific in mind and can never find it. It was so fun to be able to create just what I wanted! Of course, I brought home some flops, too. But the process was half the fun!

    • My husband probably wishes I had been biking through Shanghai rather than living there for two years! When he saw this post he was a little surprised by how much stuff I had made. But it was just so much fun! 🙂

  2. I don’t know why I always forget about having custom clothes made in Asia… I guess because to do so back home would just be so expensive. But you’re right that when you compare the prices for a completely bespoke item with what you can find (that will fit you) in the stores, you will likely save money by getting things tailormade specifically for you. Love all the pieces you had made in Shanghai, and what a great souvenir of your time there!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Chewing the Fat with Ways of Wanderers!My Profile

  3. I LOVE having clothes tailored made. That’s the #1 thing on my to do list everytime I come back home to Indonesia. The trench coats look amazing and you can’t beat the price, really.
    jill recently posted…Favorite Things TbilisiMy Profile

  4. We weren’t in Shanghai long enough last year and didn’t think about having clothes made, but this post makes me wish we’d tweaked our schedule a bit so we could have. I particularly love that dress for the wedding. Perhaps on our vacation this year we’ll be somewhere long enough to have this done. Just found your blog today and as a person who loved my one trip to mainland China, I can’t wait to read more!
    Carina recently posted…#Reverb13, Day 23: The race set out for youMy Profile

  5. No, I’ve never had clothes custom made for myself. I think I will go crazy shopping in Shanghai like everywhere else really because I am not a fan of shopping in general, in fact I only shop when I desperately need something.

  6. They are all so beautiful! John has had some suits made by Asian tailors – where they come to your local city and take orders and measurements and then go back and make them. But I never thought about dresses and the like. Bespoke clothes are awesome! I have a hard time finding dresses that fit perfectly (I’m bigger on top than bottom and short-waisted) so I would love to have some made to measure clothing in my closet.
    Andrea recently posted…Texas JunkMy Profile

    • Thanks! It was such a fun thing to do, even if all the dresses didn’t work out. I had a hard time shopping in Asia since I’m a little hippy and it was great to get things tailor-made for my shape. I already miss that place!

  7. Ohhh, I absolutely love that dress you had made for your sister’s wedding, it’s timeless and such a great color on you! This is such a great concept, and if I ever go to Shanghai I’m definitely going to get some custom threads…how fun would an imitation Chanel suit be?!

    Here in NY we have tailors that will custom make clothes, but unfortunately, by the time you pay for the material and their fee, it ends up costing more than off-the-rack stuff. Bummer!
    Jess @UsedYorkCity recently posted…From The Lips Of A LocalMy Profile

    • Thanks so much! I hope I have another opportunity to wear it!! I’m now kicking myself for not getting one of the imitation Chanel tweed jackets, but one always needs an excuse to go back! 🙂

  8. That is so great! I’m amazed by all the custom, super cute clothes you got for such really great prices. My favorites are the baby shower/garden party dresses. The patterns are awesome, fully lined is impressive and that the perfect style for so many occasions.

    My sister had some dresses made in Vietnam and loved them. Hubby and I always joke about needing to visit Hong Kong just to have suits made because we are too hard to fit off the rack. Maybe we need to go to Shanghai instead…. 🙂
    Christina recently posted…Flowers and Old StonesMy Profile

    • I know, I love those dresses! I really wish I’d gotten a few more made. They are so versatile! The tailors in Vietnam are so supposed to be incredible, but we didn’t think to have anything made when we were there. Now that I know it’s an option, you can bet I’ll bring home some cute items next time! I imagine the quality of work is better in Hong Kong, but I can’t speak to the prices.

  9. You did have some really cute things made. I love our trench coats and wish I’d had a couple of jackets made, too. I enjoyed our visits to the market!

  10. Thank you for these tips, very kind of you! Will be making a trip to the market this weekend and will be sure to check your recommendations out.

    • Ooh, have fun! I sure wish I could go back. I’m kicking myself for not having more made before leaving Shanghai!

  11. Thank you for the detailed post….would love to visit Shanghai one day and this will come in very handy! You looked lovely in your Qipao….very pretty fabric and for silk its quite a good price too. Have a lovely start to the year!

    • Hi May, thanks so much for your comment! I hope you get to visit Shanghai soon and have your very own qipao made 🙂

  12. Heather,

    Can you please recommend me a good and cheap suits maker,
    I will bring along my own wool materials to have it sewn. The last
    trip I made was in October, in Siliupu another fabric mart but the
    workmanship was not good. I think South Bund is a better place
    for good tailoring, thks in advance

  13. i would like to know, if i could send or email a picture of a set of clothes, and see if you are able to make them for me…..?

  14. Did you buy the materials or where they offered by the tailor?

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