Go back to Part I: The Hong Kong Tailor Shop
I'd had my first success with my first phone call, but for me that wasn't enough. I decided that I would call every tailor in the Tourist Association handbook and find the very best for myself. My apprehensions had totally disappeared, and I began my task. Ultimately I called less than half, but so many of them were willing to take on the task I felt that I had more than enough choices. Of about twenty tailor shops I called, I only received one completely negative response: "Ladies' clothes for men? Is this a joke?" "No, I assure you it is not." I answered, "Thank you and goodbye." Some of the others did not speak English well enough to seem to understand the question, but about half answered, "Yes, okay, why not?" or "No problem". I didn't have any sense that any of them had ever done it before, though, except for one shop in which I was asked if I was a friend of Mr. Ling!
Mr. Ling, if you are out there, please contact me!
Eventually I decided on a shop that is well known in HK--they hand out more flyers than any other tailor shop here, advertise in the tourist publications, and have a comparatively large shop. The man I spoke with at first had to ask his boss, but after getting confirmation assured me that they had private fitting rooms and that they would treat me with the utmost discretion. His friendly tone and nonchalant attitude won me over, and when he asked when I would be coming in, I found myself saying, "How's tomorrow afternoon, about four?" Thus began my relationship with Nash, and Raja Fashions.
The appointment came around, and I found myself wandering the side streets of Tsim Sha Tsui looking for Raja Fashions. Fully half of the shops sold ladies clothes (all in smaller sizes, alas). The remaining stores were jewelry stores, shoe stores, handbag stores, and perfume and cosmetics stores. With an ATM on every corner, a TG could die happy here. I found Raja Fashions next to a shop selling lovely silk clothes, and it took me a moment to figure out where the entrance was, as the sign hung between the two shops. A sudden shot of adrenaline coursed through my bloodstream, but there is no walking past a Hong Kong tailor's shop without being offered the opportunity to have a suit made, so I ended up inside and asking for Nash. The sales staff of Raja Fashions are all Indian, as is true of many HK tailor shops, and I met the big boss himself, Raja, and Nash, a younger and quite handsome and enthusiastic man. I introduced myself and he took me to the center of the store to look at some sample books. The store itself is rather narrow but quite deep, and there is not a lot of privacy. I was offered a complementary drink, and then Nash asked me what I wanted. I had decided to get a man's suit also, and so we started with that. I looked at several samples of material, picked out a nice black wool that was not too heavy, and then discussed styles with him. That went smoothly, and I was starting to relax. Although there were other customers in the shop, no one seemed to be paying any attention to us, so after we finished discussing the suit I said, very quietly, "And I'd also like a dress and a woman's suit."
"Yes, okay, and what do you want the dress for?" asked Nash, somewhat loudly.
"Oh, no!" I thought to myself, as another burst of adrenaline worked its merry way through my system. "Is it possible he didn't understand? How can that be? His English is excellent! And wow, that was loud--did everyone hear it?" Confused, I said quietly, hoping he'd pick up on the reduced volume level, "For myself."
"Yes, I understand, but for what?"
This seemed unending--if only the skies would open up and a heavenly hand would lift me out of this agony! What is he asking? Doesn't he get it? "To wear," I say, "for me to wear."
"But is it a formal dress you want, or casual?"
Ah, ha! He does get it, and he's a step ahead of me! "Panicking fool, panicking fool!" I thought of myself. "Well, somewhere in between, but a nice dress that's a bit formal." I answered.
Nash pulled out a book and opened it to a page with a beautiful formal gown, worn by a gorgeous thin model. "Something like this?" he asked.
I'd love something like that, but they're going to have to tailor a new body for me to fit the dress. "Actually, I brought a picture of what I'd like." It is a short straight dress, above the knee, but no sleeves. "I'd like something like this, but with long sleeves, please."
Nash took the picture and photocopied it. "No problem. Now, what material and color would you like?" I asked for a silk in teal, and he pulls out several samples in a small book. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of silk, but I eventually settled on one. All along, Nash was stroking my ego, "Ah, excellent choice. Yes, that's beautiful. You are very easy to work with, you know just what you want." And it worked, I really began to enjoy myself. We went through the same process for the suit, deciding on a shawl collar on a long jacket with three buttons, slanted pockets and no vents.; and a straight skirt just above the knee with a single vent in back. I specifically asked for no shoulder pads, as my shoulders are quite wide. Then Nash asked to measure me.
