Ah, Taipei: Everyone here make me feel fat, and grossly underdressed. To compete, I should be running ten kilometers every day . . . in my best Prada. If Prada made sneakers, though, I’m sure Taipei would have them readily available. Every block sports a luxury department store, including: four branches of Pacific Sogo, four branches of Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, the mall at the base of the Taipei 101 tower, and the Breeze Center. Walk down Zhongxiao East Road and you’ll find Rolex store, after Rolex store, after a never-ending slew of Rolex stores. A friend of mine works for one of these Rolex shops; most of her patrons are visiting mainland Chinese businessmen and their extended families who want to splurge (and ask for the models with “ROLEX” written in the largest font available). So don’t fret! You can definitely find an overpriced tacky flashy watch here, but there’s much, much more (and better) shopping in Taipei.
If you’re old enough to read this article, then you probably remember how many of our clothes in the nineties read “Made in Taiwan” on the label. In the last couple of decades, the island has evolved from just manufacturing to designing. Most famous among these local brands is the “neo-Chinese chic”: Shiatzy Chen, which offers Western clothing (jackets and pants) with Chinese flairs, and traditional Chinese qipaos with slim modern cuts. For cute-Asian-pop t-shirts, check out 0416×1024. The numbers in the name of the brand represent the birthdays of the two Taiwanese designers who strive to “expand on the concepts of ‘home’ and ‘love.'” Barf! But hey, you’re in Taipei, where the city government’s urban planning policy in the mid-nineties followed the motto “happy, hopeful Taipei City.” If you don’t want to give into the culture and look like a cute cartoon, there’s a sexy emerging designer you should keep an eye on named Jasper Huang. Rumor has it that Jasper is going to expand his catwalk-acclaimed designs into men’s fashion this year.
To discover some of Taiwan’s best fashions, get off at the Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT and explore the alleys. The hard part isn’t to find a nice menswear boutique, but to sort through them all. If you owned one of these boutiques and told me that your differentiating strategy to stand out was to hire attractive staff, I would roll my eyes at you and pretend you weren’t right. But of course you would be: I shop at Find Taipei partially because there always seems to be a tall handsome employee smoking outside on the stoop. Downstairs, metal and wood clash with drawers and racks of jackets, shoes, bags, jeans, and accessories. Brands range from Loake to FDMTL. Down the street, Vanger always lures me into its mahogany den of handmade leather shoes ranging from USD$100 –200. These alleys in the Zhongxiao Dunhua area offer more “classic” styles. For the “non-classic” (e.g. jock straps and sexy tank tops), explore the notoriously gay neighborhood around the “Red Pavilion,” near the Ximen MRT.
A big problem being American in Taiwan is that we are, well, bigger. I’m 5’11, 160 pounds, and usually wear a Medium in the States. In Taiwan, a lot of boutiques don’t stock my size – no, I don’t fit into “extra-large” 28/34 jeans! I’m left to either place special orders on styles I like, or better yet, custom tailor. Though today labor is cheaper on mainland China than on the island, you can still get custom-tailored shirts and suits with quality fabrics for as low as USD$40 a shirt. For custom tailoring, I would recommend Tom Tailor and Nobility Tailor. Tom Tailor is the oldest of the Western-style custom tailor shops in Taipei, having fitted various Taiwanese presidents and celebrities since 1916. If you don’t care too much about service or embroidery, and just want a simple shirt that fits well, I also recommend the two custom tailor shops in the basement of Howard Plaza.
If You Go:
- Official Taiwan Tourism Bureau website
- Shiatzy Chen Zhongshan Flagship Store No. 49-1, Sec. 2, Zhongshan N. Rd., Zhongshan District
- 0416 x 1024 No.18, Ln. 20, Sec. 2, Zhongshan N. Rd.
- Jasper Huang
- Find Taipei B1F, No. 37, Lane 205, Section 4, Zhōngxiào East Rd, Daan District
- Vanger B1F, No. 24, Ln. 205, Sec. 4, Zhongxiao E. Rd., Da’An District
- ZUES No. 13, Lane 17, Chifeng St., Datong District
- Tom Tailor No. 90, Bó’ài Rd, Zhongzheng District
- Nobility Tailor No. 11, Section 1, Dà’ān Rd, Daan District