I just ‘Googled’ bespoke. The first page is full of definitions including Wikipedia’s which tells us that “Bespoke is an adjective for anything commissioned to a particular specification. It may be altered or tailored to the customs, tastes, or usage of an individual purchaser”.
Apart from definitions there are other links in the first couple of Google’s pages – a bespoke PR company, bespoke hotels, bespoke software, bespoke careers advice, bespoke beers, bespoke furniture, a cycling blog called bespoke – and of course bespoke clothing is in there.
It seems pretty clear that from a plain English perspective bespoke is the perfect way to describe clothing made to a customer’s exact specification.
However, there are some particularly vocal tailoring companies that promote bespoke as the exclusive definition for garments made on the premises with patterns cut and garment stitched by hand, based on individual measurements and body shape details, requiring lots of interim fittings. They pour scorn on other companies that use technology or outsource the cutting or stitching. I read a passionate blog the other day about anything with a machine-sewn button hole not being real bespoke. Sorry, but that’s just nonsense.
I am not for one moment suggesting that the time served traditional method does not produce some of the most beautiful garments in the World. It does. These tailors are incredibly skilled and their clothes are most definitely bespoke.
But please guys, the word bespoke is not exclusively yours. You can’t change the definition to match your special requirements or that would be bespoke English! No amount of craftsmanship, tradition, pride or pomp can do that. If you can’t share then get another word.
So then, from my plain English perspective, what is the difference between bespoke and made to measure? Nothing. I have always referred to the tailoring we make at Norton & Townsend as bespoke. It is always unique and produced from our clients’ detailed measurements and figuration observations. We do not amend a pre-existing pattern.
We work with three workrooms. At one, we cut the client’s patterns by hand based on his measurements and body figuration then we chalk around the pattern onto the fabric and cut it out with shears by hand. At the other two workrooms we use technology to create the pattern, taking the same care to accommodate the client’s measurements and body shape. The pattern is equally unique and created from scratch. The cloth is then cut individually according to the pattern using a single lay electronic cutter. The addition of technology does not change the definition or the fit. I am tempted to make a fleeting reference at this point to cars. If my car was produced using traditional methods – marked out and cut from sheets of metal, welded and panel beaten all by hand – would it be better? No.
If it is important to you to know that your suit is going to be created entirely by hand by your tailor on the premises, just ask. On the other hand, if you want a beautifully made, perfectly fitting suit with a first class service and you trust your tailor to do his best, let him or her get on with it. Who cares what it’s called.
Sorry, last thing, why did I pick a group photo to accompany this blog post? Well, I love the picture and I’m very proud of the N&T team. Plus a photo of a dictionary would be really dull.