That Bespoke Thang…


Over the last 20 years of sewing for other people this is one of the more often-asked  questions – “Why is bespoke more expensive than ready to wear, off-the-peg garments?”  And this request accounts for about 80% of the email I am getting nowadays too:
“I saw your off the peg riding habit/gown/corset and I love it –  I would like it made bespoke for me, in a different fabric and colour and with more decoration – will the price be the same?”



The reason for the difference in price is simple – as already stated in one of my previous blogs,  ( A Queen on a budget, please), nowadays ordering bespoke is very rare thing. People are used to all the cheap, ready made clothing they see in the shops, and  even with specialised items such as corsetry and historical  clothing,  a lot of people do not realise the difference between the ‘off-the-peg’ and ‘bespoke’, especially when made by he same person or company.

So,to make things simpler let us have a look at what you are actually paying for – at least  as far as my own merchandise is concerned..

  Off the Peg items:

* Fabric

* Labour –   a generically sized pattern is used to cut out the fabric, followed by assembly and decoration: the price will depend upon the complexity of the garment and time needed to execute it

*Notions – decorations, buttons, thread, embroidery, etc

*Packing/postage/delivery if required

*My professional expertise, knowledge and experience!


 Bespoke items.

  • Fabric


  •  Labour –
    • initial measuring  session with a client
    • drafting their specific pattern
    • making up a mock-up ( toile)
    • fitting the mock up on the client (with second client visit)
    • cutting out fabric based on final pattern from re-fitted toile
    •  assembling  the garment proper,
    •  fitting session with a client – these stages may be repeated several times depending upon how many items are to be made or how complex the garments may be)
    •  final assembly of the garment(s)
    •  adding decoration, finishing touches, etc
    • pick up session  with finished garments – although rarely needed, there is usually time assigned for any last minute corrections, as well. In my case you are likely to get a free photoshoot  with TimeLight  Photographic too, if you wish 😉
    • after-care –  small repairs or minor adjustments are generally provided for free; bigger ones may be provided at a reduced hourly rate. People usually come back to resize a garment if they have lost or gained significant weight,  or to add more decoration, reapply a hem guard if the  original one is worn out, etc.
  • time  (apart from actual making of the garment)-
    • fitting sessions, measuring sessions have to be scheduled in.
    • consultation, either in person, on the phone or by email, giving advice on style,  fabric choices, historical accuracy, etc.  For a relatively simple garments emails and message exchange may take several hours to write, research, etc. In the most extreme case I received over 250 emails from one person in one week about her commission…
    • research. Lots of research.
    • sourcing the fabrics, embellishments and other providers for items we do not supply direct (blackwork, embroidery, shoes, etc)
    • writing up contracts, quotes and invoices
    • chasing up clients  to settle on fitting dates, etc. Fortunately, a good contract means we don’t have to chase folks for the payment! (more on contracts for businesses running a business – contracts)


  • notions – decorations, buttons, thread, etc

    packing/postage/delivery if needed


    my professional expertise, knowledge and experience.


  • stress!  I am an introvert and dealing with people, however lovely, and no matter how enjoyable it is for me, (and make no mistake, I love my work and so far all of my bespoke clients have been amazing – to such an extent that we often develop friendly relations afterwards and stay in touch socially), this stress still takes its toll. After a few ours of fittings I feel as if I have run a marathon and all I want to do is sleep:-)


See the difference?  A riding habit that looks the same  will take 3 times as long  if made bespoke – and that is usually  true for every other item.

Above – a bespoke habit  worth over £1000 in quality cloth, fittings, handmade and hand applied braiding and an off the peg habit from our online shop – £370


Another thing to consider is  the fact that I make off-the-peg garments largely to satisfy my own insane desire to create pretty things – I make them in the size I want, in a fabric I like and have available currently and in a style I feel inclined to – I don’t have to  consult a client on what they would like. If I change my mind half way through – that is fine. If I feel tired and don’t fancy pushing myself to finish by a certain deadline – that is fine too. Full creative freedom.

