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I wrote a text about our company's services and added that we also can offer products tailored to the needs of our clients. One of my colleagues insisted that the expression was wrong and I should say that we offered tailor-made products. Is there actually a difference between the two expressions generally or in the context I described?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

There is a shade of difference between them.

Something that is tailor-made for someone was conceived, designed, and built to suit that specific customer.

Something that is tailored for someone could have started its existence as a fairly generic item, but it was most likely designed and constructed with the goal that at some point, somebody could come along and make alterations to it that would enable it to fit better onto a particular customer. (Many different possible alterations may be available, though, and in conflicting arrangements: A suit could be designed so that it can be either taken in at the waist, or let out, without looking like it has been modified.)

So if you're starting from scratch for your customer, then tailor-made is the better description; but if you've got a common base to start from, and you're making changes on top of that, then just tailored is more accurate.

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1  
This may be a difference between UK and US common usage. For me, a tailored solution, a tailor-made solution and a bespoke solution are all synonymous. However the term tailored had been hijacked in certain circumstances, for instance tailored shirt is a term used in the UK for an off-the-peg shirt with sides that aren't straight, but I would still expect a tailored suit to be tailor-made to an individual. –  Mark Booth Mar 3 '12 at 23:10
    
@Mark Booth, How would you describe something that started out generic and was then altered to meet your specific needs? –  Hellion Mar 3 '12 at 23:31
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@Hellion I would call that "customised". –  Christi Mar 3 '12 at 23:46
    
I would use probably use customised rather than tailored in that circumstance, even though as Barrie mentions, the OED allows for either use, depending on context. I see that Merriam-Webster has a much more limited definition however. –  Mark Booth Mar 3 '12 at 23:48
    
@Hellion, you hit it with altered. –  Sam Mar 4 '12 at 5:30

A figurative meaning of the verb tailor is ‘to design or alter (something) to suit specific needs’ (OED), so the way you used it would seem appropriate. Equally, there is a verb, tailor-make meaning much the same thing.

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l do not believe there is any difference in meaning between these two expressions although "tailored" may carry the additional meaning of "adapted to the needs of a specific group" to some. Using "bespoke" may avoid this confusion.

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Actually, I would tend to use tailor-made when referring to something that was specifically made for a single customer. I would use tailored to the needs of our clients when I meant that our generally-offered-solution had been designed with the collective needs of our clients in mind. I also would tend to use the term 'custom solutions' or 'customized' intead of tailor-made when referring to solutions that were made for a specific customer. –  Jim Mar 3 '12 at 22:03
    
While I see your point, tailoring literally has to mean the process of tailor making. I do not believe the original poster's understanding of the turn is incorrect. –  Christi Mar 3 '12 at 22:09

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