One thing that was high on my list for my South Africa trip was to get a couple of skirts made. African wax print clothing has become extremely fashionable amongst African-Americans as of late – and these aren’t your dad’s daishikis! The dresses and skirts coming out of the Motherland are made in the trendiest styles and fit seamlessly into the wardrobe of any city girl such as myself.
Unfortunately, with such demand comes higher prices, and buying fabrics and apparel in the States can be pricey. Prices for skirts tend to run about $125 or more in the States. I knew I wanted to go straight to the source and see what I could afford to get tailor-made. Here’s some tips from my experience so you know what to expect on your upcoming trip.
1. Know what styles you want made.
There are so many different styles of skirts and dresses out there! To make things easier on both you and your seamstress, peruse the ‘net to see what would work best for you. I recommend using Instagram. There are lots of great accounts like: @afroellemag, @fashionafrika and @veronique_75, or you can also just search the hashtag “wax prints.” Doing a google images search for wax print skirts brings up tons of photos as well, which you can see here. I screencapped the styles I liked and then showed them to my seamstress (more on her later). Although she spoke perfect English, I wanted to be prepared in case I couldn’t articulate to her what I wanted. The last thing you want to do is resort to gestures when the language divide is too much! A picture always helps. In return, she showed me pictures on her phone of skirts she had made for others, and similar styles.
2. Fabric is priced per meter plus labor.
Longer skirts will obviously be more expensive because of the amount of fabric needed. Keep this in mind if you’re under a tight budget. I made the decision ahead of time to get two skirts – one long, one short. The floor length skirt was obviously more expensive, but so worth it! I can’t remember how much I paid per meter, but this site estimates (in yards) how much fabric is needed for various apparel. Your tailor or seamstress will know how much fabric will be needed.
3. You will be measured, but also be realistic.
A good seamstress/tailor will take your measurements but likely can also eyeball you to tell your size. My seamstress eyeballed me at a correct size before even measuring me! One thing to keep in mind is that you may be bloated that day or you may be one of the lucky ones who loses weight on vacation. Even once they’re done measuring, make sure the fit will be something you can wear even after gorging at brunch or after a post-vacation detox. You can’t go back and swap a size! Being realistic means your piece will have longevity in your wardrobe.
4. Place your deposit – but not too much!
It’s time to pay up for your pieces, but how much is due upfront? Most seamstresses and tailors will accept a deposit for your items – of your own choosing. I put down a 50% deposit on my pieces – I didn’t want to have to scramble to get rand at the last-minute. My sister put down a smaller deposit of about 20% – she was nervous and concerned about whether we’d get our pieces before our flight. Now I’ve stated before that it’s cheaper to get clothing made in SA than buying in the States. How much cheaper? My skirts came out to a total of $75 (1200 rand), for about $38 per skirt. Compare that to American prices of $125 a skirt and you definitely have a deal!
5. Don’t cut your time too short!
Playing the waiting game to get your custom-made clothing can be annoying, which is why it’s best to order your clothing early in your trip. While my pieces were made in a day in a half, some tailors may take longer or shorter. To be on the safe side, I would recommend ordering your clothing at least 3 days before you leave. Try to research who to go to prior to your trip so you can head there once you’re settled.
6. Fitting rooms – what fitting rooms??
So you’ve picked up your skirt/pants/dress! Time to try it on. Remember Loehmann’s? And their wide open fitting rooms? Well imagine that, with no walls. Unless your tailor/seamstress is in a store of their own, you may be out in the wide open space to try on your skirt. This was of no bother to me – I can change anywhere. But I’m aware that not everyone feels the same way! The easiest thing to do is to wear something loose-fitting – a skirt is best – and slip your new purchase under to try it on. If it’s a dress, wear something more fitting to slip it over your outfit. No one sees a thing! There’s also a trick that I learned via NYC sample sales, which involves no trying on at all! Simply take the waistband of the skirt and wrap it around your neck, like a cape. If it’s too tight to get the waistband to touch while around your neck, it’s too tight for your waist. If it touches comfortably, then it will likely fit your waist fine!
I hope these 6 tips will help you get some great custom-made pieces and put your mind at ease about the process! If you’re looking to get clothing made in Cape Town, check out Joja African Clothing Shop at the African Women’s Market (stall 25 & 26 at 112 Long Street). This is the seamstress I used and I’m very happy with my purchases!
*All photos taken by TLovely Photography – check her out at tlovelynyc [at] gmail [dotcom]!*
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