The term "bespoke" dates back to the 1800s when all garments were made by hand by master tailors for individual customers. The term is the adjective form of "bespeak," which signified that a particular garment was "spoken for" by a particular customer. Today, we use the word bespoke to signify a garment that lives up to this historical standard and has been crafted with care by an expert tailor to fit the unique needs and measurements of one specific client: you.
What Makes a Bespoke Garment Different?
With today's mass-produced and fast-paced world, it is understandably a shock to hear of a suit that costs upwards of ten times more than what you see on the rack at the department store. However, while the two may appear similar, they are in every way a very different garment for a very different purpose.
The investment of time, passion, and craft that goes into the creation of a handmade bespoke suit, or shirt, is what gives that garment life and sets it apart from the flat, mass-produced garments that are flooding the market. The horsehair canvas that is meticulously hand-sewn onto the entire front and lapels of a bespoke suit gives it a beautiful shape, resilience, and a memory. This suit, when worn over time, will mold to your body like a glove, and always spring back to its glorious, three-dimensional structure with a quick iron, as if begging to be immediately worn again. A traditionally made bespoke suit can enjoy decades of wear and look just as fresh as when it was first made (if only the same were true for its wearer).
On the other hand, the fusing used to glue the front of a cheap suit together will remain flat and lifeless from the moment it is made. It will not take well to laundering, and will likely bubble and deform after only a few trips to the dry-cleaner. Even the highest quality of fusing cannot escape this, and the suit will undoubtedly crumble into an ill-fitting, sloppy mess. This will leave you with an unwearable suit that is destined for the landfill and will make replacement a costly and unpleasant chore.
A bespoke garment starts its life as an abstraction. The client has an idea, and a uniquely challenging shape to accommodate. The tailor then takes dozens of precise measurements, and drafts a paper pattern that is a two-dimensional reflection of the client's body. This pattern is used to cut the cloth, and the canvas is then basted onto the cut pieces of fabric by hand to create what is called a "basted-fitting." This is then worn by the client, and carefully examined by the tailor who then gets to work cutting, pinning, chalking, and manipulating the garment to achieve a near-perfect fit. The suit is then finished with plenty of ease left in the seams in case of any oversights during the initial fitting. The client then has an opportunity to try out the finished garment in a second fitting, at which point any additional changes will be noted. This meticulous process allows the tailor to achieve a near-perfect fitting suit, and the pattern is kept on file to make future orders easy and consistent.
An off-the-rack garment is cut to what the factory has determined is a "normal" shape and size based on the chest measurement. This is a garment that is made to fit everyone acceptably well, but fit no one very well at all. This will almost always require alterations, which can quickly add hundreds of dollars to the final cost of the garment, and will never approach the accuracy of a bespoke garment. Alterations can also compromise the balance of the garment, as seams will be altered asymmetrically to try and approximate the client's fit. Additionally, certain aspects such as shoulder slope, suit length, pocket placement, button position, and others can never be modified. After alterations, a customer can expect a decent fitting suit in the best case, or an unbalanced and problematic suit in the worst.
Aside from the major aspects discussed above, there is a countless amount of small details that elevate the aesthetics and functionality of a bespoke garment. We'll go over a few of these details below.
Bespoke garments use the finest fabrics available from all over the world. Whether you choose to go with a pure cashmere fabric from the shores of Lake Como, or a soft and supple worsted wool finished with water from the River Colne in Huddersfield, England, there is no wrong choice. Pair this with a two-ply cotton fabric woven with extra-long staple Egyptian Cotton, and you have a beautiful and durable garment that is a piece of art.
Off-the-rack garments are made with one priority in mind: cost. As such, fabric will likely be entirely synthetic or a blend of cheap wool or cotton with plenty of polyester incorporated into the weave to compensate for the low-quality yarn. In most cases, this fabric feels itchy, has an unnatural shine, and quickly shows signs of wear and damage.
Bespoke garments can be infinitely personalized, with the customer dictating every detail exactly as they want it. Pick-stitching on the lapels add a bold flair, while hand-sewn mother-of-pearl or horn buttons add durability and ease-of-use. Functional buttonholes on the sleeve allow the wearer to roll up their sleeves after a long day, or leave a single button undone to add character. High-quality silk or bemberg linings in hundreds of colors and patterns add another element of personal flair. Wide peak-lapels add presence and attitude to the outfit, while structured cutaway shirt collars reveal a beautiful tie knot underneath.
Regardless of your personal style, a bespoke garment is made to suit every one of your preferences, and the devil is definitely in the details.