Monday, 13 February 2012

What is Bespoke Tailoring?

 The word Bespoke originally came from the word bespeak "to speak for something", that which was ordered specifically by a person. In the clothing word this was not really a term used until the creation of factory made off the peg products and most items of clothing were made according to a specific order. That didn't mean however that bespoke was great tailoring or wonderful fit. It just meant you came in to my shop, asked for a tunic and I made it to your instructions.
Since the appearance of Off the peg clothing in the 20th century a bespoke item generally became synonymous with great quality and elegant dress and fit in your apparel.
Savile Row has for many years done this honourable task and dressed the gentleman of the world in the finest fit and cloth there is. But the wider and more bastardised use of the term has only really recently appeared with the boom of the Internet.
And what does it mean to you? What you think it means and what a shop think it means may be too completely different things. So dont be afraid to ask what, whoever is using the word, means when the say bespoke. 
Bespoke:  A garment selected and individually picked out and made specifically to instructions and measurements of a customer, or on the advice of an expert or personal shopper.
That is what the term generally means. And there are grey areas. Like "made to the measurements of". What measurements? How many? So if I took a chest, waist, bum and trouser length could that be considered bespoke? In fact it could and it does. By many companies who wish to seem more tailoring then they really are. And that is the problem with the term. And why I believe that the Advertising Standards Authority in Graet Britain should rise to the occasion and be Definate about the kind and amount of work done to be called a bespoke item. They, sadly, see no conflict in the use of the word and feel it does not confuse or deem to lie to the customer.
But it does. I have met over a thousand people professionally and I work for over 300 clients and every time the word bespoke is mentioned it is to mean handmade. Now admittedly, some chaps I have met swear blind that they have has bespoke (handmade) suits made for them for under £1000. This is sadly not true. I have found one or two I places that charge under £2000 for completely handmade suits and am sure there may be one place somewhere that makes no profit as it decides it wants to do the best for the service of the customer rather then for business but if there is they won't be around long as a business just can't run without profit. So if everybody who speaks the word bespoke means completely handmade then the rules of usage need to change. In reality what most people are being sold when they hear bespoke is at worst made to measure and at best semi-bespoke or custom (word used for semi-bespoke, in the USA as they don't use the word bespoke) tailoring. That is unless you are paying over £2000 on average at least.
 So when you see and advert in the paper saying bespoke suits for £199 think about the likelihood of this. An average tailor, and if this is handmade then should have a tailor in contact with the garment through the whole process, costs £10-£30 per hour. The average handmade suit takes anything from 50-100 hours depending on level of detail. But let's say the tailor is amazingly fast and takes only 20 hours (by the way, this is logistically impossible. Tailors work in groups of people specialising in either cutting and handwork, and trousers or jacket. There could be 5 people working on your suit for over 3 months bit by bit) to make your suit on their own. Again, an impossibility but let's say for arguments sake.
So the tailor takes 20 hours to make your suit. And let's say he's a cheap tailor at £10 per hour. Probably not the best in the industry at that price but we're being positive here. Maybe he's down on his luck. So, at £10 per hour and the suit, which he makes by himself, with no help, in 20 hours.
Do the math. A cheap tailor working for 20 hours for a £199 suit. Really? Even if the company made a profit, which they couldn't do as they would lose £1 for every suit they did at that price, then that tailor could make only 2 1/2 suits per week if he was working 10 hour shifts every day. It doesn't add up. There has to be a profit in every item sold. So if the price of the suit is £199 then they have to cover these things in that price even before profit:
1. Cost of fabric (can be anything depending on quality from £6-£100 per metre. 4 metres will cover a 2 piece suit making.
2. Cost of labour (as mentioned before can range from £10-£30)
3. Cost of advertising (all these suits must cover a basic cost of the adverts put in the papers and I've seen them in there so know it must be a real cost)
4. Cost of admin (be that office staff, your own wages if you are not the sole worker but the manager of an establishment)
5. Rent (of office space or shop front)
6. Bills, etc....
So take away all those things from the price of £199 and you aren't left with a huge amount but you better believ there is a profit somewhere in that suit. I doubt any business would count it as an acceptable loss item.
So the likelihood is that your suit is a cheap, maybe well made but definately cheap, off the peg which they then alter for an hour or two after having taken your measurements. Or somewhere where the labour is so cheap that you can afford to make a tailored suit for that price. And that would be the Far East. Where cost of tailoring is in the pennies per hour and the rate super fast.
But I don't think it is. I can't say for sure but think its just a loose use of the word Bespoke.