The Ritz Herald
© Alexandra Wood

Alexandra Wood – A Guide to Bespoke Suits


Published on December 21, 2020

The word ‘bespoke’ is often misunderstood or confused. It’s sometimes used to describe made to measure suits, whereas the two are actually very different. The word ‘bespoke’ literally means to give an order, and whilst you’re probably not looking to order a tailor around, you are requesting that they make something to your specification. If something is misdescribed as bespoke, it’s often used to make the item seem like a luxury one, being more sophisticated and therefore costing more. Whereas a real bespoke, luxury men’s suit is unique, a thing of beauty, and it’s one of life’s greatest things one can own.

A bespoke perfume, or kitchen, or piece of jewelry are obviously lovely things to own – but a bespoke suit is like a second skin, resting sharply and neatly around your body, to fit you in both taste and size. They can be expensive, but if done right, they can last you a lifetime. In fact, it can actually reduce your clothes bill and means that you never have to buy off-the-peg again. Plus, the sense of confidence that you will imbue with will show itself in your everyday life, impressing people and making achievements easier because you will have an innate belief in yourself. And who wouldn’t want to feel like that?

A bespoke history.

It wasn’t so very long ago (less than a hundred years) were all men wore bespoke suits, and it was a completely normal thing to own, for the richer section of society at least. If you wanted clothes, then you went off to your tailor, had your measurements taken, chose your fabric, and hey presto, your suit was born. And whereas the rich could afford the handmade clothes, the poor were confined to cast-offs. This can’t have been all that bad, considering that the cloth’s quality would have been reasonably high.

In the late 1500s, Robert Baker set up his first tailoring business in London’s Piccadilly, tailoring clothes for the wealthy. As the popularity grew for these creations, more tailors sprang up, and before long, the area between Savile Row and Jermyn Street became the epicenter for the menswear trade in England. The fashion continued for the next few hundred years, with all clothes being handmade, and bespoke suits were a normal, run of the mill thing to own – if you could afford them, that was.

By the 1950s, bespoke suits were becoming the exception rather than the norm. With advances in technology and a lean few years after the wars, manufacturing mass clothing became a much easier way to do things. Obviously, they had a captive market – everyone needs clothes. The next revolution in the sartorial world was owning a lot of clothes. With them now being cheaper, people could afford to buy a few things, rather than making just one dress. And whereas homemade clothes tended to last, the manufactured stuff wasn’t so robust. It didn’t last long, which was obviously a great thing for the clothing companies, who saw their customers return repeatedly.

The other thing that drove mass-produced clothes very firmly into the popular end of the market was the huge changes in trend at the time. The 50s dresses were one thing, but by the mid-1960s, it was all miniskirts and tight blouses, clothes that were so much in demand that production of them needed to be high. And then fashion crept on into the 70s with its bell-bottom trousers and knitted waistcoats, then the 80s, etc. People were looking to be fashionable, and the clothing market that we have today is not so very different.

However, Savile Row has endured. It has kept its excellent reputation, its image of classy, high-quality clothing, and therefore, the name is synonymous with both style and tradition. That said, it has moved with the times, and bespoke suits are no longer the preserve of the landed gentry.

A truly bespoke suit is often confused with a made-to-measure suit. They both work off exact measurements, but the latter has its measurements slotted into an existing pattern, where the former has a unique cut and pattern. This may not sound so different, but it definitely is if you want something you have personally designed and chosen. It may be a comparatively rare thing to own these days, but perhaps that’s actually nicer. Perhaps by it evolving into a fair niche market, there is something more special in owning one. The general rule of thumb is that the more personal service you get and the more decisions you make; about the buttons, lapels, etc., the closer you are to buying bespoke. Ultimately, there are two reasons to buy a bespoke suit: the fit and the quality. Quite simple, really.

Having a bespoke suit designed can last for years, keep you looking ultra-smart and distinguished, mean that you’re dressed for any weather, and give you confidence in yourself, which means you can aim higher for your goals give you more certainty in reaching them.

What else in life could you own that gives those advantages?