Jen with her tailor near our host family’s house in Porto Novo. Here are the steps for having a custom outfit made:
- Buy fabric at the market. A dress or a boomba (matching pants/skirt and top) requires four meters. A shirt, pants or skirt only require two meters. Fabric prices depend on quality but the fabric we typically buy costs about 1500 cfa ($3) per meter.
- Go to the tailor’s shop and choose the style of outfit. Each shop has posters on the wall and/or catalogues showing different options for styles of outfits. The posters and catalogues (right side of photo) feature styles typical to West Africa. Many Peace Corps volunteers bring pictures from American clothing catalogues to have their clothing made in a more western style.
- Agree upon a price for the work. Most items in Benin, including labor, do not have set prices. Usually the seller starts by saying a high price, the buyer counters with a low price and the two meet somewhere in the middle. After living in Benin for a while we’ve learned the typical prices of many items, including tailoring labor. This makes the price arguing process MUCH easier. A typical outfit with no bells or whistles costs between $2 – $4 for the labor. Embroidery can easily double the price.
- The tailor takes your measurements and tells you when you can pick up your outfit.
- You return to pick up your outfit, try it on in the corner behind a piece of fabric providing a little privacy (white sheet in back left of picture), and tell them what alterations you want made. The sleeves are too tight, maybe, or the waist is too loose.
- You can go home and return another day to pick up the outfit post alterations, but many times the customer waiting in front of the tailor gets his or her attention. Thus, the best bet is to sit and wait for the alterations to be made. This can take from 20 minutes to two hours. Generally Jen and I have found that one to four alterations are necessary before an outfit fits reasonably well.
Done. Enjoy your bespoke outfit.