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Fitting of a bespoke jacket

Bespoke Listeni/biˈspk/ is a British English word that means a clothing item made to a buyer's specification (personalised or tailored). While the term historically is applied to only men's tailored clothing, it now generally includes footwear and other apparel, implying measurement and fitting. For most non-clothing items, the term build to order is usually used instead, although the term 'bespoke applications' is often used to refer to custom software built by a company for its own use by a department other than the IT department.[1]

The distinguishing points of bespoke tailoring are the buyer's total control over the fabric used, the features and fit, and the way the garment should be made. More generally, "bespoke" describes a high degree of customisation, and involvement of the end-user, in the production of the goods. Cad & the Dandy, a modern Savile Row tailor, describes true bespoke as having a full floating canvass, basted fitting and detailed hand finishing.[2]

"Bespoke" is rarely used in any context in other varieties of English,[citation needed] which usually prefer terms such as "tailor-made" or "customised".

Bespoke clothing[edit]

Meaning of the term[edit]

The word bespoke itself is derived from the verb to bespeak, to "speak for something", in the specialised meaning "to give order for it to be made".[3] The term bespoke in fashion is reserved for individually patterned and crafted men's clothing, analogous to women's haute couture,[4] in contrast with mass-manufactured ready-to-wear (also called off-the-peg or off-the-rack). The term originated from Savile Row, a street in London considered the "Golden mile of tailoring".[5]

Bespoke clothing is traditionally cut from a pattern drafted from scratch for the customer, and so differs from ready-to-wear, which is factory made in finished condition and standardised sizes, and from made to measure, produced to order from an adjusted block pattern. This opposition of terms did not initially imply that a bespoke garment was necessarily well built, but since the development of ready-to-wear in the beginning of the twentieth century,[6] bespoke clothing is now more expensive and is generally accompanied by a high quality of construction.[n 1]

While the distinction conferred by haute couture is protected by law in France,[n 2] the British Advertising Standards Authority has ruled it is a fair practice to use the term bespoke for products which do not fully incorporate traditional construction methods.[7] This position is opposed by the Savile Row Bespoke Association, a trade group of traditional tailors.[n 3][8]

Bespoke versus made-to-measure[edit]

Between the extremes of bespoke and ready-to-wear has existed, since the end of the 19th century,[n 4] a "grey area of garments for which the customer was measured, but that were then made up to the closest standard size, often, but by no means always, in a factory."[9] The distinction made here is between bespoke, created without use of a pre-existing pattern, and made to measure, which alters a standard-sized pattern to fit the customer.[5] Technological change makes this distinction more subtle, since "fittings are increasingly required for both bespoke and made-to-measure; a bespoke service may require an individually-cut pattern, which is then kept should further suits be required, and now made-to-measure measurements are often stored too, on a computer. Even hand-work, often cited as a benchmark of bespoke, is now increasingly found in made-to-measure garments, while machine-making plays some part in the creation of most bespoke suits".[8]

Advertising Standards Authority ruling[edit]

In June 2008, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), a British advertising regulator, ruled that an advertisement describing a suit "put into a 'working-frame' where it would be cut and sewn by machine"[10] as a "bespoke suit uniquely made according to your personal measurements & specification"[10] was not breaching the Authority's self-proclaimed advertising codes,[11] notably the truthfulness rule,[12] because the use of the term bespoke was not deemed likely to confuse. The ruling was significant in formalising a less traditional definition of bespoke clothing, even though the older distinction with made-to-measure was recognised.

The ruling cited the Oxford English Dictionary definition of bespoke as "made to order", and considered that despite the fact a bespoke suit was "fully hand-made and the pattern cut from scratch, with an intermediary baste stage which involved a first fitting so that adjustments could be made to a half-made suit",[10] while a suit made-to-measure "would be cut, usually by machine, from an existing pattern, and adjusted according to the customer's measurements",[10] "both fully bespoke and made-to-measure suits were "made to order" in that they were made to the customer's precise measurements and specifications, unlike off-the-peg suits".[10]

Some, such as the etymologist Michael Quinion, considered the ruling showed that "the historic term of art had moved on".[13] Some others concluded that "bespoke tailoring has traditionally, if unofficially, meant something more than the dictionary definition allows"[8] and that the ASA "took a rather ignorant decision to declare that there is no difference between bespoke and made-to-measure."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In article published in Textile History (Volume 34, Number 2, November 2003 , pp. 192-213. Ready-to-wear or Made-to-measure? Consumer Choice in the British Menswear Trade) Laura Ugolini concluded that "interested and well-informed male consumers generally preferred to buy bespoke suits : while usually more expensive than their ready-made counterparts, these were also perceived to be better quality, better looking, and better value, and therefore most likely to enhance the wearer's sense of self-worth as a manly, discerning and successful consumer".
  2. ^ A certain number of formal criteria, including the design for private customers with one or more fittings, must be met for a fashion house to use the label and a list of eligible houses is made official every year by the French Ministry of Industry.
  3. ^ The tailor Richard Anderson wrote an article in the Telegraph to explain that "the ASA has got the ruling wrong" (Anderson, Richard (2008-06-18). "Savile Row tailor Richard Anderson: bespoke must mean bespoke". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-10-10. ).
  4. ^ In 1895, the Leeds Factory Clothing Co. veered between calling itself "manufacturing clothiers" and "bespoke tailors" (cf. Benson, John (2003). A Nation of Shopkeepers: Five Centuries of British Retailing. Houghton Mifflin Cookbooks. p. 102. ISBN 1-86064-708-1. ).


  1. ^ , accessed 2013-09-19, Outsystems Advertisement, mentioning that if the IT department, cannot or will not develop applications the organization needs, departments will go to using 'shadow it' in which they develop bespoke applications using whatever tools and methods they think is appropriate.
  2. ^ Bespoke Suit | Fully Hand Stitched Suits | Custom Made Suits - Cad & the Dandy
  3. ^ Bailey, Nathan (1756). An Universal Etymological English Dictionary. R. Ware.
  4. ^ Art of Textile Designing. Global Media. ISBN 81-89940-03-1
  5. ^ a b Norton, Kate (2006). "Savile Row Never Goes Out of Style". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 14 December 2013. 
  6. ^ Ugolini, Laura (2003). Men and Menswear: Sartorial Consumption in Britain 1880-1939, p.181. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7546-0384-9
  7. ^ Cockroft, Lucy (2008-06-19). "Savile Row tailors lose fight to preserve the term bespoke". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  8. ^ a b c Sim, Josh (2008-07-12). "The b-word: not cut and dried". Financial Times. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  9. ^ Benson, John (2003). A Nation of Shopkeepers: Five Centuries of British Retailing, p.102. I.B.Tauris. ISBN 1-86064-708-1
  10. ^ a b c d e Advertising Standards Authority (2008-06-18). "Sartoriani London". ASA Adjudications. Retrieved 2008-10-09. 
  11. ^ Advertising Standards Authority. "About the Advertising Standards Authority". Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  12. ^ Advertising Standards Authority. "The CAP Code: truthfulness rule". Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  13. ^ Quinion, Michael (2008-09-13). "Bespoke". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2008-10-09. 
  14. ^ Crompton, Simon (2008-07-01). "A loss to (sartorial) language". Men's Flair. Retrieved 2008-10-10.