If you're a Westerner and you walk down Itaewon Street (the main drag) especially the south (Seoul Pub) side of the street from Itaewon Station (line 6) toward Yongsan Garrison (U.S. Army base) you'll probably be approached by 5-15 older, shorter Korean gents looking to hook you up with a good custom rag. They have a number of lines: best quality, best price, best service, best whatever. I think they are, more or less, all the same. They act as agents for mills (usually in Dongdaemoon) that actually make the suit. (Of course, they ALL have the inside track to the best quality, price, service...)
Here's the deal. A suit will probably run you 200 USD (they always price in USD, no matter where you're from).You pick the fabric, style and such and it'll be ready for a fitting in 2-3 days (or maybe a week, dependiing...), then a final fitting a day or so later and you're done. All you need to do after that is call the dude from anywhere in the world and you can have a suit made and sent to you (but some get a fitting on a lay-over through Seoul, I imagine).
It's a pretty good service, but you should also know that when I buy off the rack (not in a department store, mine you, but the same stuff about a season behind) I get a good fit and it costs me about 300USD for 2 sets of a suit and extra suitpants. So, there are even better deals outside of Itaewon (where I find foreigners get fleeced a bit). But if you want convenience (English, USD) it's a good spot to shop.
Itaewon is a mighty strange area. It is very western friendly, but also kind of third worldish at times. I love it because for a first time visitor to Seoul, it is a good place to ease into it. Many vendors speak english, during the day there is very little to zero crime, and there are actually some good buys on things....There is also Hwenson Lee!
The entire strip of Itaewan runs along one road, from the area of the Yongsan military base to where the road curves just past the "Thai Orchid". It is easily accessed by subway through the Itaewon station, and is on Line 6 which runs all over town! The area is a great place to duck into a restaurant (both western and Korean), buy Cd's (I highly reccomend SES or BoA), buy shoes, or visit the infamous Hwenson Lee!
Ok, I have teased enough about Hwenson Lee, time to let you off the hook. Mr. Lee is a tailor in Itaewon, who actually makes very nice suits at a good price. He has one and only one major customer though, Lucciano Pavoratti, yes, the Italian Opera Tenor. Mr. Lee is always happy to take a stranger off the street to show them his works, and his pictures of his most famous client. On all three of my trips to Seoul, I have been welcomed back into the shop to see pictures of Mr. Pavoratti. Again though, very nice suits.
Many of the vendors also reside on the street, where good deals can be had on everythign from Nike Shoes, to coats, to umbrellas (handy in the rainy season.) There is also a police station very close, and very public in case anything should go wrong while you are there. Plus, you can stick around for the western friendly nightlife. But be warned about interaction with the local women, this is an area where the women who may share a drink with you are on the job and looking for your money for their companionship.
What to buy: The Korea Leather Center had some really great looking coats, and of course there are suits made by the tailor to Pavoratti!
What to pay: It is hard to say. Many vendors are used to westerners with a set price, but I found I was able to haggle my own price on a lot of items, just by showing interest and then pretending it was too much. This probably won't work everywhere, but is worth a try. Your results may vary.
There are a variety of small shops in Itaewon that sell clothes, pottery, leather goods, luggarge and other items. These used to be the source of great bargains, but over the last few years the prices have started to appreciate. No longer is Itaewon a bargain hunter's paradise. Still, there are some unique products that are worth buying even if thay are no longer cheap. I highly recommend the traditional Korean celedon pottery, of which I now own quite a bit. A great gift for new couples are wedding ducks, but make sure you get the one with the ribbon around the female's beak (according to tradition, if the woman keeps her beak shut, the marriage will be peaceful). Finally, I recommend amehyst and smoky topaz jewelry, since the stones come from Korea.
Itaewon is quickly losing its seedier side and is filling up with good restaurants and chain stores. You can find Nike outlets selling all manner of shoes and sports gear, Body Shops filled with makeup and luxurious bath products, and dozens of clothing stores and tailors specializing in Chinese silk dresses. Be warned! In-a-day tailoring service usually will not result in a properly form-fitting dress!
There are lots of souviners, but most are kind of tacky and of poor quality; for the good stuff, you have to go to Insadong.
While I first visited this shop nearly 8 years ago, it has changed very little (except for the cost!).
"Mr. Name on Hat" will monogram anything you want on nearly anything you want.
If you bring in a shirt or bag, he'll sew your name/company on it.
Otherwise, you can buy a plain hat, luggage tag, towel, bag, etc. in his shop and he'll sew your name in it.
What to buy: Luggage tags are the most common, but so are personalized hats.
Hats vary in cost.
What to pay: Luggage tags are 5000W (with no decorative patch) and 8000W (with patch).
(compare to when I first visited and each was only 1000W!!) But it is still a good option for quick gift.
