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.