What is the difference between made-to-measure (MTM) and bespoke? This is a question that we hear pretty frequently, and one that that is relatively easy to answer. Merriam-Webster may tell you that bespoke simply means “custom made” but, in truth, the word has far deeper colloquial meaning and traditional significance. While we will address a variety of distinctions between bespoke and MTM below, we will first emphasize the four essential hallmarks of bespoke tailoring that represent clear differentiators from MTM: one-of-a-kind pattern, quality construction, human touch and unlimited options.
- One-of-a-Kind-Pattern: For each bespoke garment, a new pattern is drawn and cut, based upon the client’s unique body measurements. For MTM, a standard pattern is altered (so it will basically fit like an off-the-rack suit that has been altered). Essentially, designing a bespoke suit is like drawing up blueprints for your new home from scratch with an architect, and MTM is like picking a pre-designed model and making some customizations.
- Quality Construction: Every bespoke suit is fully-canvassed (typically with horse hair canvas), has functioning buttonholes on the sleeves and has evidence of hand-tailoring. Even “high end” retail suits from Prada, Armani and Gucci are fused (aka glued together) and have fake buttonholes on the sleeve for appearance — the next time you’re about to spend thousands of dollars on a designer suit downtown, see if you can unbutton the sleeves…you probably won’t be able to because most designer suits are made in China and the most expensive thing about them is the label with some Italian guy’s name on it. That said, there are some designer brands that are great quality (Brioni, Kiton, Isaia and Louis Vuitton, for example) and there are also MTM tailors that are great quality. But that is why “quality construction” alone cannot tell you if a garment is bespoke or MTM; because many MTM tailors have the ability to produce fully-canvassed garments with functioning buttonholes too — and even a machine-sewn garment can have 15 minutes of hand pick stitching on the lapel to fool you.
- Human Touch: Bespoke garments are hand-cut and hand-sewn by a tailor, whereas MTM garments are machine-cut and machine-sewn in a factory. However, even most bespoke garments do have some machine work. At Ezra Cayman Bespoke Couture, our top level garments are made on Savile Row in London by one of the only tailors in the world that still produces garments 100% by hand (and we are not aware of anyone else in the Western Hemisphere offering 100% handmade garments). But, that level of handwork is definitely not necessary to quality as bespoke in our opinion. If your tailor is doing even 50% of your garment by hand, he far above average. The typical MTM suit (or designer label retail suit) is over 90% machine-sewn. Handwork is a great indicator of a garment’s quality but, unfortunately, this is a very hard thing for the untrained eye to discern.
- Unlimited Options: This is arguably the most essential hallmark of bespoke tailoring, and one that you, as a consumer, can investigate/test in order to determine with absolute certainty that you are getting a bespoke garment and not a MTM garment. If you are at a MTM tailor you will be given a list of options; at a bespoke tailor the options are unlimited and they will simply ask what you want. You might test them by asking for something outside of the norm — can they add a cape to your jacket? Can they make your lapel zig-zag shaped instead of just peak, notch or shawl? Can they make the left half of your pants blue and the right half red? Can they pipe your pockets in stingray? If the answer to these questions, or any other questions, is no…then it’s probably MTM. With bespoke, the only answer is “yes.”
Below are a few more factors that people tend to use to differentiate between bespoke and MTM. However, while these factors all provide good data points to use in making your final determination, we don’t believe that they are necessarily strong indicators of whether a garment is bespoke or MTM in and of themselves, and should hold less weight than the factors listed above.
- Number of Measurements: We’ve seen several MTM companies tout their “32-point measurement process” or whatever, and it’s basically a sales gimmick. Just because your clothier takes the measurements doesn’t mean the tailor isn’t just comparing them to a standardized pattern and adjusting it — in fact, it doesn’t mean the tailor is using them at all! I’m sure you can find hundreds of online experts who will tell you the minimum number of measurements required to qualify as bespoke, but we’re not going to bother because any MTM company can easily take a few extra measurements to fool you. To be honest, the number of measurements we take varies depending upon the client’s body shape and how fitted (or “shaped”) they want the garment.
- Number of Fittings: This one is a little bit tricky, but this is our opinion: not every bespoke tailor does multiple fittings prior to finishing the garment, but every bespoke tailor can if they feel it is necessary or upon request. At Ezra Cayman Bespoke Couture, we tend to try to reduce the number of fittings as much as possible because we realize that our clients are busy and time is money, and only require basted and forward fittings for our made in Italy and made on Savile Row suits or if a client has a particularly demanding body type. If your tailor doesn’t offer pre-finished fittings, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t bespoke (maybe he’s just confident), but if you ask him and he says that it isn’t possible, he is MTM.
- Turnaround Time: We’ve heard it said that a MTM suit takes 1-2 months to produce, while a bespoke suit takes 2-6 months to produce. However, there are 168 hours in a week, and most would agree that the average bespoke suit only requires 50-100 hours of tailoring — so we’re pretty sure that a tailor could easily produce a suit in 2-3 weeks if properly motivated. And we’ve seen tailors in Hong Kong advertise a 24 hour turnaround for machine made garments, so the 1-2 months for MTM doesn’t seem to necessarily hold true either. Do bespoke suits require more time to produce than MTM? Absolutely. But these timelines you see online masquerading as key differentiators are bologna. At Ezra Cayman Bespoke Couture, we have partnerships with bespoke tailors on 3 continents, and some take 4-6, some take 6-8 weeks and some take 8-12 weeks… and they can all reduce that time in direct proportion to your willingness to incentivize them.
- Price: While it’s unlikely that you’ll find a bespoke tailor willing to make you a suit for less than a thousand dollars, the price of a garment involves several factors that are completely unrelated to the quality of the tailoring itself: the price of the chosen fabric, the location of the tailor and the reputation of the tailor/brand. So don’t make the mistake of confusing the price tag for an indication of quality. Brands like Prada and Gucci suits use brand value to sell glued-together Chinese suits for thousands of dollars more than quality alone would demand — and even a completely unknown MTM brand could make you a suit that completely justifies a $40k price tag… if the fabric you choose is pure Vicuna.
At the end of the day, it is possible to get a stylish, great-fitting garment from either a bespoke tailor or a MTM tailor — and that distinction alone by no means makes a tailor good or bad. But, if you want unlimited design options, a construction quality that matches or exceeds brands like Brioni or Kiton and a better fit than you’ve ever found at retail, then bespoke is the only option for you.