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



The Winter Bride Collection


 A brief glimpse at the newest collection of the sample bridal dresses from Prior Engagement  – all handmade examples of what can be done with a few basic tools and a pile of silks…. Prior Engagement is a sister branch of my main company, Prior Attire, and specialises in unique historical, Steampunk, unusual and definately unorthodox wedding dresses – all bespoke made, one-of-a-kind designs. 

 The winter bride desings have been bubbling inside me for the last few months, so it was a joy to actually start working on them. Although  I love creating historically correct garments, the research that goes into them and the period accurate techniques,  the bridal and the steampunk side of the business let me use my own imagination more and indulge in the design process as well. The results – below:-)

 We have booked the venue, Woodland Manor Hotel about 4 weeks in advance, hoping for some snow on a day, but knowing that even if there is no wintery magic outside, the interiors will provide us with lots of interesting background.

 Fortunatelly, a week before the shoot it snowed and on the day of the event we had snow – and quite a lot of ice….

 Our team:

 Paul Mockford  from  Shears Mockford Photography , with whom we worked before on a 18th century bridal shoot at Harrowden Hall. Jason was on hand to help him out with the lights, as was my husband, Lucas ( who was also snapping away…).

 Our stylist, Sarah Dunn from Sarah’s Doo-Wop-Dos

 Tina Haden from The Haberdashery Bride was providing lovely bImageouquerts, tiaras and combs.

 Kat Allen from  Rose Tinted VIntage in bedford provided some lovely  jewellery  and Lizzie pauling from  Lil MIschief furnished us with some furry accessories – hats, fascinators, stoles and capes.

 Our models were: Gem Bow Tyke, Sophie Mathews and me!

  and the gowns:

1.  The Swan



Swan from the back…

corset in silk satin duchesse, hand-applied rhinestones, skirt in silk and feathers… lots of feathers…. we shot a mellow bridal version and then a more dramatic look:-)





 the Ice Queen look:


Narnia is mine!!!



2. Grace



 Corset and skirts in shimmering blue silk duponi, handapplied silver lace decoration and beading.



the skirts could be pinned up with tiny snowflakes for a more contemporary look!



3. The Frost





A fun gown in silk taffeta, decorated with lace, beaing, rhinestones, brooches – lots of sparkle!




4. The Aurora Borealis




 A more traditional gown in silk satin and taffeta, with lots of sparkly decoration…




5. The Russian coat



A coat to keep the bride warm on her way  – in cotton velvet, lined with silk, trimmed with faux fur – and decorated with thousands of blingy bits!




  And  that’s that’s winter sample collection – something to help our future brides decide on the style, fabrics and decoration:_)

 Many thanks to all involved – and looking forward to shooting our Spring Bride Collection in April!