The Difference Between "Made-to-Measure" and "Bespoke"
Long time reader, first time caller. I’ve read a lot online about the differences between “bespoke” and “made to measure”. There seems to be a lot of different opinions, or confusion.
I’m curious to your thoughts on the subject, as well as where Articles of Style fits into all of this.
Thanks for your question – this is a common one.
Firstly, in this business there is a lot of different ways to skin a cat, which can lead to a lot of different definitions and confusion. You’re not alone.
In my opinion “bespoke” should be reserved for the real deal. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of businesses around the world that use the word “bespoke” that are not actually that. Think of bespoke as one man (or woman) who makes a garment for you, from scratch. Handmade. Homemade. He spends a lot of time with you over the course of several months. He gets to know your unique preferences, he measures you in person, he makes a pattern for you, he does multiple fittings with you, and he labors for hours and hours hand-making you a garment. Very few people operate like this anymore (it’s an incredible amount of work, extremely expensive, and not a scalable business). If you’re getting a true bespoke suit, you should expect to pay $7,000+ USD and meet with the tailor several times for fittings throughout the stages of production. If the price is considerably lower, it’s likely not true bespoke. One of the advantages of bespoke is that you can have virtually any design or detail you want. If you want 7″ lapels with a secret cocaine pocket under the left one, then you need to go bespoke. One of the misconceptions of bespoke is that it is always “better” or “perfect”. Given that the garment is fully handmade from scratch, there is a lot more that can go wrong, and you are relying completely on the skills and experience of one person to do thousands of steps, and take all of your feedback, “perfectly”. I’ve heard many stories of “bad bespoke”, or bespoke garments that the customer was not happy with (even though they paid $7K+). I like to think about suit making like heart surgery – you could have one incredibly talented person operate on your heart with just their bare hands and do all of the steps themselves – or you could have a team of people using robot-assisted technology with artificial intelligence operating on you. There are some heart surgeons with world-class hands that are simply unmatched. But in more cases, the use of technology and automation can greatly assist in achieving consistent results.
“Made to Measure” (or “custom”) is what the vast majority of brands offer in the custom menswear space. Think of made-to-measure as ready-to-wear that is made-to-order, with a limited number of adjustments (both for design as well as for fit). Everything starts with a base pattern (or base size) and the salesperson (or “tailor”) has to operate within the limitations of the “program” (the pre-programmed digital pattern software that creates the adjustments to the base size). Of course, one program can vary greatly from another, as can the abilities of salespeople. Just like there is good and bad “bespoke”, there is good and bad “made to measure”. In some very limited programs, there are only a few core adjustment that can be made (like length and girth). At some large (scaled) brands, like Ralph Lauren or Brooks Brothers for example, you cannot choose things like lapel width (as this is a “brand standard”) and the fit adjustments are purposely limited (because in order to scale the business, they need to train a large global salesforce on pattern-making adjustments that are extremely complex…and they can’t risk a salesperson in Oklahoma thinking he is Johnny Savile Row, making too many adjustments and ultimately killing a garment/sale/client reputation). With that said, the “house style” (base pattern) comes into play much more than with bespoke (although every bespoke tailor also has their own style and way of doing things). More robust MTM programs have multiple fits (or starting points), multiple constructions (or base styles), and have a much wider selection of customizations. As with most things, all of this ultimately comes down to the brand’s business model – and more importantly – the person that is in charge of doing your individual sale and fitting.
At Articles of Style, our model is unique and we use elements of both bespoke and made to measure, leveraged by the convenience and scale of e-commerce. We perform a basted fitting for each client, which is typically only done in bespoke, but we also (purposely) offer a limited choice of design options and stick to an unstructured house style (as we believe these garments are most versatile and comfortable). We also drastically expanded the number of fit adjustments typically offered with MTM, which are engineered into our proprietary digital fitting program. This is really the secret to our success, along with the pre-adjusted fitting garment. While some brands are limited to “major” adjustments like shoulder width, length and girth…we can manipulate every part of the garment in minute detail. There are hundreds of different adjustments in our arsenal. It’s not limitless like bespoke, but we almost never encounter a situation where we don’t have the adjustment, or gradient of that adjustment, that we need for a specific client. Most importantly, we’ve solved the “scale risk” by doing our fittings online and “brining the client to the tailor, rather than brining the tailor to the client”. Instead of trying to train (and pay) people all over the country/world to travel to your home or office and consistently perform extremely detailed tailoring work, we have a small fitting team (myself and one other person at the moment) who personally review every single order, using a hyper efficient proprietary software. This allows us to provide the same top-level personal service to every client from Oklahoma to Okinawa.
I hope this helps provide some clarity. This is a popular (and sometimes confusing) topic so we will try to dig into it further in future Articles.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Yours in style,