What is Bespoke? And Does it Matter?

I am often asked "what is bespoke?".

Historically, the term comes from an era before the mechanisation of labour in tailoring. Clients would visit their local tailor and select from the available clothes on hand. A length of cloth was considered "bespoken" for when chosen by the client placing the order.

Today the world carries a slightly different meaning. In tailoring it refers to a garment that is both made to order for a specific client and to the highest level of quality utilising traditional handcraft methods and techniques. Bespoke is the hallmark of sartorial excellence. Each bespoke piece is unique onto itself, shaped, fitted and styled to individual preferences and specifications. It is generally accepted that a true bespoke suit consists of a minimum of 80 hours of labor. In an effort to safe guard and protect the heritage of bespoke tailoring, and that of Savile Row, the Savile Row Bespoke Association has defined a set of standards that true bespoke garments must adhere to. This is becoming increasingly important in a world where the word "bespoke" is becoming much more common place.

"Bespoke" has been appropriated by many other industries to to convey that their product is both high end and custom. In many cases the word is poorly borrowed and misleading, forgetting the historical connection to skilled manual labour and time honoured traditions. In menswear bespoke is often and wrongly confused or used synonymously with "custom". But a custom suit is a very different thing all together. The ability to have control of choice over certain design elements is not sufficient to warrant it bespoke. Personally, I find the world of custom suits to be very broad in its meaning, and standards of quality. Whether one buys a custom suit in Vietnam on the cheap or they pay a hefty price at a major retail outlet, they can vary widely not only in cost, but also in quality despite sharing the common characteristic of being "custom".

What should one look for when getting a bespoke suit? In addition to the standards I mentioned earlier there are two other key elements that I believe are essential to a genuine bespoke suit. First off, every client should have an individual personal pattern cut, and kept on hand at the their tailors. Patterns live alongside each client; they evolve over time, and are adjusted to both to physical and preferential changes clients may experience. Secondly, every bespoke suit should have a minimum of two fittings: a skeleton baste and a forward fitting. Without physically fitting a garment onto a client at various stages in the making process I do not believe a garment can truly be considered bespoke. This fitting process is highly important, as each of us have unique physical imbalances that need to be accounted for to maintain a perfect fit. There's not much point spending the extra time, effort and money into getting a bespoke suit if it is poorly fit. It is also helpful for the client to see the progression of the the suit in different stages of the making process. It helps one fully visual the finished product and gives them control to make adjustments and corrections they would have otherwise not considered.

And so what? Does bespoke matter? The answer to that will be very personal and individual. This may depend on how much one values something made by hand versus machine, or a long lasting relationship with a tailor versus a fleeting interaction with a store clerk, or how quickly one can receive their goods instead of a slow and gradual process. There's no doubt that bespoke suits are expensive, and for good reason with labour making up the majority of the cost. Lets remember, cheap labour isn't skilled and skilled labour isn't cheap. So, is it worth it? What bespoke can offer you is a garment that's built to last. Far superior that any store-bought suit with increased durability and comfort. Bespoke suits are designed to change and adapt alongside the wearer, and can be easily altered larger or smaller if necessary. The bespoke process allows one to be fully engaged in the making process, and brings added value and connection to the finished product. At the end of the day bespoke is quality over quantity, and an excellent combatant to fast fashion trends. But is it right for you? Only you can decide.

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