Bespoke has become an everyday term in the menswear industry, but rarely is the definition fully understood. It’s derived from “bespeak”, to speak for something, and, to give order for it to be made. Everywhere you look another menswear company is poppng up with their spin of the term. Most of these Made-to-Measure (MTM) companies claim to make bespoke suits. Just last week a read an advertisement from a competing company who proclaimed: “Super 180’s handmade bespoke suits for $799.” Please note, the adage is correct: If something seems to good to be true, then it probably is.
In ’08 the Advertising Standards Authority (British regulators), made a significant ruling in formalizing a less traditional definition of bespoke clothing, even though the older distinction with made-to-measure was recognized.
The ruling cited the Oxford English Dictionary definition of bespoke as “made to order.” They ruled that despite their differences, 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-rack suits.
This was a truly disappointing decision. As a result, subpar shops can now exploit consumers. There are huge differences between the two techniques.
MTM (Made to Measure): A MTM company works off a standard size (let’s say 42). They take the pattern and modify it with measurements outside the range of a standard 42 jacket. The master tailor will make adjustments such as jacket length or shoulder width.
It’s important to note that not all MTM are created equal!!!! Some companies only modify 5 or 6 basic measurements. Many of the most important adjustments in a well made suit are posture readings, arm hole circumference and specific rise measurements. If your clothier doesn’t accommodate for all of the proper measurements, you’re essentially buying a glorified off-the-rack suit.
Bespoke: This is a technique where a patter is created uniquely for the client. No modifications are done nor is a base pattern used. Although many measurements are needed, we also rely on other important factors like… the slope of the shoulder, the arch of the back, etc.
My company, Bond & Bari bespoke, use 30+ measurements. From my experience, relying on my eyes to understand my clients build/posture is essential. We also send digital pics to our master tailors in Italy, so he can see for himself!
Other things to consider:
Fittings: Some would say a bespoke fit requires multiple fitting. I’ve heard of some shops doing 5+ fittings. Personally, I think this is more about pomp and circumstance. They put their client through this arduous process so he feels like he’s “getting his money’s worth.” Talented clothiers can perfect your garment within 2 fittings.
Fabric selection: MTM shops offer less fabric options. They typically only sell 1-2 different brands.
Most bespoke shops have a library of 10+ mills. At my shop, Bond & Bari, we offer over 16 collections from the finest mills such as: Loro Piana, Dormueil, Scabal, Barberis, Castangia, etc. This is important for selection, but also for price point / quality range.
With MTM, the styling options are limited. Typically on the list: # of buttons on jacket, pocket style, vent options, pant pleats, cuffs. Sometimes available: lining, lapel styles, button placement. Never available: Anything rare, that requires explanation.
With bespoke suits there are no limits on options, regardless of complexity.
I’ve been in the custom business for almost 15 years and have worked with both MTM and (handmade) bespoke garments. I’ve had the pleasure of learning from master tailors and our Italian partners, Castangia 1850. In my opinion you can’t find a better bespoke garment in the business. My client unanimously agree. Here are some pics from a recent trip to the factory in Sardinia
Whichever option you choose, be sure your clothier is experienced and honest (remember there are no regulatory bodies to watch over this industry). Good communication and trust between client/clothier is essential for a well made garment.