What does bespoke mean?

Word count: 202 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: bespoke.

My husband and I had a dinner party last weekend and the word bespoke came up during conversation. Our daughter asked what it meant and we told her it referred to something “custom-made,” usually a suit.

But one of our friends mused aloud about the word’s etymology. None of us knew a whit about it, so I resolved to look it up.

Bespoke is a British word that dates to 1755. It was derived from the verb to bespeak, meaning to speak for something — a usage that can be traced to the 1580s. Today it means “to give an order for something to be made” — the something almost always being clothing.

Bespoke clothing is traditionally cut from a pattern drafted from scratch for the customer. It is the opposite of off-the-rack wear — you know, the kinds of clothes you might pick up at the Gap or Banana Republic. Between these two extremes, however, there is also made-to-measure clothing, which offers fittings but not a pattern drafted from scratch.

Bespoke, however, is generally not used for non-clothing items that might be custom-made such as desks or bookshelves. The best term in that case is “built-to-order.”

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