BESPOKE VS MADE TO MEASURE

These terms are used interchangeably very often in regards to suiting, yet they are quite different, especially when you are talking true bespoke. Just because a suit is made for you in your cloth of choice doesnt make it bespoke, it may be just made to measure. A full bespoke suit is a rare thing, and requires an extreme level of skill and workmanship as well as time.

Bespoke is a term that comes from Saville row days, when a customer would walk in and chose from the bolts of cloth available, hence that piece of cloth would “be spoken for”. This doesn’t come close however to describing bespoke at all. True bespoke suits are made entirely from scratch with no basic block used, only the customers measurements and body configuration and each is made entirely separately from any other. A full bespoke suit will take upwards of 40 hours of a skilled craftsmen and artisans time. They require several fittings at a shell stage, after which body specific adjustments are made. These are crucial to allow adjustments to the idiosyncrasies of the clients body. With the first suit a client purchases there will numerous fittings, and there is no set amount of these (I always tell me clients as many as it takes!!!). With subsequent suits as a pattern is established, only one may be needed.

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Here is a suit at fitting stage

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A great shot of Michael Caine having his suit fitted by Clive Arrowsmith of Hayward tailors as featured in the book “Bespoke; The men’s style of Saville Row.

In both of these images you can suits at fitting stage, enabling as many adjustments as required. On certain fabrics, either very expensive or boldly patterned, some tailors will do their first fitting in a calico, which is a cheap canvas to get the customers body shape correct.

It is in this area that the major difference between M2M and bespoke arises. Made to measure suits are not drawn up from scratch, instead the fit come from a base block. A block is a broader form of pattern encompassing several sizes, but will be designed to fit a certain type of person. Most made to measure houses will have multiple blocks and use the most appropriate one for each client. For example, they will have a stout block for heavier men, a slim block for tall or lean, a block that allows for a prominent chest etc etc. Where the difference really shows though , is the further you differ from the ideal “average” of a certain block the less precise the fit will be. As such, when I am making a suit and see a customer too far removed from a standard block I refuse to make him a made to measure, and insist that he needs bespoke. The other major difference with all the fittings, uninhibited by the constraints of a block, a bespoke suit can adjust for the asymmetry of the body, like dropped shoulder, longer arms, high hips etc much more completely.
Some premium made to measures do offer fittings at a shell stage to cover some of these, but nothing is as good as bespoke when it comes to getting the right fit., however the majority don’t instead making an almost finished or finished garment right from the original measurements.

All true bespoke suits are a full canvas construction as opposed to half canvas as obviously complex fusing machinery wasnt developed while bespoke suiting was evolving (for more info on full vs half canvas read here https://themaninasuit.wordpress.com/2012/08/21/full-canvas-vs-half-canvas/). Made to measure can be full canvas (as can premium OTR suits as well), but more often than not they will be a half canvas construction.

How do you tell whether a tailor is making a full bespoke garment or a made to measure?

This can be quite difficult to answer and requires a level of intuition and knowledge you may only really obtain by experience, bu here are some guidelines

Number one is price. A true bespoke suit takes upwards of 45 hours of labour time, not including a lot of administration and quality control time as well. So if you think of what well trained tradespeople make where you are then you can get an idea of how much labour cost is involved then add fabric which is at least 50$USD per metre for quality cloth (some tailors buy larger rolls in order to get these costs don on staple suits) and you will need approx 3.5m for your suit, the costs add up. In Australia, I would doubt that any suit is truly full bespoke for less than $2500, and more likely $3000 AUD. Anything substantially less than this price is not what a tailor would call true bespoke, but more likely made to measure.

Secondly, having seen this a lot, look for any “fusing” which is usually black glued on interfacing (canvas is off white and feels very different) on the shell fitting, sometimes on the external lapel or more often on the lower half of the front of the jacket on the inside. Anytime you see this the garment isn’t true bespoke as this part is all done by machine and much quicker. Obviously you don’t want to see yours at this stage, instead prior to ordering ask to see several shell fittings.

Timeframe is also an issue. Normally bespoke suits will take between 6-12 weeks and often longer to make. This allows for the numerous fittings, time to do all the hand-finishing as all of this is very time consuming and this is not to be rushed. Many firms on Saville Row take at least 6 months to make a clients first suit.

Then there are all the little details, functioning buttonholes should be standard not an optional extra for example. In short it will require a lot of judgement too, but once found you will understand and appreciate the difference.

This is not to say made to measure suits are “poor” or “bad”, in fact a great made to measure for the right person can be as good as a bespoke suit, but it does anger me to see made to measure suits being sold as bespoke when they clearly are not.

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About themaninasuit

I have been involved in the menswear business since university in1997. Have gradually fallen in love with men's suiting and more recently tailor made garments. I am perpetually asked for style advise and things to wear so decided to get some of my thoughts and passions out and about

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