Want a custom-made dress for just $7.50 for the fabric and $7.50 for the sewing, making a grand total price of just $15 U.S. dollars?
Just follow these simple steps!
1.) Fly to Ghana. (Don’t forget your visa and your vaccinations.) I told you this would be easy, right?
2.) Trot over to the nearest hectic, madly bustling outdoor market you can find.
In Sogakope, this market (pictured above) occurs once every four days, so do a few awkward calculations on your fingers while arguing with a friend about whether four days after Thursday is Sunday or Monday.
If you are white, or clueless, or white and clueless (raising hand) it is HIGHLY recommended that you bring a Ghanaian friend with you for assistance.
How blessed I felt when YCC staff member, Millicent (pictured, above) agreed to take me by the hand (literally) and lead me through the rainbow-colored swirl to the most beautiful cloth obtainable!
3.) Understand that at the market, there are at least twenty different stalls selling fabric, but certain ones are, for some reason, better than others. I understand this, in theory, but I don’t understand exactly why…
Me: “Millicent, look! That woman is selling lots of cloth!”
Me: “But, but–”
Millicent: “No. We’ll go to this one over here.”
Me: “I bow to your superior knowledge but have no idea what’s going on.”
4.) Understand that, in Ghana, certain cloths are for certain types of clothes ONLY. You will be ridiculed profusely if you suggest otherwise. Example:
Me: “Oooh, I like this fabric!”
Millicent: “But you said you wanted a dress. That is a print fabric, and print fabrics are for two piece. If you want a dress you need to pick a batik fabric.”
Me: “But what if I want a print dress?”
Millicent and Store Owner: “Hahahahaha! Impossible!”
Me: “Hm. Okay. What about this pretty solid color fabric? I like the orange or the green.”
Millicent and Store Owner: HAHAHA! That cloth is for school uniforms only!”
In the end I settled upon a print fabric which reminded me delightfully of a psychedelic skirt my mother had sewn in the hippie seventies and allowed me to appropriate. It has a Jewish star that almost certainly does not stand for a Jewish star in this context, but it makes me happy all the same.
5.) Buy your cloth (ten Ghana Cedis or $7.50 U.S. Dollars for six yards) and jiggity jig a few blocks down to the seamstress your friend introduced you to. Exchange greetings and finger-snapping handshakes.
There are about thirty different posters all along the walls and layered atop one another which display different styles of dresses you can order. (An example poster is pictured to the right.)
Wow, are there some elaborate designs! Remember now: you have a print fabric, so you are only allowed to look at a certain set of designs! Me, I ended up staring dumbly at the posters for so long that the kind seamstress finally pointed to the most popular design and said, “What about this one?” I nodded in gratitude.
6.) You will be measured with a cloth tape measure and while you are measured you will be gently poked in your bust area as well as on your ticklish rear. The seamstress will diligently write your measurements on a pad of paper, shake your hand, and tell you to return in three or four days to try on your new dress!
But one more thing: do you want it lined or unlined? Unlined, the labor to sew the dress costs eight Ghana Cedis ($6 U.S.D.). Lined with a light inner fabric, it will cost ten Ghana Cedis ($7.50 U.S.D.).
I stared in utter confusion at the seamstress when she asked this lining question, then glanced wildly at Millicent for help. “YES!” Millicent cried, aghast that I would even consider any other answer. “YES you want it lined! If it is not lined it will not be attractive!” As I aim to always be attractive, I signed up for the lining. Thanks for saving me yet again, Millicent!
7.) As you leave the seamstress, you really will not be able to help yourself. Whip back around and gush to the women behind their sewing machines: “This is my first time EVER having a custom-made dress. In America it is a huge luxury that would cost so much money! Thank you!”
Upon hearing my words, the three women in the store leaped up, stunned. “You’ve never had a dress sewn for you before?!” the lead seamstress gasped. Her two helpers began laughing and applauding in glee. Millicent chuckled. “Here, we have all our dresses sewn for us! It is so, so common!”
8.) Every day for the next four days, tell everyone: “Soon I’ll pick up my custom-made dress!” When, at last, the thrilling day comes, you will burst into the door of the seamstress’s shop, be greeted warmly, and be thrown your gorgeous new garment to try on behind a small screen in the back of the shop.
Since Ghana is about ninety degrees Fahrenheit, minimum, each day, and since you will have likely walked at least fifteen minutes to reach the shop, you will be coated with a thick, slick layer of sweat. Do you really want to get your lovely new dress slimy and stinky? But there is no choice: you must see now if it fits or if it needs to be altered.
My two-piece dress fit! And it was so cute! I pranced around the shop for a time, snapping photos and having photos snapped of me, then ran home (oh wait, I taught an hour of computer and penpal class to YCC kids first, but then scampered home) to shower and force my dear housemates to take a bunch more cheesy model photos to showcase the new garment! I love it!
Now if only there were some giant gala event coming up… Something tells me that sometime in the next week or two you’ll see more photos of this dress. Below is a picture of another dress I had made from fabric gifted after teaching. Ghanaian seamstresses are wonderful.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!