Some people dare to make this claim, and it’s quite a bold statement.
It usually sparks hot debate, with some insisting that bespoke is always better than made to measure because it allows for greater pattern adjustment than made to measure normally does.
However, bespoke doesn’t automatically equal a good product.
A process is a process; both have positives, both have limits and both are influenced by those who undertake the process.
Understanding the difference between made to measure and bespoke is something that’s also contested often these days, as many have distorted the meaning of bespoke through insidious marketing and sold their made to measure programs as bespoke.
Their arguments say that if a garment is custom made from a pattern unique to the client, it is bespoke. The pattern beginning its life as a pre-made block is conveniently forgotten in these sales pitches.
For your benefit, I’ll state clearly what I believe to be the defining difference between bespoke and made to measure.
Bespoke, to me, indicates that a garment is crafted from a pattern that is crafted from scratch.
Made to measure, on the other hand, indicates that a garment gets its basic structure from a pre-made pattern which is then adjusted (to varying degrees, depending on the program) for the client.
I believe that all of the debate as to whether one or the other takes its definition from being handmade or machine made to varying degrees simply contains too many shades of grey to be accurate, but that’s something for another discussion.
To really decide which is better for you, ask yourself one two-pronged question.
“Who, or how good, is the fitter, and who determines the fit?”
In any transaction where you’re buying custom made garments, your most important task as a client is to vet the fitter.
I’ve seen some bloody awful bespoke, and some top notch bespoke.
I’ve also seen bloody awful made to measure, and exceptional made to measure.
The end result is determined partly by the fitter, and partly by the one who determines the fit.
These are not always the same person.
This is most prominent in many entry level made to measure operations, where the fitter simply takes your body measurements and asks your preference for fit (regular, loose, tight), after which they send off your measurements to the workshop.
What does this mean?
It means that your garment fit is actually being determined by the people in the workshop.
Ask five different people what their definition of regular, loose and tight are, and you’ll get five different responses!
This same situation can happen in bespoke, if the fitter and cutter are two different people.
High quality tailoring houses won’t do that, but some may, and you’ll be relying on the communication between the fitter and the cutter.
If a cutter takes your measurements, he(or she)’ll be determining the finished garment measurements.
Likewise, if you visit a made to measure house and your fitter takes finished garment measurements, you’ll be more sure of what you’ll get.
Of course, it doesn’t matter who determines the fit if your fitter does ordinary work.
Try to find examples of the fitter’s previous work, or at least work put out by the shop in question.
The most beneficial is to see their work on body types similar to your own.
Determine if you like their style, and the type of fit, because if you don’t like what you see on others you probably won’t like it on yourself either.
Once you’ve found a fitter who has a good chance of being right for you, make peace with the fact that the first garment you commission will likely score somewhere between 90%-95%.
Perfect fits rarely happen on the first try, just like athletes rarely make their best performances in their debuts.
The fitter might not be a rookie, but you’re a debut performance for them, unless your body type happens to match other body types that they’ve seen. A fitter or cutter with many years experience will be more likely to have seen a shape like yours before, but it’s never a guarantee.
Some can go through an entire career without encountering a specific issue.
Almost equally as important as the fitters eye being right for you and them being the one who really determines the fit, is how they react if your first fitting presents issues.
Do they try to pass it off and sell it as ‘modern fit’ or ‘that’s the way it’s done these days’ or ‘it’s handmade, that’s just the character’?
Preferably, they would rather remake it from scratch rather than push a less than ideal garment out of the door.
Lastly, the fit doesn’t matter if the craftsmanship is rubbish (and vice versa).
A great garment is the result of synergy between multiple parties.
As I said earlier, I’ve seen some excellent and shocking results from both made to measure and bespoke.
Some from big names, and some from low budget street hustlers.
An expertly cut pattern is only going to be desecrated if it’s assembled by second-rate craftspeople.
Likewise, you can give a poorly made pattern to the world’s greatest artisans, and it’ll still fit like shit.
It’ll look like a work of art on the hanger, and it could even be entirely handmade, but good luck to the salesperson who tries to sell it as modern art.
What good is it, if it doesn’t fit?
With all of this in mind, I relate finding a good custom shop to be like finding a good doctor or a good barber.
It takes time to develop the relationship, and it can take a decent investment of time and/or money before you find that you’ve got the one (or that it’s time to find a new one).
When you find the right one, though, it’s a relationship you can keep going for life.
And you’ll never have to go trouser shopping again…