A lot of people go to Seoul for the inexpensive custom tailoring. There are tons of tailors, especially in Itaewon. Many of them are terrible. I am very very picky when it comes to shirts, and have tried unsuccessfully have shirts made by several tailors in the area. Hamilton's is the best and the only one I will go to. What sets Hamilton's apart is that they actually carry high quality fabric. Other tailors carry cheaper fabric that will itch and will look bad after a few washes. You can tell Hamilton's is good because it is the only tailor in Itaewon that will be packed with locals. They are very good at customizing things for you, but be sure to clearly explain what exactly you want. Also, if something does not come out right they will normally fix the mistake. Do not waste your time on other tailors, and spend the $40 for the high end fabric.
It's location is right out of the Itaewon subway stop, go toward the South side and exit on your right. Do not confuse this tailor with Hamilton's shopping center (the good tailor is across the street). It is about one half block from the subway exit, in a store about the size of a walk-in closet. If you see an Outback Steakhouse you have gone too far.
Itaewon is no longer a bargain place for suits. I just bought a jacket for 350,000 won from Hahn's Tailor at the entrance of Itaewon, and he's one of the more expensive places. Trouble is, most of the suits are simply made from set patterns and tailored to fit the customer. The number of measures is under 10, whereas an Italian or English tailor might take more than 40.
That said, Hahn's has gotten quite a number of good reviews. He's nice and does what you want, BUT he's pricier than most tailors in Itaewon.
What to buy: Custom made shirts are good in Seoul, and the only place I go to for that is Hamilton Shirts.
What to pay: A custom made suit can run between 250,000 won and more than one million won, depending on the tailor and fabric used.
Itaewon is perhaps the most famous shopping area for foreigners in Korea. Though dirty, overcrowded, and often expensive, there are a few good deals and a few good shops in this area. If you shop in Itaewon, stick to the back streets and barter, barter, barter.
Many of the same items are availalble in other areas of the city or in Songtan for much lower prices.
IItaewon is Special Tourism Shoping Zone of Seoul. this street or area real history was public B&B or guesthouses area of Joseon Dynasty. at present, Itaewon discrict is most attraction shoping place of among the foreigners, and lots of restauranta about traditional foods of countries all around the world.
The Itaewon shopping area covers a 1.4 km length, stretching from the U.S. 8th Army Base eastwards to Hannam-dong and contains over 1,000 different stores. The area has a vibrant night life scene with many bars and nightclubs. Many street vendors selling shirts, jackets, and caps also stay up late to cater to nocturnal shoppers. Most vendors speak some English and Japanese. High quality leather products in Korea can be found here at reasonable prices (that is if you know how to HAGGLE!) as well as various types of traditional Korean souvenirs. Counterfeit goods and clothing are ubiquitous and of varying quality (But your best bet to buy "Super Copy" Luxury goods is in NAMDAEMUN Market!), but some genuine goods which are produced in Korea for the international market as well as some authentic imports can sometimes be found here
What to buy: Mostly Souvenir Stuffs like keychain, satin wallets, Leather Goods, (they also have good tailors), Shorts, Shirts, etc. again if you plan to buy super copy leather goods, go to Namdaemun Market!
What to pay: as usual, haggling skills and korean interpreters is needed to get a good bargain!
From what I have been told the Koreans love to shop. There are shops and district for almost every imaginable type of product and some are open until very late at night.
Itaewon is a particular shopping district in Seoul that caters mostly to the tourist. You will find name brand stores mixed in with discount and knock-off outlets as well as street vendors on this street. English is pretty popular here so you don't have to worry about communicating with the locals. In addition to the shopping you'll also find some good restaurants and street food in this area (see my restaurant section) as well as some good "off the beaten track" places to explore (see that section too). I spent about 6 hours walking around Itaewon and the surrounding neighborhoods so there is plenty to do to fill the time if you're curious, adventurous and a bit ambitious.
What to buy: You can get all kinds of stuff here. The most popular are men's suits, other clothes (shirts, jackets, etc...) purses, souvenirs and art. You can also find some good food around this area.
What to pay: If you go to a brand name store like Nike expect to pay full price. Other items like suits, shirts and other clothers are discounted but you may have to bargin to get a good price.
Itaewon does have some shops, but i think a day trip is good enough for this area. Itaewon is located near an US military base, so don't mind the soldiers in camouflage wandering around town.
At night time, Itaewon transforms itself -- I did feel a little creeped out at night time in that part of town. We went with 2 native Koreans from Seoul, and they were pretty scared to be there at night. There are a lot of go-go bars, happy massages, etc. One of the native Koreans told me that most korean girls do not hang around in that area, afraid to be mistaken as a prostitute. There are some policemen stationed in some corners, and it was amusing to walk around the alleys and checking out the different people hanging out. Just don't stare at them.
Basically anything you want, this area of town is known as the western or foreigner area. Many people will speak english here. You can find bargains of anykind and alot of the big clothing chains like northface,quicksilver,levis will have stores here.Many street side tables, people trying to sell you anything from toques to suits. I personally would avoid this place at night, as it can be intimidating.
What to buy: Anything you fancy
What to pay: try and bargain