Being measured for the man's suit was, of course, no problem Nash told me then that the next time I come in I should wear what I will wear under the suit--I misunderstood again and said, thinking of the blouse, "I want you to make that for me, too."
Nash was thinking of a bra and says, "We don't make those...they are very difficult to make."
"You don't make blouses?"
We simultaneously realized the confusion and laughed. I told him that I had already brought my things and that he could measure me now, if I could change. I went into the fitting room and immediately realized a problem--this was a tiny cubicle. There wasn't any room for both of us in there. Nervously I put on my corselette and did my tuck, put on my padded panties and hose. As I was pulling on the black t-shirt dress I'd brought with me Nash asked if I was ready. "Not quite yet," I replied. "This takes a while." When I'd finished, I wondered, "Could I have Nash see me like this?" It would be the first time anyone had ever seen me and known that I was TG, other than my wife. I'd dressed at Halloween a couple of times many years before and I'd gone out twice en femme and passed, but this was quite different. However, Nash knew what I was doing and seems okay with it, so I tried to relax a bit. I cracked open the door. Nash was waiting a bit away from the room, so I had to call to him, but he came quickly and measured me professionally. I did have to step out a bit into the doorway of the fitting room, but no one seemed to be looking my way. Nash didn't seem phased at all, and I thanked him for treating me well. "No problem," he answered, "This is for fun, why should anyone care?" What a great attitude, I thought!
Then came the bad news. Nash sat down and calculated the bill. I'd selected wonderful high-quality material, and ordered two suits, a dress, and a blouse, so I knew it would not be inexpensive, but when I saw the bill, I really had serious doubts. Could I really pay that much for clothes? I made an excellent salary, but this would be more than I'd ever paid for clothes in my life, and for clothes that I wouldn't likely wear very often. I thought quickly, but decided to pamper myself--I could afford it, and I didn't want to have to go through the whole process again, selecting colors and materials that were really less than what I wanted. I did try to bargain a free men's shirt out of Nash, but he told me that they sold the shirts regularly for $38--he couldn't give me a free shirt, but he would give me two shirts for $12.. This was my introduction to the hard-sell tactics of HK tailors of which I was to learn much more. We made an appointment for two days later, for the first fitting.
When I arrived for the first fitting, I learned that Nash himself was not a tailor, but a salesman. Typically in these shops the tailoring is done by Chinese, and several different shops will likely use the same tailor. The tailors seem to specialize in either men's or women's clothing, and so I had to see two different tailors, both of whom were at lunch when I arrived. I waited around for about 15 minutes, growing increasingly uncomfortable, and finally asked if I could come back in about half an hour. I asked for a swatch of cloth from my suit so that I could go buy a matching handbag. Nash asked if I'd like leather shoes made to match, and it was a very tempting offer, but I already had a pair of heels that I though would go beautifully with the suit. I wandered around Tsim Sha Tsui, looking at the tiny shops that abounded, and finally found a nice white purse that matched the swatch perfectly, for about $12. When I returned to Raja Fashion, the men's tailor was waiting and I tried on the suit. I was surprised to find it so incomplete--I'd expected a completed garment, but one sleeve was off, no lapels, no pockets, no buttons and no zipper. I realized then that I would be a bit disappointed with my femme clothes.
The woman's tailor came soon after I finished with the other tailor. Nash asked me to go to the fitting room and "weave my magic." I changed in the cubicle and pulled on my skirt and jacket. Like my male suit it was unfinished and I had to hold up the skirt. The Chinese tailor showed complete professionalism, but they did ask me to step further out of the cubicle than I was comfortable. Fortunately, at that time no one was in the shop except the staff, who seemed to be ignoring what was going on in the back, until one of the salesmen walked past the fitting room to go to the storeroom. He stopped and gave me a long, hard look, but didn't say anything. I ignored him until he left, and I said to Nash that he seemed very curious. Nash assured me that no one except he, the tailor and the boss knew what I was doing, and that it was "No problem." Of course, there was a cobbler working on a pair of shoes in full sight. "This situation is degenerating," I thought. "I'm not so comfortable." I looked at the suit a bit more--it had shoulder pads and was cut in a style that emphasized my shoulders. I asked the tailor if he could take out the shoulder pads, but he was insistent that the jacket needed some minimal pads--he did agree to make them smaller. I asked if he could cut the jacket to minimize the shoulders more, but here I made a mistake. I asked for what I was told was a princess cut, with seams moving away from the bust toward the shoulders. The tailor agreed to do that, and take in some from the waist, and he indeed did do as I asked. But after seeing it cut at the final fitting, I realized that it emphasized the shoulders more. As I had asked specifically for that cut, I didn't think I was in a position to ask for yet another change.
