The distinguishing points of bespoke tailoring are the buyer's total control over the fabric used, the features and fit, and the way the garment should be made. More generally, bespoke describes a high degree of customization, and involvement of the end-user, in the production of the good.
The word bespoke itself is derived from the verb to bespeak, to "speak for something", in the specialized meaning "to give order for it to be made". The term bespoke in fashion is reserved for individually patterned and crafted men's clothing, analogous to women's haute couture, in contrast with mass manufactured ready-to-wear (also called off-the-peg or off-the-rack). While widespread in the United Kingdom, the term is rarely employed in the United States, although it may be used by some in the high-end tailoring business.
Bespoke clothing is traditionally cut from a pattern drafted from scratch for the customer, and so differs from ready-to-wear, which is factory made in finished condition and standardized sizes, and from made-to-measure, produced to order from an adjusted block pattern. This opposition of terms did not initially imply that a bespoke garment was necessarily well built, but since the development of ready-to-wear in the beginning of the twentieth century, bespoke clothing is now more expensive and is generally accompanied by a high quality of construction.
While the distinction conferred by haute couture is protected by law in France, the British Advertising Standards Authority has ruled it is a fair practice to use the term bespoke for products which do not fully incorporate traditional construction methods. This position is opposed by the Savile Row Bespoke Association, a trade group of traditional tailors.
These standards particularly stress:
- hand work used almost entirely on all garments, including the "individual cut of a paper pattern";
- personal service, such as qualified advice, a large selection of fabrics, or the keeping of all records for future orders;
- involvement by participating houses in an approved training scheme.
The association has also specified twenty-one points addressing specific parts of a suit, each dictating some detail such as the length of inlays, or which seams must be hand stitched. Yet the association has not successfully established bespoke as a protected label, comparable to haute couture.