The oxford dictionary defines bespoke as:
(of goods, especially clothing) made to order :a bespoke suit
It is a term equivalent to custom suits in the USA.
Bespoke versus made-to-measure
Between the extremes of bespoke and ready-to-wear, there has existed since the end of the 19th century a “grey area of garments for which the customer was measured, but that were then made up to the closest standard size, often, but by no means always, in a factory.” The distinction made here is between bespoke, created without use of a pre-existing pattern, and made to measure, which alters a standard-sized pattern to fit the customer. Technological change makes this distinction more subtle, since fittings are increasingly required for made-to-measure.
A bespoke service may require an individually-cut pattern, which is then kept should further suits be required; made-to-measure measurements are often stored on a computer. Even hand-work, often cited as a benchmark of bespoke, is now increasingly found in made-to-measure garments, while machine-making plays some part in the creation of most bespoke suits. With a bespoke suit, a pattern is designed and made from scratch based on the client’s measurements, often from 20+ measurements involving multiple fittings, and takes considerably longer to produce the a made-to-measure garment. This ensures a precise fit, particularly in the shoulders as well as the posture areas. This custom fit is handy for clients with short or long necks, high or low shoulders, excess girth, high hips, large or flat seats, and more. Made-to-measure cannot adjust for these shapes and slopes.
In addition, new technologies have allowed for bespoke garments to be made with lean manufacturing practices and digital patterning, making new patterns within minutes and fully bespoke garments in hours, at a price point similar to made to measure or even mass production.
Made to measure (MTM or M2M) typically refers to clothing that is sewn from a standard-sized base pattern. A tailored suit is a common example of a made-to-measure garment. The fit of a made-to-measure garment is expected to be superior to that of a ready-to-wear garment, because ready-to-wear garments are constructed to fit the manufacturer’s definition of an average customer, while made-to-measure garments are constructed to fit each customer individually. However, made-to-measure items are seen by many to involve less workmanship than bespoke or “custom made” garments, as made-to-measure garments always involve some form of standardization in the patterning and manufacturing processes, whereas a bespoke garment is made entirely from scratch based on a customer’s specifications. Typically, a made-to-measure garment will be more expensive than ready-to-wear garment but cheaper than a bespoke one.
Unlike bespoke garments, which traditionally involves hand sewing, made-to-measure manufacturers use both machine- and hand-sewing. Made-to-measure also requires fewer fittings than bespoke, resulting in a shorter wait between customer measurement and garment delivery.
In other words bespoke tailoring is equivalent to women’s haute couture.
Bailey, Nathan (1756). An Universal Etymological English Dictionary. R. Ware.
Art of Textile Designing. Global Media. ISBN 81-89940-03-1