Bali has come a long way since the days when Kuta's bamboo and gaslight
losmen sold barong T-shirts and batik drawstring cotton
trousers to hippie world travelers. In the last five years especially,
Kuta, Legian, and Seminyak have become major centers for shops and boutiques
selling chic and sophisticated Euro-fashions.
Southern Bali is now one of the best places in Southeast Asia to buy the latest continental, smart city clothes, industrial-fashion designs, and contemporary beachwear. Many internationally recognized European designers—Milo, Itang Yunasz—have teamed up with Balinese designers and nimble-fingered Balinese garment workers. You'll also find collections from such high-end imported labels as Gigli, Gaultier, Doc Martens, Palladium.
Literally hundreds of clothes shops line Kuta/Legian's main road (Jl. Legian), as well as the roads running between Kuta/Legian and the beach. Fashions made for domestic and foreign tourists may also be bought at boutiques in the major hotels. These shops tend to stock a lot of high-fashion batik clothing. Designers on Bali shy away from the wildly mixed colors favored by the Balinese and limit combinations to varying shades of one or two colors in a single pattern. Smaller shops and markets offer better bargains in simpler styles.
Be careful when buying unbelievably inexpensive pants, blouses, shirts, T-shirts, and jackets for sale in the shops along the main drags of the beach resorts or sold by peddlers on the beach. These garments are often overruns, defects, and seconds. This is why you find so many flaws in the workmanship—button holes not lined up, mismatched dye lots, bad stitching, wrong size, sleeves too long or too short, label wrong (says large when it's really small). Much of the material is cheap rayon. Check every piece.
Several shops sell sequined bodices, tops, hats, and purses. Have a good giggle but be careful of buying loud and radical clothing you will probably never wear back home. Also be wary of those flimsy white and black plastic zippers. Bikinis cost as much as Rp20,000 (!) but you can get them for Rp4000 apiece. Balinese G-strings are flimsy but lots of fun. For classier one or two-piece swimsuits and after-swim wear, try Kuta's No Shit (Jl. Bakung Sari), Bali Balance on Jl. Buni Sari, The Curl and Blue Groove on Jl. Legian.
For children's clothes, try Kuta Kids on Jl. Legian near Bemo Corner in Kuta, and Bali Balance, Jl. Bumi Sari, Kuta; for men's and ladies' fashions, Rag's Warehouse, Jl. Basangkasa 28 A, Seminyak, tel. (0361) 751556; for shirts and shorts, Mr. Bali has several shops in Kuta and Legian; for sportswear and footwear, try Tao, Kingkong, and Kartini in Legian; and Bali Barrel, Ulu's Shop, and The Surf Shop for surfwear.
Silk articles are not that great a bargain anymore. Silk shirts, blouses, and skirts cost Rp75,000-150,000 here, whereas in the U.S. you find these garments for only US$29-50. A wonderful shop for creative and expensive silk articles (men's shirts Rp150,000, women's shirts Rp75,000) is Biasa, Jl. Raya Seminyak 39 (tel. 0361-752945). Other great deals (but not beachwear) can be found in the giant supermarkets of Denpasar like MA, Matahari, New Dewata Ayu, and the Tiara Dewata. At Libi, you'll see a whole line of dresses for Rp20,000-30,000. Fixed prices.
Remember you can have a skirt, pants, shirt, or dress made to fit by a tailor or seamstress, so you shouldn't pay more than the amount you'd pay him or her (plus material) for the same garment at a market stall or art shop. Also you get the best price because you're dealing directly with the person making your garment. Stay clear of tourist ghettoes: a tailor in Kuta charges Rp10,000 for a shirt while in Ubud only Rp5000.
Tailors on Bali do good work, take only two to three days to complete a job, charge very reasonable prices (average US$2-7.50), and are very clever at copying from an already sewn piece or from a photo in a fashion magazine or catalog. Give a false deadline to avoid a delay. They may charge you Rp1000 or so extra for "fast work" (two days). More elaborate designs cost more and take more time.
Bring a shirt, skirt, or pair of trousers which fit you very well. From any of these garments the tailor will make a paper pattern. Always specify the buttons to be used and whether you desire double stitching (you do). Check out their previous work.
Prices for typical materials like print batik for a shirt, cotton for dresses or trousers are extra. Two-and-a-half meters of cloth to make a long-sleeved shirt, for example, costs Rp5000-10,000. You'll find a good selection of materials on Jl. Sulawesi in Denpasar.
Locate a good tailor on Jl. Legian (between Kuta and Legian); in Denpasar there are few tailors along Jl. Gajah Mada who do sew for less. Or you can get the name of a good tailor or seamstress from a fabric shop. If it's a retail outlet that offers alterations, look for a sewing machine on site; it's a good sign because you work directly with the tailor and avoid the middleman