So I had this brilliant idea. I have many of them, in fact, but usually they all turn out to be considerably less so in actuality.
I decided to have some clothes custom-made at one of the gazillion tailors we seem to have here in Abu Dhabi. Firstly, because we have a wedding coming up and I need a new dress. And second, it's been hard to find things that fit well.
Shopping here isn't so good, however. You have the Gap, Banana Republic, Zara ... fine for casual clothes, less fine for nighttime wear. It's better in Dubai but lately going there has not been practical. (Like driving to LA from San Bernardino, but we have no car) Also, the style this summer seems to be very short skirts/dresses, which is ironic given the neighborhood. A colleague of mine was wearing a very nice dress, exactly what I was looking for, at a party and she let me borrow it so I could have a copy made.
I asked around for a tailor, and one was recommended. I suspect you can go to almost any place, but there is usally a small peace of mind that comes with going to someone who has been recommended. I visited the tailor, he told me I had to go find fabric, and told me the amounts he needed for each piece (while I was going, I figured I would get some pants made -- copies of some I already own, but made to actually fit.) It was kind of a hassle going to two separate places, simply because it's already so hot here, but the textile shops are amazing. So many beautiful fabrics, most not at all appropriate for regular western wear, but still.
I laid out all the clothes I wanted, and they asked what I want. But not in English, so that should have made me a little nervous. Still, the place was recommended by someone reputabe. I soldiered on. What I wanted to do was try on the clothes to show where I wanted the adjustments made, but either that's not done (the tailors are men, we're in a Muslim country, blah blah) or he didn't get it. He did take my measurements. He tallied it up, the prices were more than reasonable ($68 to make a copy of a calvin klein dress plus fabric costs, bringing the whole thing to about $85) and he told me to come back in a week.
On Saturday I went back to the shop. The guy looked nervous when he saw me. The clothes weren't ready he said. Could I come back tomorrow? I was kind of annoyed because it was he who set the pick up date, not I. I certainly didn't expect a dress, a skirt and three pairs of pants to be ready in just one week. He gave me some ridiculous excuse, apologized, asked if I could come back the next day. Well, no, I said. It's a work day. Ok ok ok he said. Tonight. Come back tonight at 8pm. I said well, I'm working tonight, too. (I don't know what I expected him to do -- if the clothes weren't ready they weren't ready ... I was just annoyed). I said fine, and went on my way and started to wonder if having them rush was really a good idea.
He called me about 30 minutes after I left the shop, and wanted to know which fabrics went with which pants, and did I want them the same. This sort of baffled me. The same? Well, yes, the same only the new ones would fit. I said I wanted the black fabric for the trousers, the softer fabrics for the other pants. Same-same he said? Same pattern, yes, I said, but different measurements. I should have known at this point I was in trouble. He called me again at 8:15 to tell me that the clothes still weren't ready, but he promised them by 9. Since I was working until midnight, I just said OK.
Sunday morning I went back. He was quite pleased with himself as the clothes were finished. They looked beautiful. The fabrics I picked were perfect for the styles. I wanted to try them on to make sure everything was right, though, since the measurements had seemed cursory. No, he said magnanimously. Try them at home, if there's a problem come back. (Why not, he's not the one paying for the multiple cab rides back anc forth.)
The clothes are under my desk all day at work. I'm dying to try them on. I'm so excited. At first look, they are all perfectly identical copies. And here's where the trouble comes: Tailors here are a little better at copying than at creating. When I got home, I tried everything on. The dress was nearly perfect (he only need to make it a bit larger across the back) but it gaped a bit at the armholes. No problem. Then I tried the skirt. It was made of jersey, it was uncomplicated, perfect.
Then came the pants. If I had wanted pants that didn't fit I could have gone into my closet and grabbed any of five perfectly lovely pairs. Now I had three more. I was seriously agitated (this seems to come up a lot) and rather than stew all night, as I (and Paul) knew I would, I went back to the tailor.
He greeted me happily and I said these pants don't fit. He blamed it on me. He said well I called you and you said to make them the same. Yes, I said, but the same pattern, not the same size, that's why you measured me. He said he had lost the measurements and that's why he called. The whole thing was a bit bizarre, probably made worse by the language barrier. I insisted on trying on the pants to show him how they didn't fit. The first pair were obviously too small. The second and third pair -- he argued with me. Oh, they're fine he said. No, I said, I can have them sit on my hips and have the crotch halfway to my knees, or pull them up higher and have a huge gap in the back. Not fine at all. He came back with the universal "No problem" . We'll fix it, he said, come back in two days.
I'm pretty sure they won't be able to fix the pants properly. Fortunately it wasn't a huge expense. The dress had been the main thing, and it fit very well and was made nicely. I won't go back in just two days; I'll definitely wait until the weekend.
And I learned yet another lesson about brilliant ideas ... most of the time they're not. I also realized that the tailors here can copy anything, but the trick is to find one who can make something from scratch. So that's next on my list. If it actually works, it's a great way to buy clothes and get exactly what you want.
Another fabulous Abu Dhabi lesson learned. I wonder sometimes how long I'll have to be here to figure it all out, and then I realize the answer is that I'll never figure it all out -- because I won't be here long enough.