Shanghai fabric market challenge: Achieving “The Look” for less

Shanghai fabric market challenge: Achieving “The Look” for less

Gents’ guide to getting that “rich and relaxed” look in Shanghai when you’re neither

In late 2010, Swiss bank UBS released (and even more embarrassingly retracted) a 44-page dress code for its employees. The move is only the latest indicator of the decline of common sense in mens’ fashion.

Fortunately, Nick Foulkes of jet-set rag “Finch’s Quarterly Review” has simplified things with his treatise on “The Look”: navy blazer, jeans and an open-necked shirt. He describes this as “rich and relaxed, while also managing to be understated.”

But Foulkes' fashion picks call for a pretty heft price tag; that's where living in Shanghai comes in handy -- we have the Shanghai Fabric Market at our disposal.

Our goal: complete "The Look" for less than RMB 650. We grabbed our kuai and set out (address at the end of the article) to find the best men's tailors in the building to help us put together the ultimate men's fashion statement.

Shanghai fabric market  -- jacket

Essential #1: Navy blazer

Cost: RMB 350

Where we got it: Mr. Yin, Stall 139-140.

First port of call is Mr. Yin the tailor for a fitting and fabric consultation.

“He’s had his hands on every article of clothing that has touched my body,” says Shanghai-based international headhunter Loran Frederic. “His suits may not be bespoke Bond Street, but they’re far superior to the big name off-the-rack suits which retail for four or five figures.”

This two-button, velvet single-breasted blazer is great for cool weather, or opt for a light wool for more seasonal versatility. Details include functioning cuff buttons (don’t ever unbutton them) and single vent in rear.


Shanghai fabric market  -- buttons

Essential #2: Buttons

Cost: RMB 8.4 (RMB 0.8 for cuffs, total of eight; RMB 1 for breast, total of two)

Where we got them: A-Fu Buttons, Stall 381.

Like kryptonite for Superman, buttons are Mr. Yin’s only weakness. The flimsy blue plastic buttons that come standard with his jackets leave you looking like a Porsche with no hubcaps.

Fortunately, A-Fu Buttons is just two floors above and can attend to your every fastening need. The plastic tortoiseshell ones come cheap, but brass, silver or gold-colored are also available.

The most expensive buttons in the shop ring in at only RMB 8 each. Go nuts and bring your finds to Mr. Yin to use.


Shanghai fabric market  -- jeans

Essential #3: Blue jeans

Cost: RMB 150

Where we got them: Jacky Cheng, Stall 340.

Denim is a budget buster with the latest Japanese fashion costing more than some of the fancy suits mentioned above. Even a decent pair of jeans from Gap or UNIQLO will run RMB 299. And what if you have a strange body shape? Good luck.

Get made-to-measure jeans at Stall 340, where you can get a pair that looks almost spray-painted on, Travolta-approved disco-fied, or roomily hip-hopped, with any kind of stitching, rivets and pocket lining you choose. Go for a straight leg cut and button fly for a classic look.


Shanghai fabric market  -- cuff links

Essential #4: Cuff links

Cost: RMB 20

Where we got them: Sabrina, Stall 196.

Compared to retail prices, cuff links at the fabric market are an amazing bargain.

The unfortunate consequence of their low price is that it gives some people a perceived justification for excessive expressive experimentation.

“Hey, for only US$3 why not rock a set of oversized roulette wheel links?” Put those down. Step away from the cuff links.

While cuff adornment is one of the very few opportunities for men to accessorize, don’t cross that oh-so-fine line between conversation piece and distraction.


Shanghai fabric market  -- shirt

Essential #5: Dress shirt

Cost: RMB 100

Where we got it: Mr. Yin, Stall 139-140.

While “The Look” calls for a white open-necked shirt, if you’re cheap enough to still be reading this article, go for pale blue. Shanghai’s climate, air quality and hard water are notoriously brutal on white fabric.

Various cuff styles are available, but choose French cuffs so you can sport the subtly elegant links from the previous stop. And, while you're being measured, develop a rapport with Mr. Yin and his lovely assistant Tina. You never know when you might need a favorite pair of undies stitched up.

The grand total: RMB628.4

getting there

South Bund Soft-Spinning Fabric Market (aka Shanghai Fabric Market)
399 Lujiabang Lu, near Zhongshan Nan Lu
陆家浜路399号, 近中山南路
Hours: 9 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.

John Coughlan is a California native, Irish national, and longtime resident of Shanghai’s former French Concession.

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