Saturday, February 19, 2011

A tale of two tailors

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days…

I accidentally cut a hole in my brand-new black pants (don't ask) and needed them mended before my big trip to Paris (that's right, I'm going to Paris in a few days!). Despite a sewing class in high school (again, don't ask), I have absolutely zero affinity for anything involving needles and thread, and so I began to look around for a professional tailor.

I first went to my dry cleaner, because back home that would be the place to go if you needed to replace a button or tighten a seam; but alas, neither do they mend or know of anyone who mends.

I turned to the internet next. But since it is rare for a business in Abu Dhabi to have its own website, the results of a Google search produced mostly discussion forums where other expats had relayed their various tailoring experiences. After reading several posts, I decided to go with Noor Al Balooshi, a tailor who had received decent recommendations, but also, and possibly more importantly, for whom someone had posted directions with street names and even a couple of landmarks. In a city that does not use a street address system, good directions are worth their weight in gold.

So last Saturday, I kissed Sam goodbye and told him if I wasn’t back by lunch to come looking for me. Why the drama? You see, I could tell from the directions that Noor Al Balooshi was going to be found deep inside one of Abu Dhabi's countless labyrinthine-like neighborhoods that are enclosed within a city block. In other parts of the developed world, the areas of concrete which surround buildings are typically used as dedicated parking lots. But here, these patches of pavement have morphed over years of improper zoning into intricate mazes of alleyways, overgrown with mom-and-pop grocers, pharmacies and specialty shops, barbers and mosques. There are cars parked and double-parked along every inch of curb, allowing room for only one vehicle at a time to pass in many places, with no traffic signs, and few exits to the main roads. I usually avoid these areas lest they swallow me whole; going in on purpose shows how badly I wanted my pants fixed.

Long story made short not as long, the directions turned out to be little help, lacking crucial details like whether to turn left or right at said landmarks. Nearly an hour later, after backing out of (literally) a traffic-jam in which I briefly considered abandoning my vehicle, and then miraculously avoiding a collision when a taxi on my right, without warning, took a sharp left in front of me as I was going straight through an intersection, I had not found the tailor, nor any other establishment appearing to contain a sewing machine.

What I had found was a new disdain for the city of Abu Dhabi. Why should it be so hard to complete such a simple errand?! Fighting back tears of frustration, radio blaring, I made my way out of that cramped part of town and headed out to the Corniche (the road hugging the coast) so I could drive fast and blow off some steam.

Feeling a little calmer and heading back toward home, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a sign on a small side-street that might have said something about tailoring. I had already passed the street so I started the laborious process of turning around (this could be another post in itself). After what seemed like an eternity, I approached the same side street again, and...voilĂ ! A tailor!

Five minutes later, I had left my pants plus a few other altering projects with Amin and his lone sewing machine in a tiny but immaculate shop called Senyorita Ladies Fashion Tailoring (gotta love the use of misspelled Spanish).

Amin was cheery, and despite his limited English, understood each of my requests, quickly measuring and marking for a hem here, a patch there. I asked how much time he needed to complete the work, expecting to wait a week or so, but he responded, "I finish today. You come tonight." I asked the price, and he thought a moment then said tentatively, "Fifty dirhams?" I think he was waiting for me to negotiate, but to me fifty dirhams (less than 14 USD) for mending seven items seemed outrageously low. Best of all, the work he completed turned out to be flawless, way better than my tailor in Boston who would charge me 14 bucks for one hem. I left his shop glowing from my find: a reliable tailor and a new reason to love Abu Dhabi.

I told Amin I would tell my friends, so here they are, drama-free directions to Senyorita Ladies Fashion Tailoring, in Al Khalidya:

Get on Sheikh Zayed the First (7th) Street, heading away from Khaleej Al Arabi (30th) and toward 26th. Go past 16th street, and then be looking for a small street on your right in between the blue First Gulf Bank building and the pink Folklore Gallery building. Turn onto this street (8th), and you'll immediately see the tailor on your left, a couple doors down from the gallery. (Incidentally, there is an African + Eastern nestled in the parking lot behind First Gulf Bank, which I never would have found otherwise.)


  1. Luckily we have heaps of places in Dubai, but they seem more expensive. I love taking things down to the tailors and asking them to make the same in a different colour. They are very clever, fast, and incredibly cheap. I love the UAE

  2. I'm so sorry I failed you, Shannon, by always doing your mending for you! I'm so glad you survived the hunt to tell about it!

  3. As always, I enjoyed reading about your experience of it all. Growing up in India, one is used to getting things stitched by tailors, and doesn't think twice about it. I haven't used any of the tailors here in Dubai though.

  4. Your writing is soooo wonderful!! You could write a book!

  5. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Dear Shannon
    I really enjoyed your piece, I had similar issues with Tailors, and i found my tailor in Khalidiya, Zeena Tailors but the difference is the owner there speaks perfect english and can understand any designs you throw at them, While i was there i saw them taking orders for an Indian Saree Blouse, Then a Men's suit, Then came my turn, I brought 10 dresses for alteration, then i tried a gown with them and they were perfect. They are easy to find too, you can look up Zeena Tailors on Google Maps focusing on Abu Dhabi