In this article, we’ll be discussing what a bespoke suit is, the bespoke process, average prices, whether going bespoke is right for you, and the difference between custom and bespoke suits.
Having named this blog “Bespoke Unit,” it should come as no surprise that bespoke clothing has a heritage that’s near and dear to us.
When a suit enthusiast hears the word “bespoke,” his ears perk up. This is because the term is a loaded one.
It represents over a century and a half of the finest tailoring that money can buy. A bespoke suit is synonymous with the highest possible quality, fit, and style.
It also happens to be one of the most overused and least understood terms in all of menswear. Our goal is to clear up any confusion around the word so that you can be a better-equipped purchaser of suits.
Etymology Of The Word “Bespoke”
The dictionary definition of bespoke is as follows:
bespoke (adj.): custom or custom-made, made to order of goods (as distinguished from ready made)
The word is an adjective version of the word “bespeak” and refers to a client’s custom suit order that couldn’t be ordered by anyone else as it had “been spoken for.” This was at a time when most tailors carried very limited quantities of cloth and it would be unlikely that they’d have enough to make more than one suit out of any one in particular.
Savile Row’s Take
Bespoke tailoring was born on Savile Row, and it’s arguable that it continues to be the pinnacle of the practice.
The Savile Row Bespoke Association has a much narrower definition for the word “bespoke”:
“A suit made on or around Savile Row, bespoken to the customer’s specifications. A bespoke suit is cut by an individual and made by highly skilled individual craftsmen. The pattern is made specifically for the customer and the finished suit will take a minimum of 50 hours of hand work and require a series of fittings.”
Our Definition Of Bespoke
We feel that the dictionary definition of the word is too general. And while we have the utmost respect for Savile Row’s place in the canon of bespoke clothing, SRBA’s definition simply doesn’t allow for the (dare we say) reality that a bespoke suit can be made outside of London.
As such, our definition of bespoke is as follows:
A bespoke garment is one that has been crafted almost entirely by hand based on a pattern made exclusively for the customer by a skilled cutter. It requires a series of fittings and is always fully canvassed. Its aesthetic details (and, to an extent, overall fit) are subject to the customer’s preferences, and the only machine-work is done on long seams (such as trouser outseams) and facings.
While it’s likely that a bespoke suit will take over 50 hours of hand work to complete, we don’t think that this is necessary to defining bespoke.
If you’re unsure of what a pattern is, we have a full discussion of it on our page on made-to-measure suits.
The Bespoke Process & Turnaround Time
How long does it take to get a bespoke suit? What’s the process like?
Turnaround time-wise, bespoke suiting is not for anyone looking for instant gratification. It’s entirely normal for the process to take up to three months, especially if you’re a first-time customer at the firm you’re patronizing. Repeat customers whose patterns are already on file generally wait less.
Going through the bespoke process is truly special. Yes, it takes a long time, but you become a part of a centuries-old tradition in menswear. You join the ranks of the men of the Golden Age of Hollywood, literal royalty (Prince Charles has long been an Anderson & Sheppard client), business tycoons, and other notable men.
Furthermore, if you have a body type that’s difficult to fit, going bespoke may be your only chance at getting something that truly fits properly.
Fittings: Why So Many?
Different bespoke houses will have different numbers of fittings, there isn’t necessarily a set number. Bespoke suits are known for a perfect fit, and it’s impossible to achieve that without a series of fittings. With that said, these three are the most common:
- Scrap Fitting (second fitting): This fitting serves as a first test for the paper pattern that the cutter created. A beta version of your suit (sometimes just the coat) is made out of “scrap” fabric, cheap stuff used so that the cloth you selected (which is likely pricey) doesn’t get cut until the fit is more accurate.
At this stage, anything and everything is adjustable.
- Basted Fitting: A mid-stage fitting that takes place a few weeks after the scrap fitting, your fabric has been assembled by hand at this point, using white basting thread. Everything is still adjustable at this stage.
- Forward Fitting: This is the last fitting before the final try-on/garment delivery. The garment is mostly finished and may require a few minor tweaks, but it’s very close to perfect.
How Much Does A Bespoke Suit Cost?
Bespoke suits are not cheap. The sky is the limit, but the price of entry isn’t exactly low. It’s typical for an entry-level bespoke garment to start at over $2000, whereas you can theoretically spend over $10,000 if you get a handmade three-piece suit made from a high-end, specialty fabric.
On average, bespoke suits cost between $3000-$5000.
Custom Versus Bespoke: What’s The Difference?
If you find yourself Googling “bespoke” you may also come across the word custom. While there are many similarities between bespoke and custom suits, there are also key differences.
Both construction methods utilize an exclusive pattern for the client, and both methods allow for maximum personalization with regard to aesthetic details. Custom suits, however, don’t require as many fittings and don’t have the same rules around handwork. Whereas bespoke suits require hand-padded lapels and hand-sewn buttonholes, custom suits can do this work by machine.
As you might imagine, custom suits are therefore a bit less expensive than their bespoke counterparts. That said, they’re still high-quality garments made to last a lifetime, and as such they still command a high price.
In Conclusion: Is Bespoke Right For You?
Assuming that budgetary constraints aren’t an issue, you may want to get a bespoke suit, though you may not.
The first thing to consider is the frequency with which you plan to wear the garment. Bespoke suits should last upwards of 20-30 years with proper care. If you plan to wear the suit 45-50 times a year (about once a week), the initial cost of a bespoke suit may actually be worth it when you consider the superior fit and the time saved by not having to buy a new suit every few years.
If, on the other hand, you wear a suit twice a year to a wedding or something of that nature, the cost of bespoke may not make sense, even given its superior quality. You may want to consider made-to-measure, or even an off-the-rack suit.
The second thing to consider is whatever bodily idiosyncrasies you may have. Some men have proportions that simply cannot be accommodated by OTR or MTM suits, and a bespoke suit is the only way they can get a garment that fits.
No matter what your reasoning, getting a bespoke suit will be one of the most special experiences you can have.