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Article: The Difference Between Bespoke and "Custom" Suits [Overview]

The Difference Between Bespoke and "Custom" Suits [Overview]

The Difference Between Bespoke and "Custom" Suits [Overview]

October 26th, 2023

If you thought, like many others, that bespoke and custom meant the same thing with regard to suits, you aren't alone. 

The Origins of the Word Bespoke

Bespoke tailoring is the art of making garments, mainly suits, in which the pattern (or schematic) of the suit is drawn from scratch by the tailor. The suit is then partially completed and held together by basting stitches in order to be used for the first fitting which is called, you guessed it, the basted. After the first fitting, the suit is then finished by a highly skilled pant or jacket maker. 

Bespoke Elements

1) A drawn-from-scratch pattern 

2) Multiple fittings

3) Skilled handwork

Today the term Bespoke, with all its luxurious & exclusive ring, has been reduced to another mainstream marketing term used by many Made-To-Measure retailers or supposed "custom" shops; and at the same time, the term is still kept close to heart by true bespoke tailors. But where did the word come from, and what does it even mean? 

The origins of the word bespoke can be traced back to the 1800's in which the term was used to describe clothing and footwear not particularly pertaining to suits¬Ļ. It wasn't until the middle 1900's in America when the word bespoke was used to describe suits more frequently - since then, the phrase bespoke suit¬†has been cemented and used pervasively. However the true origination, among tailors, came from Savile Row where the phrase became synonymous with the highest level of sartorial work in the late 17th century¬≤. By effect, the term acclaimed global reach decades later once the trade and influence of bespoke tailoring spread to other countries.¬†

Basted fitting for a client in a navy hopsack cloth

"Custom" is an Umbrella Term

If we turn back the clock around a century, the term custom would simply imply bespoke by default. But today that isn't really the case. Confusing, right? Because of the overuse of the term bespoke, there is a need to emphasize the difference between it and custom now more than ever. 

So what is the modern definition of custom? The modern usage of the word custom can imply either Made-to-Measure (MTM), Made-To-Order (MTO), or something entirely in between. Without diving too deep into what each of these are, it is important to note the following about them: 

Aspects of Made to Measure (MTM) and Made to Order (MTO)

1) In both MTO & MTM, the cloth and/or pattern (or drawing of the garment) is already pre-drawn/pre-cut to a certain degree. So although some modifications may be able to be made measurement-wise, there isn't a true consideration for the client's posture and other body shape factors on the pattern. In other words, the suit isn't made for you specifically and there will more than likely be flaws in how the garments drapes over your body. 

2) While MTM and MTO offer a decent range of customization, they pale in comparison to what can be done with the bespoke process. Since bespoke garments start from the "ground-up", almost anything can be achieved in terms of customization preferences. 

3) With regard to skill, MTO and MTM garments are mainly machine-made from pre-cut patterns and cloths in order to reduce costs and increase efficiency. While machine made suits do offer similar strength and resilience to hand stitching, they lack the personal touch and subtle detail that bespoke suiting offers. 

Only a small portion of clients that get MTM/MTO suits end up with a superior fit and the reason for this is because every body shape is different. Since fast manufactured suits are targeted at generalized body shapes, they don't apply to most people in real life - which is why bespoke tailoring accounts for every aspect of a client's shape. MTM and MTO suits definitely have a strong place in the market for cost, efficiency, and some customization; but when it comes to taking a few steps further in accounting for small details, they fall short. 

Summary

While both custom and bespoke share some overlap historically and in present contexts, their differences can't be overstated enough. Bespoke attire is made by skilled tailors with years of training and experience for the sole purpose of delivering the highest level of sartorial work to clients. 

 

1 || Merriam-Webster - The Modern Goings - On of 'Bespoke'
2 || Bob Sheil - Manufacturing the Bespoke