Hello everyone, and welcome to another Singaporean review! This week, I’ll be covering Hwa Seng Textiles (HST for short) Tailors. Similar to my previous suit reviews, this will be split into two separate articles – in Part 1, I’ll be chronicling my experience of getting a suit and shirt done at HST Tailors. In Part 2 (out this Sunday!), I’ll be showing you guys how the suit fits, as well as how the customisation options turned out.
The previous tailors that I’ve covered (ethan men and Stitched Custom) were both relatively young, and decidedly made-to-measure. In contrast, HST tailors – being established in 1960 – is now almost 60 years old, and based on the services they offer, should be considered a bespoke tailor. This is my first foray with an established bespoke tailor – let’s see if they are “shiok” or not!
HST Tailors – the Brand
As aforementioned, HST Tailors was first founded in 1960 by Mr Goh’s (the current owner) father as a textile distributor. Today, HST Tailors continue to distribute textiles to other Singaporean tailors, but (as of 20 odd years ago) offer their own tailoring services as well. In addition to distributing textiles and providing tailoring services, current day HST Tailors also conduct tailoring courses for those interested in picking up the craft of tailoring. To find out more about their tailoring academy, do click on this link here. By offering tailoring classes, HST Tailors position themselves as masters of their craft, separating them from the made-to-measure tailors who outsource most of their production and even alteration overseas.
Despite having been in existence for almost 60 years now, HST Tailors’ outlook is decidedly young. According to them, “Hwa Seng Textiles invests readily in Information Technology in order to improve efficiency, quality and service to our customers.” In my opinion, this is actually true! Firstly, HST Tailors offers bespoke denim jeans, where you can have your initials laser-engraved on leather patches (see below). Secondly, HST Tailors uses a state-of-the-art Computer CAD System to record each client’s measurements and preferences. At HST tailors, every client will have his own personal pattern. This ensures that each time a customer return to HST, they can be sure that their apparel will be exactly how they like it, increasing reliability and consistency. I personally find this cool – it’s certainly refreshing to see technology being implemented in a traditional craft such as tailoring!
Alright, now we know that HST Tailors is a brand not only steeped with experience and expertise, but also armed with the latest technological aid and constantly evolving to meet the needs of a younger crowd. How does this translate to the experience? Read on to find out.
HST Tailors – the Experience
Walking into HST Tailors was a totally different experience than any of the previous tailors (actually, of any tailors I’ve visited to date).
Open the door, and you will be greeted by rows upon rows of fabrics, indicative of their status as a textile distributor in addition to being a tailor.
Seeing the vast amount of fabrics available was simply a sight to behold, and this elevated HST a level above all the other tailors I’ve visited thus far. It’s one thing to see the fabrics in swathes, and another entirely to see rolls upon rolls of it, stacked up heaven high. I think above all else, this is perhaps best indicative of HST Tailors status as a tailoring house, rather than a mere tailoring front.
Apart from the rows of fabric, the next thing you will notice is the sound of sewing machines. More often than not, you will see shifu hard at work, be it at the sewing machine or cutting out paper patterns of customers’ measurements. In a casual conversation, Shifu revealed to me that he has been in the tailoring industry for more than 50 years – my parents weren’t even born when he joined the tailoring industry! Seeing that the people who would later give me fabric/pairing advice could actually sew and cut themselves (in contrast to the other tailors I’ve covered previously) adds an extra level of comfort and trust in their ability.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Cereph! Cereph is relatively young (in his late twenties) and joined HST Tailors over a year ago as an apprentice as he was interested in picking up the craft of tailoring. He revealed to me that HST Tailors was one of the few tailoring outlets in Singapore willing to offer an apprenticeship, increasing the respect I already had for them. This is a place that lives and breathes the craft of tailoring. In addition, I do think that HST Tailors have a rather well-rounded team. On one hand, they have the experience and expertise of Shifu, and on the other Cereph is abreast of current style trends and colors (look at the shirt he’s wearing!). In this vein, I told him that I was looking for a versatile suit – something that will look appropriate for interviews, but right at home for events/galas as well. He immediately brought out the fabric books, and highlighted several shades of navy to me.
Being a purveyor of textiles, HST Tailors naturally offers a vast selection of fabrics for suits. Compared to the other tailors I’ve visited, there were more than double the number of options! Once I shortlisted the fabrics that I was interested in, Cereph (poor thing) brought over entire rolls of the fabrics for me to have a closer look at. Seeing the fabric in its entirety, both indoors and outdoors under the sunlight (yes, the HST staff will bring the roll of fabric outside under the sunlight to show you how it looks both under direct sunlight and indoors) makes a world of difference. There were some which I thought I liked based on the fabric swathes in the book, only to discover that it didn’t look as well as I imagined, or vice-versa.
