Tailor Talk: Explaining Bespoke, Semi-bespoke, Made to Measure & Off The Peg

When it comes to fashion and design today, fewer words are misused more than ‘bespoke’.  Indeed, the over-repetition and, frankly, abuse, of the word has led to a decline in weight and meaning.

For the tailors of Savile Row, this has become something of a bone of contention. In fact, just over a decade ago, a collective of Savile Row tailors notified the UK Advertising Standards Authority about clothing makers who used ‘bespoke’ to add gravitas to their products, even though they were in fact ‘made to measure’, or ‘off the peg’. 

There’s an important difference between these terminologies, as well as a few grey areas. Let’s start with ‘Bespoke’.

Bespoke tailoring describes clothing that we make by hand for an individual client, based entirely on their style preferences and their body measurements. The use of the term goes back to days of old, when gentlemen reserved their favourite cloths when visiting their tailor, rendering them ‘spoken for,’ or… ‘bespoke’. 

That’s it in a nutshell.

The Difference Between ‘Made to Measure’, ‘Bespoke’ and ‘Off The Peg’

‘Off the peg’ means exactly what it says. Go into any high street clothing store and that’s what you’ll find—ready made and ready to wear, no personal tailoring involved. Don’t confuse off the peg with cheap though. It can be, but some off the peg suits from big name brands can cost tens of thousands of pounds. 

‘Made to measure’ fills the space between bespoke and off the peg. It’s often confused with bespoke, since it involves a degree of size customisation. But where fully bespoke tailoring entails cutting and sewing garments according to as many as forty precise body measurements, made to measure garments are cut and sewn by machine and based on an existing, standardised pattern and design. 

They’re still made to fairly accurate individual measurements, and while they are superior in fit to most off the peg garments, the automation of the made-to-measure construction process means that the finer details and handicraft of bespoke tailoring are left out.

Essentially, the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure is that bespoke garments are made exclusively for the individual

It’s a one of a kind product, where the tailor oversees the measuring, cutting, construction, fitting, and finishing of the garment from start to finish, and this is all done according to the client’s wishes. One bespoke tailored suit can take up to eighty hours of labour to complete. 

What About Semi-Bespoke Tailoring?

The definition of semi-bespoke varies from tailor to tailor, but it generally involves speeding things up in some way to meet the needs of the buyer, who rarely has the time to commit to numerous fittings.

In fact, most busy, customer-facing high end tailors use semi-bespoke tailoring in some form these days. As mentioned above, a fully-bespoke suit can take up to eighty hours to make, so using semi-bespoke methods has become something of an inevitability what with such heavy demands on a tailor’s time and skill. 

Regarding those varying definitions, some tailors consider a semi-bespoke garment to be one that is made in exactly the same way as a fully bespoke one, but the tailor shares the workload with trusted cutting and/or stitching teams elsewhere. This can actually lead to a far superior final product when done well, and by sharing labour amongst various specialists. For example, jacket or coat makers often have a different skillset and level of expertise to a trouser maker, so it can be prudent to avail of the technical skill of each. At Marc Oliver, our clothes are made at our workshop in Milan, where we can combine the classic Savile Row sharpness with the contemporary cut, style and perfectionism of Italy’s finest tailors. 

Those dozens of hours of labour are still there, as are the dozens of razor sharp measurements and customer specifications—they’re just shared amongst more than one person. 

Other tailors may claim that semi-bespoke clothing is cut and/or constructed by machine, then finished by hand. While some parts of a jacket might be machine-made, elements such as buttons and buttonholes, lapel pick stitching, sleeve and collar attachments may be done by hand, depending on the tailor’s own approach. As well as this, the adjustments made between first and final fittings will all be carried out by the tailor. 

Either way, the finished product still requires measuring expertise, and a great deal of handicraft. And most importantly, it’s still a one of a kind, superior item of clothing. 

A Final Word

While the difference between bespoke and semi-bespoke can be almost inconsequential (depending on your tailor’s definition and practice of these terms), each method offers a far superior final product than made-to-measure or off-the-peg clothing.

Methodology and craft aside, a quality tailor is an invaluable resource. That relationship between tailor and client is impossible to replicate. They understand your needs and tastes, can interpret your body shape expertly, choose cloths and patterns that will look great, and they know the fashion world inside out. Indeed, a quality, trusted tailor can advise you on which is the best course of action for your needs — to potentially spend vast sums of money on fully-bespoke garments, or to opt for semi-bespoke or even another method at the appropriate time. That’s the beauty of having a good tailor — it goes far beyond clothing.  

There’s still plenty of merit and reason for made-to-measure clothing, as there is for off-the-peg garments after all. But the bottom line is that the quality, cut, fit, and durability of well tailored clothing is far superior, and that client-tailor relationship is priceless. 

We hope this helps demystify some of the oft-used terminology in men’s fashion. When you’re ready to invest in some new luxury tailored clothing, make an appointment with us at Marc Oliver, and welcome to Savile Row. Thanks for reading. 


Recommended Posts