Bespoke: The Most Confused Word in Menswear

Over the past five years, I’ve witnessed an abundance of buzz words grow to fruition in the menswear and lifestyle space, but none as confused as ‘bespoke’.

From social media strategies to landscape garden designs, bespoke is a word we hear every day, applied to an abundance of products, categories and industries that describe any service that can be personalised, but it’s the word’s relationship with suiting that prompted my thoughts here.

Antonio Liverano via Gnoseologia della Moda

Today, any business inclined average Joe can create a made-to-measure suiting business – hence the prolific growth of the industry. Hop on Ali Baba, select an industrial manufacturer from the 7,000+ ‘made-to-measure suiting’ results, create a website, market products through clueless influencers, fit some customers and deliver some products. Voila, you’re now a bespoke tailor.

That’s what the consumer is led to believe anyhow.

Once upon a time, the word bespoke had a clear cut application to suiting. It described a garment made entirely by hand, consuming over fifty hours work, made from a unique pattern, created specifically for your body measurements. For a small majority of menswear enthusiasts, the word is still held in high regard, representing the absolute pinnacle of suiting. For the vast majority, however, it is a word completely misunderstood, used by people who unjustifiably refer to themselves as tailors. It has become nothing more than a fluffer for marketing collateral used to convince the consumer that a brand’s prices are reasonable, and personally, I think that needs to change.

Handwork at Kiton.

In reality, this misdirection is an issue that permeates the entire suiting industry, from provenance to construction, and it’s the consumer who loses out. The irony of the situation is, the established and respected MTM ateliers, in an effort not to bring the word bespoke into further disrepute, refuse to use it. It’s the low-cost businesses appealing to the uneducated buyers who frivolously splatter it across social profiles, Facebook ads and press releases when in reality, their service couldn’t be further from bespoke.

Like Champagne from the Champagne region is protected, I’d like to see the word bespoke regulated in the suiting industry – they can also address concerns of garment origin while they’re at it. I realise it’s an absurd suggestion, which is almost impossible to monitor but centuries of hard working tailors have dedicated lifetimes to their art, and it should be honoured, not bastardised.

Edward Sexton shot by Phil Dunlop

Edward Sexton shot by Phil Dunlop

Until that day (never) comes, it’s vital as consumers, that you look past the buzz words, educate yourself and ask questions. Who started the brand and why? Who is the person fitting you and how many fittings will take place? What experience do they have? What is the house style? Where is the product made and why is it made there? Which parts of the garment are machine sewn or hand stitched (if that’s a claim they are making to charge you more)? I often ask these questions when brands approach us, and nine times out of ten I don’t get the answer I’m looking for, and that’s why they don’t appear on The Versatile Gent.

Prince Charles at Anderson Sheppard

Prince Charles at Anderson Sheppard

The goal is not to look dapper; it’s to get a quality product fitted by someone who actually knows what they’re doing! There’s a plethora of shithouse made-to-measure products in the market at the moment. Do your research and don’t be a sucker.

Aidan from The Sartorial Journal has written a great piece on this topic which you can read here.

Check out our list of Australia’s top tailors here.

Feature Image:  Gnoseologia della Moda
Edward Sexton Image: Phil Dunlop


James is the Founder and Editor of The Versatile Gent.

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