Scrolling through instagram you’d be forgiven for thinking that fashion is moving as rapidly as ever. Influencers change their looks for every shot, T-shirt ads flicker between banana bread posts and even scandal hasn’t dented sales at fast fashion giant Boohoo during lockdown.
Yet, at the same time, a slow-burning trend for made-to-measure clothes is emerging. Or should we say, re-emerging, given that clothes have been made-to-measure for most of history. And while made to measure clothing never went away in certain sectors – think Savile Row tailoring and couture wedding dresses – this is something different, with prices falling at the upper end of the high street. Using powerful visuals and diverse models, the focus is on size inclusivity, using sustainable, quality materials, and producing clothes in a slower, more ethical way with less waste.
One British made-to-measure designer, who has gained a loyal Instagram-following for her bold, rainbow coloured dresses and fun fruit print coordinated pieces made from deadstock and sustainable materials, is designer Megan Crosby, who creates bespoke pieces for £50-£250 via her online shop, and has no limits on size. You simply fill out an online form specifying size, occasion and preference for colours and Crosby will come back with a unique design. The site also includes detailed instructions for self measuring to help ensure these pieces will fit perfectly. If they don’t, she will alter them free of charge.
Another British brand, AK Threads’ ED5 range is crafted in London by women from low-income backgrounds. Paid a national living wage, it has provided them with sustainable employment (15% of production costs is reinvested back into the enterprise) and these made-to-measure pieces have no excess inventory. The brand’s Japanese-influenced collection of wide-leg trousers, kimono-style wrap tops and loose swing dresses are available to buy in standard measurements, from size UK6 to size UK22, from which you can ask for adjustments, or input your own measurements with no size limitations. Prices range from £95 for a wrap top to around £170 for a dress.
The French brand Maison Cléo is another trailblazer, with a business model which marries an influencer-friendly aesthetic of romantic big-collared dresses and puff sleeved jumpers with a business model which is thoughtfully limited. Run by a mother and daughter team, the brand makes around 30 pieces a week, all of which are made to measure, with no limits on size. Maison Cléo opens the doors to it’s online shop on a Wednesday, and once the curated selection of cropped, puffed sleeved blouses (for around €125) and knits (€300) are sold, they are sold out. A brand new curation of pieces will be up for grabs a week later.
Addressing sustainability was the main reason Crosby adopted her slow-fashion business model, together with the desire to create a rare brand that was “accessible for people not catered for on the high street in terms of sizing”.
Although an absolute advocate of the made-to-measure model, she is sceptical that the complete service she offers will hit the high street any time soon, questioning the time it would take fast-fashion retailers to import cheaper fabric from China before any of the pattern cutting process even starts: “If Asos decided to offer made to measure, would those customers wait?”
These are small labels, far from mainstream. The prices are higher than the fast-fashion end of the high street, but still – it is a trend that could have a positive impact on the way we all dress, even if buying a new bespoke piece feels like a stretch. There are more affordable ways to buy into the spirit of the trend, which ties into a broader interest in sewing and repairs, and a make do and mend attitude which has grown during lockdown, seen everywhere from the rise of Instagram accounts dedicated to visible mending to the high street: in the summer Levi’s opened a store in London’s Soho, dedicated to tailoring, customisation and upcycling services, Selfridges introducing a repair concierge in their London store, joining brands such as Toast, which offers an alternations and repairs service, and Uniqlo, which will alter the length of trouser hems.
Buying clothes secondhand and getting them hemmed, or taken in by your local dry cleaner, is another affordable way to feel as though your clothes feel unique and actually fit. Sewing agency The Seam has seen a rise in knit repairs, or clothes re-dyed, as customers look to update existing pieces for autumn, rather than re-buy.
Layla Sargent, founder of The Seam, believes if made-to measure is to become popular it needs to be done on a local basis rather than the high street. “A lot of store items are advertised as the perfect fit,” she says. “But that’s not possible because everyone has different requirements. That’s where made-to-measure comes in.”
In a world where individual style is harder to come by, the one-on-one personal experience that made-to-measure clothing can offer. Its environmental benefits seems to be resonating with fashion fans, though whether we will see it in our local Marks & Spencer remains to be seen. Still, any trend that puts us back in touch with the way clothes are made, and encourages us to cherish them, has to be a good thing.