What’s the difference between bespoke shoes and made-to-order shoes?

When a product is specially made for you, it could be bespoke or made-to-order, depending on how specific you’d like to get when placing your order.

The difference between bespoke and made-to-order shoes has to do with the level of customizations that the customer is requesting. So, to use the phrases interchangeably is to use them incorrectly, as these categories of footwear offer different levels of personalization.

Read on for details about the difference between bespoke and made-to-order (custom) shoes.

The personalization options for made-to-order shoes have strict limits

Essentially, this type of footwear allows clients to make only aesthetic changes to their prospective footwear.

For made-to-order footwear, shoppers have the final say on fabric, color and shoe art (like personalized tattoos or engravings) for their orders. Some brands may offer an option to add rubber to the bottoms of your shoes for better stability and traction in wet weather; they also may entertain requests for extra laces. These extras often, but not always, run an additional cost. Specifics will vary from designer to designer.

If you’re interested in learning more about the cost of made-to-order shoes, click here.

It’s also important to note that made-to-order shoe designers will help advise on the best size for you based on the style you’ve chosen and how you like your shoes to fit. They will not, however, measure your feet to make your custom shoes based on those specifications.

Bespoke shoe designers take your measurements and aesthetic preferences into account

Bespoke is a different category of shoes.

Neither for an everyday shoe nor a dress shoe will a made-to-order shoe designer pull out a tape measure at any point during a fitting, but a bespoke (a.k.a. made-to-measure) shoemaker will. The latter will measure each of your feet, and they’ll make a shoe for each of your feet based on the precise measurements. It’s the best possible accommodation for those with particularly big, small or wide feet as well as for people with podiatric (foot) issues or lumbar (back) issues.

Like with made-to-order footwear, bespoke clients may pick their preferred fabric and color, and request personalized tattoos or engravings; but because a bespoke designer must create a mold based on clients’ measurements, and the fit will surely be assessed and reassessed to achieve a desired fit, the cost for bespoke footwear will be double that of made-to-order.

Bespoke and made-to-order footwear is handmade and never mass-produced

“Handmade” is a tired word in the fashion industry, so it’s important to remember that true handmade footwear—regardless of whether it’s bespoke or made-to-order—is made by skilled shoemakers from beginning to end. They cut the materials, dye the leathers to your liking and hand punch every perforation, to mention but a few steps. And because they are minding the shoes so closely, there is an assurance that no detail will be overlooked.

Such artisans rely on traditional shoe-making techniques because they’re known to ensure longevity. Famed bespoke designers John Lobb and Berluti often use a Goodyear welt, a layer of material sewn to the bottom of the shoe separating the insole and the upper from the outsole, which allows for shoe resoling. Hand welting, the preferred technique for shoemakers Hiro Yanagimachi and Antonio Meccariello, is another traditional and intricate technique that makes for durable handmade footwear, though it’s less commonly used by artisans today.

Made-to-order and bespoke shoes are brand new, which means they’re never made for the masses to try on, let alone mass-produced. Both categories of shoes are made for you from an aesthetic perspective, with bespoke taking it a step further and catering to your unique measurements. Both processes are intended to give you the perfect shoe for you.

Made-to-order shoes are likely for you unless you have a fundamental need for something more specific

A big benefit to both the made-to-order and bespoke processes is that you can procure a pair of shoes that is intrinsically one-of-a-kind with the knowledge that it may last for years. Many shoes in both these categories look better with time and wear, unlike much fast fashion.

However, the appeal of made-to-order specifically is the element of uniqueness without getting too technical, and thus, too expensive. If you have specifications that have to do with foot length, width or arch support (i.e., if you need orthotics), think about going the bespoke route to ensure your needs are met. But if your specifications are pretty standard and you only desire the opportunity for superficial customizations, the MTO process is likely the way to acquire your perfect pair of custom shoes.

Once you decide which kind of footwear will best suit you, order your pair of made-to-order or bespoke shoes

Be sure to note, these are just guidelines for acquiring made-to-order and bespoke shoes. With over 20 years in the fashion industry, Esquivel Shoes takes pride in being a quality resource for shoppers. To learn more about made-to-order shoes, bespoke shoes or any other products we offer, send us a note through this link. We’re here to give you peace of mind and help you make the best buying decisions for you.

George Esquivel

George Esquivel

George is a Southern California-based designer and craftsman who designed his first pair of shoes in 1994 and began honing his craft thereafter. For over 20 years, he’s operated his namesake brand, Esquivel, which specializes in handmade shoes and accessories. In the last decade, George served as Creative Director of renowned luxury bag and luggage brand Tumi Inc. and as Creative Consultant for Italian heritage brand Fratelli Rossetti, and has collaborated with many others for his own brand. George was a 2009 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, and has been a CFDA member since 2010. When he’s not working alongside his team of artisans at his atelier, Esquivel House, in Downtown Los Angeles, George is enjoying time with his wife and high school sweetheart, Shelley, and their three grown children. He also loves mountain biking and hosting good friends for dinners and fêtes.