Tailoring here is a surprisingly affordable amenity. Though in the west it is slowly going out of fashion, here there are an excess of local shops that practice the trade. Tailoring seems like a lost art form of sorts. With the invention of multinational department chains, we do not have that same connection to the seamstress or tailor. On the street up to my house there are at least seven storefront windows, each with a faded sign in bold characters of Arabic and English trying to communicate their expertise. “Maker of Women’s Garments”, “tailor of men’s wearing”, “tailor of women’s wearing apparel” Fabric Sewer” ” Clothing Makers” are all commonplace along the street signs of old Muscat. Who doesn’t love translations? Until that day I can not only read the signs in Arabic, but also understand what they are saying, it’s a very good thing indeed.
Each store is equipped with one of those metal roll-up doors to close up shop when needed. Most of these little storefront windows are a one-man operation, so there are typically very flexible hours. By mid afternoon, by the time the rest of the town is asleep, you can spot these older men inside of a small coffee shop with the air conditioning cranked up on high, each with a small cup of coffee in their hands retiring from a long morning of sewing. Often, they will also depart for their routine prayers to the mosque next door. But for the most part, you can expect to see them throughout the day, eyes glued to a rickety old sewing machine surrounded with piles of bright fabric beginning their next project.
Each shop has essentially the same interior, a barren white workspace, just dirty and sallow enough to suggest a certain amount of experience or tradition. The machine is a small electric; maybe the first of its development as its lumbering disposition requires it to be drilled to the table. On the floor in reused oversized shopping bags are piles of fabric swatches and some longer yard lengths of fabric folded and stacked all the way up to the ceiling. It is a mesmerizing sight of shiny nylon cotton hybrids with sequins and plenty of bright prints. The fabrics are almost as engrossing as the tailor patiently tapping away at the foot press in an intricate tap dance routine of sorts.
On the hanger rack are rows of long nightgowns; light cotton shifts that cinch at the wrists yet hide the rest of the body as to discretely fit under an abaya. They are all bright and loudly patterned, a stark contrast to the black abayas one normally sees. Women stop by with their sisters, usually sometime before dinner to pick out their favorite. Around the house, these dresses are worn everywhere, so they wear out frequently. The women in the tailor shops scan the rack up and down, and finally point with enthusiasm once they have found their favorite. Because of the modest nature of this country, most dresses here are unisized, but either way the tailors are all very talented. Within five minutes a design is carried out from concept to scissors. Over time these men develop their signature patterns, and every dress they make seems to follow suit.
Most importantly I can afford it!