Couture is a word that gets thrown around a lot and while I’m happy makers are making, adding this one word doesn’t help you, the consumer, understand what you’re buying. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell argues that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice make you an expert in your given field. Several others argue that it takes more than practice, but nobody can really tell you you’re an expert. In other words, having years of experience doesn’t make you good. Being good makes you good.
So, how can you tell if somebody’s sewing is any good? Don’t go off of fast fashion. That will tell you what cheap sewing looks like. The problem with cheap sewing is that it makes the good sewing sound expensive. I’ll never be able to compare to Target pricing, but I never want to compare with that pricing or mindset. I’ll come back to how to know whose sewing you want in a minute.
Is there sewing police? Hop on social media and you will find some eager to criticize sewists. But, formally, there is none, and I’m not here to suggest that it become a thing. That said, the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals offers a Standard of Quality pdf that goes through detailed standards I believe in and practice. They don’t check up on anyone, but I appreciate that they exist. Still, the drive to continue to make design and sewing work better is up to the maker.
Let’s back pedal a bit here. What’s the difference between off the rack, made to measure, bespoke, couture, and haute couture?
Off the rack means just that. You are buying a garment that has it’s own set of rules for fit and finish, and it’s ready to buy…on a rack, which you take off the rack. What you see is what you get. The thing with off the rack is that, depending on the company, it can be fast fashion. Fast fashion tends to not have a lot of room for alterations and tailoring. There’s more to it than this, but let’s move on.
Made to measure also uses standardized size charts that are set up by each company (sizing, as you know, isn’t regulated, either, which is why you can fit into multiple sizes depending on where you’re shopping) but you get to choose which size is sent to you. With M2M you can get a closer fit than off the rack, but it will still need alterations.
Typically, when you’re asked for your measurements, you’re asked for circumference measurements- around the bust, around the waist, and around the hip- but the lengths between those measurements are as important. One thing I learned the hard way is that tape measures aren’t regulated. At one point, I had 5 tape measures in my studio, and 3 of them were all different, and off by up to 1/2 an inch. Needless to say, I tossed them.
Bespoke is a garment made from scratch to a person’s measurements and specifications. For some, bespoke is a snobby term, but I personally like it because it makes it clear that a garment is made for one person, the person wearing it. It takes into account the beautiful nuances of the human body.
Isn’t that the same as couture? Kinda. There’s an underlying respect for couture, but the word itself means that it has to do with sewing. It’s a certain standard of sewing, but it’s closer to bespoke.
Lens: Bradley Michael Ferguson
Couture and Haute Couture have become interchangeable but there are anything but that! Haute means high. So Haute Couture is high sewing. It’s French so it sounds fancy. It’s like the atelier. Atelier means workshop in French but few call their studios workshops cos it doesn’t sound as fancy. And some confuse fancy for good.
Bottom line, bespoke and couture are more easily interchangeable, though bespoke tends to be thought of as being for men’s tailoring- tho it doesn’t have to be. Despite that, bespoke and couture are garments that are not mass made. They are made for one person only. Isn’t that the same as custom? Where’s my venn diagram when I need it.
Haute Couture. We made it! We’re here! This is the mecca of sewing. Haute couture is the bees knees of garments. There are very specific rules to qualify for this title. For one, 60% of the garment has to be sewn by hand. According to the Business of Fashion:
“To qualify as an official Haute Couture house, members must design made-to-order clothes for private clients, with more than one fitting, using an atelier (workshop) that employs at least fifteen fulltime staff. They must also have twenty fulltime technical workers in one of their workshops. Finally, Haute Couture houses must present a collection of no less than 50 original designs — both day and evening garments — to the public every season, in January and July.”
Here’s a full list of members of the Haute Couture Federation. Some members of this exclusive group include the following:
- Maurizio Galante
- Christian Dior
- Jean Paul Gaultier
Does it actually matter what someone calls themselves? I’m bringing all of this up to educate and to demystify.
What’s the quality at Curvy Custom Bride? It’s definitely bespoke, made for one person, with 3 fittings, and a lot of the finishing is done by hand. Even my samples are made for the model who originally wore it.
I call myself a bridal designer because most people understand that to mean that I design bridal wear. But that’s another word that I want to quickly strip down. I design for my client. The dress is theirs. Granted, it’s a dialogue between myself and the client. They have ideas and inspiration, I offer ideas and inspiration. We co-create.
I suppose if I were to call myself anything else, I would say I’m a bespoke co-creator.
But is it couture?
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