Although it was somewhat difficult for me to visualize the final stage of the garments, I was pleased with the professionalism and attitude of both Nash and the tailor. The growing number of people who were aware of what I was doing was unsettling, though. I made another appointment for a fitting, and as I was leaving, the boss, Raja, offered me another suit for half price. He said that they could lay the material down and cut them together, and that would save on their costs, so he could pass along the savings to me. He asked Nash to show me some more material. Nash asks me if I want the suit for myself or my "other half." Having spent as much a I had already, I wasn't really interested, but they were quite insistent, and I had to be so in my refusal as well.
The time came for the final fitting, and I could see that I was going to be late, so I phoned Nash and asked him if I could come an hour later. There was a second of hesitation, and then the familiar reply, "No problem." When I showed up, however, Nash was with another couple, and he asked another salesman to help me with my male suit. We did the fitting with the tailor, and Nash had still not finished. I sat down to wait, and the other tailor, an older man, asked if he could help me further. I did not want to involve yet another person in the project and I told him that I had something special I was working with Nash on, and that I would wait. The wait stretched on uncomfortably, and the older salesman kept coming back to me and asking if he couldn't help. Finally Nash told him where my femme clothes were, and asked him to have me try them on. The older man brought them to me and asked in a very puzzled voice, "These are for your wife, and you'll try them on? Are you sure you are the same size?"
"Good Lord," I thought. "That line would NEVER work if a TG tried it, and here he is volunteering the excuse!" Nash, however, came over and straightened him out, and the cobbler helps explain too. "Ah, they are for...you?" he then asked. I replied, "Yes." and hurried to the fitting room as quickly as I could. It seemed as though everyone in the store, including the other customers, knew that I'm TG! I managed to put on the suit, with panic rising in every pore, and then had to sit down, as all I could think was, "Oh, no! What am I going to do now?"
As I look at myself in the mirror of the fitting room, I am amazed by the transformation that properly fitted clothes make. Even without makeup, I seem a woman--not perhaps a pretty woman, but female nonetheless. My breathing slows, and the panic lessens. Maybe I can wait in the fitting room until the other couple leaves. At this point, I certainly don't feel like it has been, "no problem!" But then I collect myself some more. I realize that I don't know the other couple, and will likely never see them again. They are speaking with heavy German accents, and from what I can gather, are in a hurry to have their clothes finished before their cruise leaves. I begin to realize that from Nash's and Raja's point of view there still is no problem--they are not uncomfortable with my situation, so why should I be? I've done nothing illegal and nothing immoral, either in my view or theirs. The real problem is a problem of discovery, and I've seen no one I know, nor is it likely that I will see anyone I know. My confidence returns, and I crack open the door. The older man is there with the Chinese tailor, and again the professionalism of the tailor takes over. They check the fall of the jacket and several other things, and pronounce it beautiful. Nash comes, very apologetic, and explains about the German couple: they had come in the morning, were having their first fitting , and the clothes were to be finished by late that same evening! I try on the dress which also fits beautifully, then look at the dress with the jacket, and that is very nice, too. I wish desperately that I were slender and could have a fitted waistline. Nash exclaims several times "Lovely, beautiful!" and Raja comes over and agrees. Are they taking about the dress, or me? I'm very flattered, but this is the setup for another sales pitch. The offer is made again that I can have another suit made for half price. I wonder to myself how this works, because now they can't cut the cloth for two suits together any more. They are not taking no for an answer -- in fact, Raja shakes my hand and will not let go while he tries to sell me another suit These pressure sales tactics somewhat spoil my pleasure at having these beautiful new clothes. I somehow manage to extricate myself from Raja's python-like death grip, and with my femme clothes in a garment bag provided by the store, head home to think about packing for my rapidly approaching trip.
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