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What does bespoke mean?

Joel OF

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Bespoke work is concerned with the making of an item, specifically for one person. And those items were usually specific to the desired style, dimensions, etc. of the buyer.

Before the Industrial Revolution and factory manufacture, most items were the subject of bespoke work. Examples were smithed (locks, latches, hinges etc.), shoemakers (boots, etc.) and most other chattels that were made.

Such work make manufacture slow, and costly. Obviously, wealthier people could afford more goods. And poorer people could afford very little, such as bare necessities. (e.g. a plow, a gun ((in the 1700's and earlier)).

These days, bespoke work still happens but is very much less common. It usually is involved with unique goods, like custom furniture, etc. that only some wealthy people order.


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My understanding is that "bespoke" is a British English word for "custom-made" or perhaps "made to order". Prior to first reading the word bespoke, I was always frustrated by having to write or say  "custom-made" to describe the product of a craftsman. "Bespoke" is such a lovely, simple, and short word; it rolls off the tongue easily and gets straight to the point! Anyway, I think your first definition is closest to the intended meaning of the word.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I subscribe to a “word of the day” email from Merriam Webster, and today’s word happens to be “bespoke”. The email contains this interesting and useful tidbit:

”In the English language of yore, the verb bespeak had various meanings, including ‘to speak,’ ‘to accuse,’ and ‘to complain.’ In the 16th century, bespeak acquired another meaning—‘to order or arrange in advance.’ It is from that sense that we get the adjective bespoke, referring to clothes and other things that are ordered before they are made. You are most likely to encounter this adjective in British contexts, such as the 2008 Reuters news story about a young pig in Northern England who was fitted with ‘bespoke miniature footwear’ (custom-made Wellington boots) to help it overcome a phobia of mud.”

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Generally your first example Joel as outlined in the replies above, but yes it could also apply to a one off item made for a specific task.

Examples could be the odd tools mechanics make from old spanner to facilitate removing a nut without needing to take the whole engine out of the car. Or tools for other specific tasks which are not otherwise availble but may make a frustraiting fiddly task easy. If those tools where made for the user then they would be bespoke in both senses. Equaly a bench made to fit in a alcove of specific dimesion is also a bespoke design even if it is a standard style.

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