A friend on Face­book recent­ly asked why any­one would use bespoke when cus­tom is a per­fect­ly good word. The post sparked a flur­ry of respons­es about the fad­dish use of bespoke and its use to put on airs. I was remind­ed me that I looked up bespoke in the dic­tio­nary less than a year ago. My too-infre­quent­ly fol­lowed rule here is to write an entry when I look a word up in the dic­tio­nary, so I am respond­ing here.

I looked it up after hear­ing the word in the movie Kings­man: The Secret Ser­vice. I was pleased to learn it, hav­ing hoped that such a word existed.

I’ve pur­chased a cou­ple of items which were made for me to my spe­cif­ic desires or needs. My foun­tain pen from Edi­son Pen Co is the only thing that imme­di­ate­ly comes to mind. There is a very spe­cial qual­i­ty to hav­ing such an item made for me, a qual­i­ty I don’t find (or find to a much less­er extent) in items which have been mod­i­fied for me.

Cus­tom sug­gests to me that the item was already made but changed for me. After­mar­ket rims or a fan­cy paint job on a car makes it «cus­tom» even if the car came off the lot. Bespoke could be a sub­set of cus­tom but it is not a synonym.

Tai­lored has a sim­i­lar mean­ing to cus­tom. The suit is tak­en off the rack and mod­i­fied to fit, not cut to the mea­sure­ments of the cus­tomer from the first.

Arti­sanal refers only to the mak­er of the prod­uct who might make it in quite large batch­es long before meet­ing the cus­tomer but pur­port­ed­ly does so with care, atten­tion, and exper­tise beyond the norm.

In real­i­ty, bespoke is a word often used to indi­cate one’s snob­bish­ness. But said snob­bish­ness is not nec­es­sar­i­ly regard­ing vocabulary.

One Reply to “Bespoke”

  1. Bespoke in Eng­land
    Over here, the word is in com­mon usage for items of men’s cloth­ing, specif­i­cal­ly suits and shirts. “Made to mea­sure” is the alter­na­tive, as opposed to “Ready made”.
    I’d love a Bespoke Rotring 700 foun­tain pen, but I’ll set­tle for some­one who’ll cus­tomise my broad nib!