Saturday, November 26, 2011

Living on the Edge: Getting Clothes Made in China

Next Saturday is a really fancy party here in Qingdao called "The Winter Ball". It's a formal affair, tuxes, prom dresses, the whole nine yards. They're calling the ball "Glamorous Hollywood of the 1930s".

I've been invited by my school to go and schmooze with other expats living here in the city. Not because I'm glamorous. It's because I have a big mouth and can make conversation with a doorknob.

I'm super excited, mostly because it's a free dinner and a chance to get all dolled up. The problem is, I had good intentions of buying a party dress this summer to bring back with me (because you KNOW the Chinese people don't make my size) but well, here I am a week prior to the ball and no dress. Where's Fairy God-mother when you need her? Not that I want to arrive at the shindig in an overgrown pumpkin but I sure could use some help with the outfit. And shoes. And hair. And makeup.

For the last few weeks I've been contemplating going to a tailor/seamstress to get a dress made. Between traveling to two different countries, planning special events at school, auditioning for a play and trying to keep up with normal life stuff, I just haven't had time to go. And let's be honest, getting myself measure by a 12 pound, 4 foot Chinese woman, surrounded by all her co-workers and their kids gawking at me like I'm the best thing they've seen since rice balls made their way to China, just isn't something I get excited about. And, of course all this would be happening while I'm bumbling with my Chinese, mostly saying phrase like, "I want" or "I don't want", "This. Not this" and pretending that I understand what she's saying, when in reality, I'm just grunting in all the right places.

For those reasons, I've never gone to the tailor. I always buy my stuff in America and have it shipped here. Not ideal but way better than the humiliation of being a freak show.

I decided to bite the bullet yesterday. On a friend's suggestion, I went to a new tailor. He's got a nice private little shop in another part of town than where we usually go. He's a little more expensive but from what I can tell, he's pretty good.

Here's the thing when dealing with Chinese in any thing that is in any way "western". It's like they lose their minds. The Chinese have good sense but when it comes to making something or doing something western, a lot of times, they just don't get it. It's almost like they're so scared of us that they do whatever they can, as quickly as they can, with as little trouble as they can, hoping (thinking) it'll work. No pizza sauce for the pizza, let's use ketchup. Making a t-shirt with English words on it? Who cares what it says or how it's spelled, just throw some letters together, it's basically the same thing. Now, this is a generalization that is not true of all Chinese. And in the future, the more "westerness" infiltrates the country, the less all of this will be true.

Anyway, back to my story. Knowing the above about getting "western" things in China has just reinforced my unwillingness to have something made. Making clothing that fits a western body is really difficult. My body specifically...well, almost impossible.

I decided  to go in completely prepared. I made diagrams, photos-shopped pictures, and had 2 differnt hands-on examples.  

Here's the original. I wore this to the Royal Wedding Party.

Here's the photo-shopped version. I wanted an A-line dress with a long-sleeve sweater.

This is the diagram that I took. Google Translate might've helped. The tailor laughed when I opened my computer in his shop.

He seemed to understand me. I hope I understood him. I didn't take material with me. I just kind of pointed at some colors and fabrics that he already had and said, "this, this, this". He acted like he knew what I was saying. It was a little bit of a circus, me touching every roll of fabric, him watching me, me coming back to the computer to point some more, him watching me, me showing him my examples again, him watching me...

I did have to give up on the sweater. It was just one step too far. For me and him.

So, I go in Wednesday to take a looky-lou. I have super low expectations. All, and I mean all, of my friends who've had clothing made here have either had to go in for sizing at least four times before it's even wearable or give up on it completely because it's just so "off".

I'll keep you posted. If it's a hit, I'll take pictures. If it's a miss, I'll take pictures. Either way, I'll share the experience with the four of you that still read this blog.

Regardless of the dress, I have other things to worry about. I have plans to try and curl my hair like Mae West (she defines 1930's glam) wear lots of costume jewelry and have at least one feather in my hair (maybe some netting and a little hat too).