Bespoke work is much more complex, since I have to adhere to the client’s ideas, body type, etc, so it provides quite a different feeling. Taking someone else’s ideas and making a fully functional garment, looking the way they want it too look, and fitting them well is immensely satisfying. All the hours of research, fittings, handstitching etc are worth it not only in terms of the financial reward-  the look on the client’s faces when they see themselves in the mirror wearing  their new clothing for the first time is a great reward too – and, I won’t lie, I love  to see my work worn and admired. The last session when a final outfit is tried on is always stressful – no matter how experienced you are, you are always worried that maybe this button is a tad too tight, or maybe the skirt is 0.5″ too big. Paltry things, easy to sort out within minutes, but irrationally, I still always worry!

But when it all comes together – well, the moment is magic. And  I don’t charge for that! 😉

Georgian Ball - Bath March 2015-56



12 thoughts on “That Bespoke Thang…

  1. We have lost the art of dressing, as a nation that wants to buy cheap we have accumulated mountains of textiles that are shipped out every year, and our concept of cost is skewed by teeshirts selling for £2.00! Anyone who has made a garment knows that there is some form of exploitation at that cost.

    Allow the ignorant or cheeky to scuttle off and buy cheap, don’t apologise for what you do, because I can see from here it is exquisite work, you are an artisan, your quality shines through.

    • thank you! although the post is not an apology but an explanation – people are just not in the know nowadays, and that is no fault of theirs – just the system of explotation. I am not even referring to the cheap mass produced items at all here, that is a subject for a different post I think 🙂 – just explaining the difference why the same item made by me will cost differently when made as bespoke or as RTW.

  2. Thank you! This explains it perfectly. Even some of my friends and family that know I work hard on these types of things (knitted items and/or sewn items) just do not understand the difference.

  3. This makes me glad I only sew for myself because getting this question would drive me up the wall. It’s economics 101 that altering something to fit one person’s specific needs requires more effort. And since we’re not talking about making a salad and putting the dressing on the side but sewing an entire garment, the answer should be obvious.

    But maybe it’s a form of haggling rather than true ignorance.

  4. I overheard a customer at a shop I was working claiming that her aunt “makes up” a high price for a hand knitted sweater because that’s easier that just admitting she didn’t want to knit a sweater for the niece. (The fact that I explained the cost of things and broke it down is probably part of why I no longer work in a shop.)

    Part of this comes down to the current mode of marketing savvy. I was at a dinner where some big-shot marketing person literally said that it makes sense to ship labor overseas because “labor in Kenya is free”. Not, ‘nearly free’, or ‘practically free’, but actually free. Didn’t you know that you should WANT to donate your labor? 😛

    — Tegan

  5. I totally agree with you! Fortunately I have been very lucky with my customer who wanted bespoke costumes and clothing, all of them were sympathetic with this part of my job. It was wonderful to see the faces of some of them when they saw a dress which fitted (and usually suited) them, and which was a unique piece made just for them. On the other hand, there were pretty rude people who wanted cheaper off the peg clothes, and complained because they didn’t fit as they expected…

  6. I totally agree.
    It’s the same to me when a client say “what if you do it with cheaper fabric? What if you do it simpler? What if..”
    They simply don’t understand what make a custom costume means…

  7. Sylvia,

    This is an amazingly accurate description of what one pays for with a commission (Bespoke in her language). I thought that you would find it interesting.

    Hugs, Marjorie

    Dr. Marjorie Monroe-Fischer

    ‘Kindness is the language the blind can see and the deaf can hear.’ -Mark Twain


  8. Please post more of what you are making. It doesn’t have to be a full well articulated post. I would be interested to just see peeks of things… even if you never show us the full outfit. Yes, I have read all your back posts. Thank you. In other words, I love your blog and hunger for more!

    • Glad you like it- and there is quite a lot in here already! I only blog occassionally when I have time in between commissions- which is not very often. You will find more work in progress and more updates in my dacebook page!

  9. Here here! I agree totally with everything you said. All though I mostly encounter the customers who have trouble understanding the difference between industrially made mass production and handmade unique item or handmade item from very small collection. It is quite sad that people don’t have the understanding anymore what it actually takes to make garments from scratch, not in huge factory. Thank you for posting this!

  10. Pingback: Running a Costuming business part 4:Getting Real | A Damsel in This Dress

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