goodbye one size fits all

Made-to-measure vs tailor-made: the differences

Made to measure, tailor-made, bespoke, off-the-rack: So many words to describe custom-made garments. And they are often mixed up and misused.

Allow me to clear things up for you.

Especially in Dutch, there aren’t specific terms for each type of custom-made garment and everything is called made-to-measure. Which could mean anything from a slightly longer sleeve to a full-blown couture masterpiece.

As a craftsperson it’s like nails on a chalkboard to hear companies call  their adapted ready-to-wear “made-to-measure” or even worse “tailor-made”.

I’m not saying that every garment needs 30 measurements to get a good fit, but if you call something made-to-measure, it better actually be made-to-measure. I’ve seen businesses claim to make made-to-measure shirts without taking any length measurements into consideration. That’s like calling a Big Mac a gourmet burger…

Anyway, I vented my frustration; now let me explain the various terms. Keep in mind that this is just my interpretation of the terms, and this by no means an attempt to set a standard.

Commonly used terms for customized clothing

There are many terms that are used for customized garments. I use the terms made-to-measure and tailor-made myself and I’ll explain what they mean to me further down.

Some other terms you often read or hear:

Off the rack

Off-the-rack means “as is” from the hanger. The garment is made in a standard size, but it can be altered to get a better fit. You can only change minor aspects of the fit, for instance, taking in pants or shortening sleeves.

Off- the-rack also means that you don’t have a choice in fabric and style. What you see is what you get.

Off-the-rack and made-to-measure are often mixed up. But as I will explain down below, there is a big difference. Don’t be fooled by this.

Made to order

Made-to-order has nothing to do with fit. It simply means that the garment is only made when someone is buying it. Made-to-measure and tailor-made are always made-to-order, but made-to-order doesn’t necessarily mean made-to-measure or tailor-made.


Bespoke is the most excellent form of customization. It requires a high level of expertise and is not only tailor-made, but also handmade (although that is open to discussion). With bespoke clothing, you have infinite choices of style and fabrics, so the garment is truly tailored to your wishes.

That leaves the terms made-to-measure and tailor-made to be explained. But before we dive into that, let me give you a little background on how a sewing pattern is created.

How a pattern is made

Every pattern starts with a basic pattern, called a block pattern. This block pattern is the foundation for all possible styles and models. Every brand has their own block patterns which can differ from brand to brand.

First, a so called construction model is developed. The design is projected onto the block pattern in this construction model. In a construction model, not only the base parts of the garment are constructed, but also every design detail such as closures, pockets, collars, and more. This construction model is created in a way that it can be used for a wide range of sizes.

After creating the construction model, it is translated into individual pattern pieces. This process ensures that every detail is accounted for and that the pattern is perfect for the intended design.


A made-to-measure pattern is one that is created specifically for you based on your measurements. Literally made to measure(ments). No less than 40 measurements are taken to create your unique block patterns.

Every deviation from the average is reflected in your personal block pattern. Have you got a long upper body? Your block pattern will then be automatically elongated. Are your top and bottom sizes different? This is incorporated into your block pattern as well, and a dress will fit you like a glove around your bust and your hips.

The measurements are no longer taken manually, nowadays you just scan yourself with your phone.

To create a custom pattern, the block pattern is replaced with your specific block pattern. The construction model and separate pattern pieces are then updated automatically.

Although a made-to-measure pattern already has a much better fit than a ready-to-wear one, there is always room for improvement. The difference is in the details.

In order to achieve true perfection, we have to get to work hands-on. And here we go from made-to-measure to tailor-made.


The personalized block pattern we start with is still based on averages. And we all know that there’s no such thing as an average body. We’re all unique in our own way, with different shapes and sizes. For instance, one person may have a hollow back while another has a rounded one. And some may have more volume in the front than in the back, or vice versa. Plus, no one is perfectly symmetrical, which the block pattern doesn’t account for either.

Tailor-made means that the block pattern is further tailored specifically to your body.

A fitting model is created from the block pattern, and during a fitting session, I use my eagle eye to see where the fitting model needs to be adjusted.

I cut and paste the model until it fits perfectly. Take a little here, add a little there. And if necessary, I make a left and right pattern. Any changes we make will be implemented in your personal block pattern.

The pictures below show what I mean. All fitting models are made to measure from the same block pattern. As you can see each model needs some small adjustments to make it fit perfectly.

Also this fitting process is entirely digital. From your scan your digital duplicate is created. The avatar and used software are so accurate that a digital fitting is just as good as a real-life fitting.

I hope this helps you better understand the various terms for customized clothing and allows you to determine whether made-to-measure clothing is truly made to measure.

Your designs also made to measure?

Have you ever thought about offering your designs made-to-measure but hesitated due to the amount of work involved?

Well, fear not! I have great news for you. ? It’s not as hard as you think! Seriously, all you have do is cut out the pattern pieces.

Ditch the old-school measuring tape and switch to remote tailoring. You can have a custom pattern ready for use within just a few days. Easy peasy.

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