Bespoke is usually a British English term for tailored clothing (including coats, suits, and shirts) made at a customer's request and exactly to the customer's specification. In American English, it is a synonym for custom made. Bespoke clothing is created without use of a pre-existing pattern, differentiating it from made to measure, which alters a standard-sized pattern to fit the customer.
Some argue, such as the traditional Savile Row tailors represented by the Savile Row Bespoke Association, that the term bespoke further implies that the garment is at least substantially handmade, while a ruling by the British Advertising Standards Authority has ruled it is a fair practice to use the term bespoke for products which do not fully incorporate such traditional construction methods.
The word bespoke itself is derived from the the verb to bespeak, to "speak for something", in the specialized meaning "to give order for it to be made". Today, it is also frequently used in fields varying widely from technical components specifically developed for a certain application (e.g. bespoke software); to the car industry, when customers get a chance to have an automobile made to their specification; and ranging now even to cake decorating.
These standards particularly stress:
The association has also specified twenty-one points addressing specific parts of a suit, each dictating some detail such as the length of inlays, or which seams must be hand stitched.
In June 2008, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the advertising regulator, ruled in favour of the tailors Sartoriani, represented by the law firm Davenport Lyons, that a bespoke suit does not need an individual paper pattern, nor substantial use of hand stitching.
The advertisement originally run by Sartoriani described a "Bespoke Suit Uniquely made according to your personal measurements & specification". The complaint made was that, while the suit advertised was cut by a machine according to a standard pattern, adjusted for the customer, a bespoke suit "should be made entirely by hand".
The Advertising Standards Authority is the independent body set up by the advertising industry to police the rules laid down in the advertising codes. It acts on the basis of complaints to regulate the content of advertising, then makes a ruling based on its advertising standards codes on issues such as substantiation and inaccuracy. These codes indicate that the advertisement should not deceive the consumer. In brief, the ruling notes that while the use of the term by Sartoriani does not fit with the traditional definition, the product does not fall short of the consumers' expectations based on the advertisement, which was therefore upheld.
The defence by Sartoriani noted the Oxford English Dictionary definition of bespoke as "made to order", and that other firms used the term is a similar way. However, the dictionary entry only serves to differentiate between bespoke and ready-to-wear, and clarifies nothing about the difference between bespoke and made-to-measure. In view of this difficulty, the ruling judges that "traditionally ... a made-to-measure suit would be cut, usually by machine, from an existing pattern, and adjusted according to the customer's measurements. A bespoke suit would be fully hand-made and the pattern cut from scratch". A confusion however is often created, as "some tailors and high-end fashion designers describ[e] their made-to-measure suits as bespoke". In view of this, the advertisement was deemed unlikely to mislead consumers under the Code of Advertising Practice
Some disagreed with this decision. For example, the tailor Richard Anderson wrote an article in the Telegraph to explain that "the ASA has got the ruling wrong". Some analysts, like the etymologyst Michael Quinion, considered this ruling positive. For him, "the historic term of art ha[s] moved on and it [is] legitimate for a tailor offering clothes cut and sewn by machine to refer to them as bespoke, provided that they [are] made to the customer’s measurements". Nevertheless, some journalists have considered this linguistic approach unrealistic, as Josh Sim argued that "despite the ASA ruling, which has given a free hand to the more liberal use of the [bespoke] word, bespoke tailoring has traditionally, if unofficially, meant something more than the dictionary definition allows". Some others, like the journalist Simon Crompton, consider that the ASA "took a rather ignorant decision to declare that there is no difference between bespoke and made-to-measure. It is a loss to menswear and to language".