Bespoke clothing, as we know it today, can be traced back to 12th century Europe. Between 12th and 15th Century, bespoke tailoring developed steadily as an important and respected craft. Tracing the history of bespoke clothing, there are certain events that refined and redefined the concept of clothing and tailoring to the level of bespoke we now speak of.
Live to dress from dress to live
During the middle ages, clothes were mainly used as a means to cover the body and thus the clothes of that time mostly consisted of loosely fitting tunics. Then the 16th century Renaissance brought about transformation in art, literature, science and clothing as well.
The purpose of clothing became more than just to cover the body but to accentuate the body. The single piece of cloth used in medieval times began to be ‘tailored’ into tighter, shorter and more chiseled outfits. Thus, this period is regarded as the birth of tailoring and fashion.
Master tailors emerged in societies who provided for the clothing needs of the people. Tailoring became a specialized and guarded skill. Development of society and industry led to growth of towns into powerful cities and thus emerged the role of fashion to portray wealth and status. Italy, Spain and France became fashion hubs, inviting men from all Europe to have their clothes exclusively tailored by the best craftsmen.
Fashion of flamboyance
During the reign of Louise XIV, the influence of royalty was clearly evident in the fashion of this time. French styles popularized decorative silks, pastel satins, rich embroidery, brocade work and rich velvets. However, after the death of Louise XIV in 1715, there was a drastic shift in not just power and influence, but in the fashion scene as well. The decorative fashion was toned down to a more subtle kind. Feminine doublets and cloaks worn since the 14th century gave way to masculine fitted coats, vests and trousers.
The English moved away from the French flamboyant styles much quickly and created a more sober and practical approach to dressing. Black coats, English stovepipe hats and umbrellas dominated the English fashion scene. In the backdrop of the industrial revolution, a truly masculine style evolved with business attires becoming increasingly popular.
While aristocratic clothing did not pay much attention to fitting, the English trend made proper fitting an important criterion for men’s clothing. The tailor now modeled the clothes as close as possible to the human form while maintaining simplicity and perfection in the cut. This required specialized skills of the tailor, who were now highly regarded.
Savile Row bespoke
It was the Savile Row tailors who coined the word ‘bespoke’ when referring to cloth as being ‘spoken for’ by customers. Built in London in 1731, Savile Row tailors were patronized by British men who were conscience of their appearance.
Bespoke – standing the test of time
Modern bespoke is a blend of traditional techniques with modern technology. Even against the endless wave of ready-made clothes, bespoke craftsmen have survived and even prospered. Against the science of these corporations rolling out cheaper mass-produced clothes, the art, uniqueness and quality of bespoke tailoring still stands out as the pinnacle of perfection and luxury.