A guide to the word “bespoke”

Claire Harris – Head of Operations

8th July 2020

A guide to the word "bespoke"


Bespoke tailoring has been synonymous with gentlemen of power and influence for generations.  Whether your style icon is Gordon Gekko or Peter Jones, Jamie Dimon or Jay Z, Harvey Specter or Don Draper; Chances are they are an advocate and frequent wearer of bespoke suits.

Wearing a bespoke suit doesn’t only show to others that you’re a man of impeccable taste, research also shows that how you dress sends messages to your subconscious mind and can actually impact how you think.  In a similar way to how different genres of music can put you into a different state of mind.  So that tie that you keep buried away in your desk drawer and only put on in the event of a big client meeting might actually help you to switch on your creative thinking!

Whether you’re a tailoring newbie looking to polish up your image or a seasoned sartorial connoisseur, in this guide we teach you everything you need to know about the word “bespoke” when it comes to men’s tailoring.

So what does a bespoke suit actually mean?


Quite literally, a bespoke suit is a suit which has been “bespoken” for, meaning that it is a garment which has been ordered in advance to the wearers measurements and style preferences.

However, there are several levels of construction and craftsmanship which can go into a bespoke suit which is why prices can range anywhere from a couple of hundred pounds up to many thousands.

For purists, the true meaning of a bespoke suit echoes the time honoured methods of traditional Savile Row tailoring.  Just to confuse everyone, this is typically referred to as “Bespoke” or to help give it some distinction you may hear the term “Full Bespoke”.


Full Bespoke

With a full bespoke suit, your measurements will be transcribed onto your own unique pattern (often stored on paper) .  Next the chosen fabric will be cut by hand using this pattern as a template, then all of the components are matched by hand and held together with basting stitches with a full floating canvas. At this point you will have a basted fitting, where the tailor will go into more depth with the measurements and figurations. Lastly, the suit will be finished and sewn together with a large element of hand stitching before a final fitting where any further minor adjustments can be made.


As the pattern of a full bespoke suit is created from scratch, there is an infinite number of measurements and figurations that can be taken into account (this is often helpful if you have quite an unusual shape such as a rounded back or a broken shoulder).  With the huge amount of care and attention that goes into constructing the suit, there really is nothing that can come closer to fitting like a second skin.


The drawbacks for some is that the process can typically take over 10 weeks from start to finish with at least two and sometimes three or more fittings. Also, there is the cost with full bespoke suits demanding such high levels of hand craftsmanship they really are the pinnacle of luxury when it comes to men’s tailoring.


For those looking to save both time and money, there is also an option called semi-bespoke.  Semi-bespoke suits often require the same number of measurements as for full bespoke but start from a pre-made pattern which is stored electronically.  Then, using the measurements, the tailor can make hundreds of tiny adjustments called figurations to ultimately create a template which is as close to fully bespoke as you can get.  The fabric is then cut by an extremely accurate laser guided machine.  As with full bespoke, the components are matched by hand and held together with basting stitches, with a floating canvas. Lastly, they are sewn together part by hand and part by machine.


Although not to the same degree as full bespoke, for the majority of gentlemen (even with a slightly unusual shape such as very tall, dropped shoulder or barrel chested) you will end up with something which is 90% of the way there.  As there is slightly more machine work, semi-bespoke suits also take much less time (6-8 weeks) and a lesser number of fittings, often just one and only  occasionally two or more.  With less man hours required, semi-bespoke is also much less costly. 


A semi-bespoke suit can be slightly more difficult to alter than full bespoke, once the suit has been made and although it will look and feel extremely close, for some purists, it’s just not the same as a full bespoke, handmade suit.


The most commonly found type of “bespoke” suit available on the high street is constructed in a way which is often called made-to-measure.  Here, your measurements are taken and then matched up to the closest available pattern with a few limited adjustments able to be made prior to constructions; Such as trouser length, sleeve length and waist.  It is typically a machine made garment with a fused canvas which helps to reduce cost and speed up the process. 


If you are able to fit into an off-the-peg suit pretty well (pay close attention to the shoulders!) this is a good first step to be able to have something made in the fabric and style that you choose at a fraction of the cost of full bespoke.  Made-to-measure suits can start anywhere from £500.


There are limited adjustments that can be made to the pattern (ie  if you have wider shoulders you’ll often be bumped into the next size up requiring further alterations elsewhere).  Also, as a fused canvas garment it is usually heavier and less breathable than full bespoke and semi bespoke options.  Lastly, at the cheaper end of made-to-measure, the quality of the fabrics used isn’t much greater than that of an off-the-peg suit.  


An off the peg suit is exactly that – a suit which has been pre made, you can pick up off the peg put straight on and walk out of the shop wearing it (you may also hear the term ready-made).  So why talk about this in an article on bespoke?  Be very careful when shopping around as some “bespoke” retailers have a large warehouse of off-the-peg suits and after taking some basic measurements and style choices from you they will simply select one of their pre-made suits and infer that it has been made to your exact specifications.  Although somewhat contentious, these retailers surmise that you have made some specific requests, therefore, the suit has been bespoken for and can be called bespoke. As the current advertising authorities have failed to curb this relaxed approach to the definition of bespoke, the practice continues and is increasing with many retailers offering this kind of service online.  If someone is offering a bespoke suit for £200-£300 it is highly likely you’re actually getting something off-the-peg.


There are however a lot of benefits of off-the-peg, principally the convenience.  If you’re caught in a jam and need a suit today, you can do that.  You are also able to view a large number of options in one place, try them on to see how you like them.  Then obviously there is price, with Primark offering 2-piece suits from £50.


The drawbacks of off-the-peg are that the fabrics are usually a pretty low quality and so tend not to last.  If you are spending more than £400 on a suit you are often paying more for the brand name than the quality and in reality, if you end up needing to replace it in less than a year, this can be a very expensive way to buy suits.


Claire Harris

Claire Harris

Head of Operations