The History of Bespoke Tailoring

The Oxford English Dictionary defines bespoke as “made-to-order”, but it is so much more than that. It is fine men’s clothing custom made by a master tailor to an individual’s specifications. With bespoke clothing, gentlemen have control over the statement that their clothing makes to potential clients and coworkers, with choice of fabric, cut, style and details left to the buyer. By its very nature, bespoke tailoring includes a high degree of individual customization, resulting in truly one-of-a-kind pieces for the discerning gentlemen.


The History of Bespoke and the Rise of the Gentleman


Bespoke tailoring is a centuries old craft and art form that elevated men’s clothing to new levels of design and function. Only the most skilled tailors were, and are, able to craft suits, jackets, shirts, pants and other garments entirely from scratch, in ways that best complement a man’s individual figure and sense of style.


According to historians, bespoke tailoring began in Europe sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries. Prior to this time, clothing was seen as a purely functional object, but as Europe experienced the Renaissance and art and culture transformed the world, custom tailoring and clothing became an extension of one’s style and a form of personal expression. Master tailors, responding to the changing desires of their clientele, influenced and changed fashion history over the next several centuries, taking men’s styles from the standard (and often feminine looking) doublets and cloaks of the 14th Century to the masculine fitted coats, vests, trousers and jackets which we still wear to this day. It was at this time that the modern-day “gentleman” was born: dressed discerningly in custom-made clothing, bespoke tailors dressed all the best men of society, from businessmen to aristocrats to royalty. High-end hat makers worked alongside bespoke tailors to create full custom outfits for gentlemen.


In the 18th Century in London, Savile Row was the place for well-dressed (and generally well-monied) men to find skilled tailors. Savile Row gained the title the “golden mile of tailoring”, and it was there that tailors coined the phrase “bespoke” to describe cuts of cloth which had been specifically “spoken for” by a particular gentleman. The tradition of allowing a customer to select his ideal fabrics, style and accessories continues today in the luxurious showrooms of the finest bespoke tailors.


Bespoke tailoring has always been a prestigious vocation, and in many ways is the ideal pairing of technical skill and creative artistry. Today, perhaps more than ever, bespoke tailoring is an essential profession. In a world filled with mass-produced garments and cheap cloth pulled together by machines and generally unskilled laborers, bespoke pieces set the wearer apart. Woody Wilson is proud to carry on this rich tradition and to offer clients custom-made garments in the most exquisite and luxurious imported fabrics available. Our well-appointed showroom on Wilshire Boulevard is open by appointment only, so that we may fully focus on each individual client in order to attain for him the look he desires to project to the world. Whatever your style, the artistry of bespoke tailoring can achieve your look.


The Difference between Bespoke and Made to Order Suits and the 4 Levels of clothing


In fashion and clothing manufacture and design today, there are 4 general levels of clothing options:


  • Off-the-rack, or Off-the-peg in the UK, clothing are the most common type of clothing available to the general public. This is what you’ll find at every major department store; clothing that fits a general size, but not to an individual’s measurements are off-the-rack clothes.
  • Made-to-measure suits (and other clothing pieces) involving crafting a suit initially sewn from a standard sized base pattern. Although made-to-measure suits do involve hand detailing and craftsmanship, they involve much less craftsmanship than truly custom or bespoke pieces.
  • Custom suits are a middle ground between bespoke and made-to-measure suits. A custom tailor will often allow their client to select from fabric choices or cut/style options, but those options are likely to be limited.
  • Bespoke garments are truly one-of-a-kind pieces, and each one is made entirely from scratch based on a client’s specifications. Fabric options will not be limited, and customization of suiting is limitless. Bespoke suits speak to the most discerning gentlemen or lady looking for a truly one-of-a-kind suit or garment, made to their exact and unique specifications.

Although the terms “made-to-order” and “bespoke” are sometimes used interchangeably, they are actually not the same process, and don’t result in the same end product. Bespoke focuses on the individual and a master tailor builds a suit or other garment around that client: his or her from, ideal patterns, fabric and cut, as well as sensibilities and style. With a made-to-order suit, you start with an already finished suit and then customize it to fit the individual. In both cases you should end up with a suit that fits you very well and which makes you feel in control and comfortable; so it isn’t that one method is “good” while one is “inferior”. They are simply entirely different processes, starting at different points and demanding different levels of technical and artistic skill of a tailor. 


Because bespoke crafted suits are made from scratch, regular customer involvement is absolutely necessary. You’ll be expected to come in for several fittings during the suit creation process, and these meetings and measuring sessions can be quite lengthy.

With made-to-order suits, fittings tend to be fewer and simpler. There is generally only the initial fitting, and then one final fitting to double-check the tailor’s work. Often, you’ll be able to take your suit home that day, following the second/final fitting.

Pattern and Fabric

Bespoke tailors will offer you an endless array of fabrics and patterns, including the absolute top-of-the-line imported fabrics, while made-to-order suits will usually be crafted from a limited selection of fabrics that the tailor has in-house, or has ready access to.


Customization is one of the big divers between bespoke and made-to-order suits. What is your vision for yourself? What do you want to display to the world? A bespoke tailor will make that vision your reality, with the use of extensive personal customization. Made-to-order suits will again have more limited customization options, either due to time or skill constraints.



1 comment

  • Tom CHapeau.

    Very informative and interesting.

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