What is Bespoke Clothing: Coral Turner, couture designer, explains the meaning of ‘bespoke’ and how it can boost your fashion flair.

The Oxford dictionary states that ‘bespoke’ means ‘made to order’; in this instance we are talking about clothing, however bespoke also applies to many other lifestyle items such as furniture and jewellery.

Another terminology used in relation to bespoke garments, is ‘made to measure’ which means that the garment is ‘made to your measurements’. ‘Bespoke made-to-measure’, is not a phrase that is often used, instead the wording ‘bespoke tailoring’, or ‘garments that are made to measure’ is more familiar.

Bespoke was often associated with Savile Row in London’s Mayfair: the renowned street for tailored garments established in the 1700s was the fashion playground of the aristocracy, public figures, and such like; it was also the aspiration of the innovative entrepreneur, both male and female, to have a fine handmade garment as a statement of success. Shakespeare wrote “clothes maketh the man” and though the phrase still carries the connotations of yesteryear, the meaning endures today – we are often still judged by our appearance, alongside the quality of the cloth.

But what does it actually mean?

When I use the term bespoke, I am referring to a process where the client has a consultation for a proposed item of clothing they would like to order, made specifically to suit their body measurements and shape. Our bodies are not perfectly symmetrical, despite what the fashion magazines would have us believe; as human beings rather than shop mannequins, we are made up of many figure variations.

In the world of sewing there are no faults with our lovely bodies, one shoulder may be higher than the other, our torso long or short, we may have a sway back, or a tiny waist with prominent protruding hips; these are a few examples that are taken into account with bespoke garments.

At the outset the thought of our body shape being disproportionate in certain areas may sound alarming, as no-one talks about figure variations with ready-to-wear garments, which are based on a sized figure block, of say 8, 10, 12, 14 or one size fits all. But we know ‘one size fits all’ is not the case, and definitely not country to country. In addition, the sized figure blocks are not universally standardised, as anyone will know who has found a beautifully fitting size 14 dress in one shop, yet in another store the dress that fits is a size 16.

That’s the beauty and magic of bespoke

Why do I use the term magic? Take for example the earlier reference of ‘one shoulder being higher than the other’: with made-to-measure you can create the illusion of symmetry, through the cut of the garment and the inner shaping involved.

Yes these garments do command a price premium, which is sometimes one of the reasons why some people think of this type of clothing for special occasions or as a treat to themselves; however when you wear a garment that fits and compliments your body it can effect a complete transformation.

The craftsmanship of bespoke/made-to-measure is extremely labour-intensive, from the sole trader tailor/dressmaker who is responsible for all aspects of the garment, to the team of crafters who are responsible for making sections of the garment. It’s wonderful that the fine tailoring alongside the skills of couture sewing – once the prerequisite of Kings, Queens, noblemen and noblewomen – is now accessible to all.

Coraline Turner

Couture Designer and Eclipse Magazine Blogger at Coral Turner Couture
Coral Turner is a couture designer based in London. She specialises in unique ready-to-wear handmade garments, as well as bespoke pieces made to measure. "My dresses are just like you... one of a kind."

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