A Loss to (Sartorial) Language

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Recently the UK Advertising Standards Authority 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.

Sartoriani, a suit maker that recently set up on Bond Street with all manner of promotional offers and advertising, proclaimed that it made bespoke suits. It does not. It makes made-to-measure suits, with customers being measured on site and their details used to amend a standard block in a factory.

The advertising claim was challenged by the Savile Row Bespoke Association, an industry group of Savile Row tailors headed by Mark Henderson of Anderson & Sheppard.

Bespoke tailoring requires an individual, specific cut of cloth, by hand. In the eyes of many on Savile Row, it also requires a one-on-one interview with the person who will make your suit for you. So your suit can be (be)spoken for in person. It should also be entirely sewn by hand.

These latter elements are arguable, and have been eroded over the years – the cut-price tailoring offered by Kilgour, for example, which features measurements and fittings in London but sewing in China. But fundamental to bespoke is that the cut of the cloth, the particular pattern, should be yours and yours alone. It should not be an amended block, stitched blindly by a machine.

But the Association lost. Apparently Sartoriani considers bespoke and made-to-measure to be synonymous, and the ASA agrees. This is a loss to menswear everywhere. Once one company can get away with it, everyone will advertise their made-to-measure service as bespoke, and a refined section of tailoring will lose a crucial communication skill.

Consumers already have an increasingly large problem telling the difference between quality and branding (see post on Berluti shoelaces). This decision will only make the situation worse. Even more education will need to be done by an industry that is already pretty poor at it (see post on the BBC Savile Row series).

Almost as importantly, this is a loss to language. The phrases bespoke and made-to-measure are clearly not synonymous. It could be argued that they mean different things to my definitions above. But they are obviously not the same if a whole industry purposefully uses them to separate two processes and products.

Envy and jealousy are not the same thing. One is a desire for somebody else’s possession, the other is a fear of losing your own. The fact that people use them interchangeably is a loss to language – there is now no easy way to express the latter. This ruling deals a similar blow to the language of style.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.

Comments

  1. Daniel says:

    It’s the state-sponsored slander of the English language. Chaucer, Churchill and the Bard are all turning in their graves.

    Long live bespoke. The discerning customer will know the difference.