To better aid me in making my choice, Cereph draped the fabrics I was considering between on me, to give me a better idea of how the fabric would look like on me as a suit. This is miles better than seeing the fabrics as swathes in a book! This really helped me decide which fabric to go with.
Through Cereph’s thoughtful advice and kind assistance (I still feel guilty making him carry all those heavy bundles of fabrics down from the second floor), I settled upon a navy mixed-wool fabric, that had a coarse texture to it. Cereph assured me that this shade of navy is versatile enough for both formal presentations and fancy events, while the visibly coarse texture of the fabric adds a sense of ruggedness to the suit. After seeing how it draped on me in the mirror (see previous picture), I agreed, and went with it. In addition, as the suit is supposed to be versatile and appropriate in most situations, I went with a notched lapel instead of the flashier peak lapel, and stuck with my usual double vents at the back. Furthermore, at HST, they only offer fully-canvassed suits with functional cuffs, a quality tier above the lower-priced tailors I’ve visited/reviewed previously.
With arguably the most important component settled, it was time to move on to other customisation options, such as the suit buttons! This was where it was made even more apparent that HST Tailors was a step up compared to the previous tailors I’ve visited/reviewed. While previous tailors mainly only offer plastic buttons, here HST Tailors provide more premium offerings, such as horn and mother-of-pearl buttons. As I wanted the suit to be versatile, I chose horn buttons. For the pants, Cereph suggested I go for side-adjusters instead of the belt loops, which I agreed. HST Tailors carries bronze buckles for the side-adjusters, which I went with in a heartbeat. I mean, bronze side-adjusters that will patina over time? How cool is that? Furthermore, if the Tudor BBBBB is any indication, bronze pairs exceptionally well with navy.
Next up, lining choices. Not only could you choose linings for the jacket, you could also customise the inner lining for the pants! Needless to say, we poured through books after books of linings (as seen in the above photo) being coming to a conclusion about the choices. For the jacket, I picked a golden yellow floral lining (me and Cereph really went back and forth on this), which Cereph felt would pair well with the navy fabric I picked, while I simply felt that it gave the suit a royal grandeur, making me feel like a Chinese emperor from a bygone era. For the pants, I went with a navy/gold floral lining, which I felt carried on that Chinese emperor theme.
With the suit choices done and dusted, it was time to move on to the shirt. Again, the disparity in quality between HST Tailors and the other tailors that I’ve visited was obvious – they offered 100% Egyptian cotton shirts, which is the crème de la crème of shirt fabrics. Cereph suggested that I go for white, as a white and navy colour combination makes for a classic and versatile look (though we briefly considered black as a shirt option). As with the suit fabrics, after I had shortlisted the shirt fabrics I was interested in Cereph brought out the corresponding rolls of shirt fabrics for me to see and feel.
Ultimately, after much consideration we decided upon a white shirt fabric with a herringbone pattern for some visual texture. In addition, HST Tailors also offer monogramming services, and I chose to have my initials sewn on the shirt cuffs. For the shirt lining, I chose a nice beige/gold floral pattern (again in keeping with the whole Chinese Emperor theme).
For shirt buttons, HST Tailors’ offer, amongst other options, mother-of-pearl buttons, a precious material usually not seen in lower priced tailors. I’m a huge fan of bling, and couldn’t resist going for the mother-of-pearl shirt buttons to add an additional veneer of luxury to the shirt. The iridescent shimmering of those mother-of-pearl buttons is so eye-catching that it was simply irresistible.
Overall, the experience at HST Tailors was phenomenal. It was overwhelming at first (there were just so many fabric/button choices!), but in a good way. Through the sheer amount of higher-quality variety that HST offers, I knew that they were in a different league compared to tailors I’ve visited/reviewed previously. But just when I thought the customisation process set the bar high, the measurement stage pushed the bar even higher.
HST Tailors – the Measurement
HST Tailors’ reverence for the craft of tailoring is perhaps most apparent in their measurement process.
The measurement process is what sets HST Tailors apart from lower-priced tailors in my opinion. I really learnt a lot about my body while I was there, which I will touch on later.
Firstly, Cereph snaps on an elastic strap around my chest. This helps him find my chest line, as well as determine my shoulder slope. Afterwards, he continues to take the usual measurements: chest size, arm length, shoulder length, armhole diameter, etc.
As aforementioned, my shoulders are unevenly sloped. Unlike previous tailors who simply took a photo of my torso for reference before sending it over to their seamstresses overseas, measurements at HST Tailors are a bit more exact. Cereph uses an electronic protractor (depicted in the photo above) to accurately measure the degree at which both my shoulders slope, ensuring that the eventual garment would drape on my shoulders well. This really wowed me when I was there – preciseness in measurements taken to another level.
After my upper body measurements were done, Cereph proceeded to take my lower body measurements. After the usual measurements were taken, we bid adieu as I awaited the basted fitting stage. After about 2 weeks, HST Tailors informed me that they were ready for me to go back for the basted fitting stage.
