You may have heard of the term bespoke to refer to men’s suits, but do you know its origin? The term bespoke comes from the word bespeak which means “to speak for something”. It now has a special meaning “to give order for it to be made”. Bespoke clothing is the opposite of off-the-rack clothing which you purchase in a store. The term first popped up on Savile Row, which is the epicenter of bespoke clothing.
Savile Row is a street in London often called the “Golden mile of tailoring”. This street was built around 1731. During the late 18th century tailors started taking up shop on the road. Tailors still occupy these streets today charging from 2000 to over 3000 British pounds. The street has started to feature ready-to-wear clothes to appeal to those unable or unwilling to pay for expensive, custom suits. By the 1990s, many of the tailors were struggling to find clients in a world where fashion was easy to buy from a store shelf. Three tailors revitalized the bespoke style for these modern shoppers. The three tailors were featured in Vanity Fair and publicity around bespoke grew.
There is a gray area between ready-to-wear and bespoke: made-to-measure. These types of outfits are made when the tailor alters the standard-sized pattern to better fit the customer. Fittings are needed for both bespoke and made-to-measure. Handmade was often the distinctive factor of bespoke but now many made-to-measure garments feature a personal touch.
If you ever happen to travel to London, put Savile Row on your list of must sees. The history of bespoke started there and continues on after centuries.