Bespoke vs Off-The-Rail.

What do Jacqueline Kennedy, Amal & George Clooney, Michelle & Barack Obama, Robert Downey Jnr, Princess Diana, Jennifer Aniston, Christine Lagarde to name just a few, all have in common?

Answer: Immaculate style and beautifully tailored clothes.

Oh yes, it does take rather a few more notes out of the wallet to support such elegance, but they’re worth every dollar. Actors and politicians are on show regularly and are expected to dress well. But that doesn’t mean you too can’t have a few well-cut garments made to wear on special occasions, especially plus-size women for whom I predominantly design.

When someone walks into a room or even along the street in a well-tailored suit or dress you notice them, they stand out. Not only are their clothes superbly cut and designed, but they feel empowered by their clothes, it shows in their stance, the way they move.

Off-the-rail is what most of us buy, even designers such as myself. We don’t have the time or money to have our wardrobes completely made for us. Mass-produced clothes are cheaper because of the high volume cut and made. My casual wear is mostly off-the-rail and I put up with the tight bicep section of the sleeves that are also always too short on me, or the short bodice lengths, though I do get a touch cranky when I see friends paying out high prices for ‘designer’ off-the-rail garments that still do not fit properly.

This is not so with bespoke garments, it is a very different operation, which is why I personally have some special garments ready to wear when I want to make an impression, going to the symphony or a classy restaurant.

Bespoke, or Made-to-Measure, does take a lot of time of course, though it is an immensely enjoyable process. A Senior Patternmaker is a craftsperson and it takes years of training and working in various studios or industry to become proficient in this very demanding career. I have worked in corporate and high fashion, both are exciting although I do have a preference for couture, especially in plus sizes, an area I spent a lot of time in during my London years in the late 80s and early 90s. Yes, I have been around for a while!

How to Get Made-to-Measure Clothes

When you make an appointment with me, I ask you to bring a few clothes that you love, as well as magazine references or we will search your Pinterest or Instagram account. After chatting, I will start to get a feel for what you like and, more importantly, dislike. We also play around draping different coloured fabrics around you to see what enhances your own colouring and silhouette. I also ask you to bring some heels and wear well-fitted lingerie. This is so important because not only does it help enhance a woman’s figure, beautiful lingerie also helps the garment sit correctly and produce the correct measurements. Badly fitting lingerie does not do justice to the female form, particularly a voluptuous one, or the clothes, and it shows. Plus ladies, don’t we feel delicious and sexy in gorgeous underwear next to our skin? Just as beautifully fitted garments empower a woman, so does gorgeous lingerie. I will write more about this for the fuller figure in another blog.

Research is Your Friend!

If you are not sure of what type of silhouette or colour looks good on you, when you are next out shopping for a new garment take a photograph of yourself or better still, get a friend to take one if she is with you, then look at your photo. You will see yourself objectively and can usually tell straight away if you like what you have tried on. Don’t think about it, make that decision immediately, it is a much more informed decision and usually the right one. Sometimes your friends might not say what they truly think, because they love you and don’t want to upset you, but there is nothing wrong with asking someone who is near the fitting room, though preferably not the salesperson!

Quite often a number of retail boutiques will not let you take photos of garments, in which case perhaps you could suggest to the salesperson that they take a photo of you with their own phone and then they can delete? I mean, they want that sale, don’t they?


If you’re happy to proceed, whether it’s your bridal/evening gown or tailored daywear, I then take your measurements ready for the initial pattern. A toile (calico) is constructed after the pattern is made in a fabric similar to the final garment, to test the pattern, design and fit it before I cut it in your expensive fabric. For example, if the gown is lace or a drapey fabric, I will test the pattern in a similar weight, but much cheaper fabric.

Next: Toile

During your first toile fitting, we may decide to change the design, a little or a lot, and also tweak the fit if needed. If all goes well, I will proceed with the make of the garment; if not, I will make another toile. You can now see that we are actually making the garment up once or twice before actually cutting it out to hand over to my wonderfully talented machinist who will do her magic. The hours are adding up!

Once you and I are both happy with the fit and design, we do something exciting – we go shopping for your fabric, if you don’t already have an amazing piece you’ve  bought from overseas. In that case, we have to design something that will fit into that particular metreage, not always easy! This is the final step before actually cutting the garment because we don’t know how much fabric you need until the pattern is made. I then I lay it out on different widths. For example: 90cm, 110cm, 130cm, 140cm 150cm widths, to calculate the correct metreage for each width fabric. If the fabric has a particular design or pattern on it that we want to utilise within the dress silhouette this will most likely increase the metreage again, especially if it is a scolloped edge lace!

These calculations are all extremely important, especially working with bridal gown fabrics and lace from Europe, they can be quite costly.

Absolutely Fabulous!

Finally there is nothing more exciting for both client and designer, and of course my machinist if she is nearby since she has done the amazing work of sewing quite often very difficult fabric, to see the garment finished and on you. When you see how a woman holds herself wearing a beautiful new bespoke garment, it is magic. I absolutely love what I do and I adore my clientele.

Join me! Send me a message to get started.

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