At HST Tailors, every customer will go through the basted fitting stage. Beforehand, the tailors at HST will stitch the fitting jacket and pants by hand, using temporary white basting stitches to hold the suit together. For more information on the basted fitting stage, do read this highly educational article here. To me, a basted fitting stage is what separates true bespoke tailors from made-to-measure, and to quote a line from the aforementioned article, “It’s the difference between flying first class and flying on a private jet.”
During the basted fitting process, the tailors from HST will fine-tune the fit of the suit in order to achieve the most impeccable fit possible for you. I learnt a lot about my body during this process. For example, Shifu enlightened me that in addition to having disproportionately sloped shoulders of differing lengths, I suffered from a “forward shoulder” or a rounded shoulder, probably caused by a lifetime of me pressing WASD. As such, my left shoulder basically protruded out awkwardly, creating unsightly wrinkles around the left shoulder bones. I also learnt that I had an arched back, or as Shifu put it, “凹腰”. He noticed this from the excess fabric and wrinkles that surfaced on the back. Without a basted fitting process, these wouldn’t have been obvious and as such would have went unremedied.
Afterwards, the tailors at HST will dismantle the fitting jacket in order to remedy the areas of concern that they have noticed during the basted fitting stage. When I saw them cutting through the baste stitches that undoubtedly took them tens of hours to sew, my appreciation of the tailoring craft grew exponentially. This is painstaking, labour-intensive artisan work. I feel this is something some customers don’t get – some customers demand their suit to be ready in 1-2 weeks, not being cognizant of the effort and man-hours poured into each garment.
A set of fitting pants is to be worn during the basted fitting stage too, in addition to the fitting jacket. This allows customers to get a better feel on the tightness as well as the length of the pants. I realised that my fitting pants were too tight for me when I sat down and it promptly split into two – poor Cereph had to stitch it back together again on the spot, much to my chagrin! Wearing the fitting pants also allowed me to indicate to Cereph my length preference for the pants, which was for the pants to just gently touch my dress shoes. Initially, we agreed upon a no-break look, but I found the length a bit too short after trying on the fitting pants as I didn’t like that my flesh/ankles/socks were exposed (see my right foot in the above picture).
In addition, on the off-chance that you’re still not satisfied with the fit of the suit/shirt even after the basted fitting, you still can bring it back for alterations afterwards. Alterations are done in house in the shop itself by the tailors. In addition, for shirts with mother-of-pearl buttons the tailors at HST employ a method called button shanking (as seen in the photo above). An elastic thread is wound around the shank and heated so it melts together and secures the button, helping to prevent the button from dropping. Again, this is a method that’s incredibly tedious and pain-staking.
Overall, the measurement process at HST Tailors was really an experience to behold. Each step – from Cereph using the electronic protractor to measure the slope of my shoulders, to Shifu meticulously looking at how the fitting jacket draped on my body – exemplified HST’s dedication to crafting a suit that will fit my body precisely. Long-time readers may notice that compared to the measurement section for the tailors I previously reviewed, the measurement section of the article for HST tailors is twice as long. This is due to HST’s exacting measurement process! Furthermore, knowing that Shifu nitpicked over the fit of the garment put me straight at ease. That feeling of trust and comfort when you visit a highly experienced barber? It was exactly the same feeling here.
Conclusion – so the HST Tailors experience “shiok” or not?
Not only was it “shiok”, it was truly eye-opening. In every aspect, HST Tailors was a cut above the previous tailors that I’ve visited/reviewed. The quality of offerings here is higher; variety is vaster; the measurement process more refined, precise. Knowing that the people giving you style/fabric advice (in my case, Cereph and Shifu) could actually cut and sew garments put me more at ease than I’ve been elsewhere. The only drawback I can think of is that if you’re unaccustomed to the world of tailoring, going to HST Tailors may be a tad overwhelming. When I was there, I was so bedazzled going back and forth choices that it took me close to 3 hours to get all my customisation options and measurements done! However, if you’re looking for a bespoke “Saville Row” experience at an affordable pricing, I highly recommend HST Tailors.
That concludes Part 1 of this suit review! I’m glad to announce that I’ve partnered with HST Tailors to offer readers a 10% discount store-wide. Simply flash this post while at HST Tailors to enjoy the discount. After the discount, a fully canvassed mixed wool 2 piece suit will set you back only $765! In addition, an Egyptian cotton shirt would start from $198 each, while mixed-wool pants start from $162. For the quality, variety, and experience that you’re getting at HST Tailors, I think that’s a steal. Stay tuned for Part 2 (out this Sunday) to see how my customisation options and fit turned out!
Interested customers can book their appointments here.
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HST Tailors’ location:
No 2 Sims Close
Mon to Sat: 11am – 7pm
Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays
Nigel Gomes, @the_lone_cadre