Back in March, J. Hilburn provided us with a number of their products. So far, we have reviewed the caiman crocodile belt, as well as a barleycorn sweater. Originally, the company started out by offering made-to-measure shirts and, although they just began to offer MTM suits and jackets, their shirts are still the core business. As such, I will review a MTM shirt from J. Hilburn, explaining the process and details along the way.
History of J. Hilburn
J. Hilburn was founded by Hil Davis and Veeral Rathod in Texas and launched officially on 1st October 2007. Meanwhile, J. Hilburn has over 1000 partners, and they are still growing strong. Overall, the style advisors seem to lack a sartorial background or a deeper understanding of men’s clothes. Instead it is structured like a sales organization that sells life insurance and trains its people a few weeks before they are send out to the field.
How To Get Measured – The J. Hilburn Model
Unlike the J. Hilburn sweater and crocodile belt, the shirts are made-to-measure, meaning that a standard shirt pattern serves as a base. This pattern is then modified according to the customer’s measurements. With literally hundreds of online “custom” shirt makers offering their products online, J. Hilburn follows a different approach to measurements than most others. Generally, an online shirt manufacturer requires you to measure yourself or have somebody else measure you. Subsequently, the shirt will be produced and shipped to you.
Not so at J. Hilburn. Although they do have an online configurator which helps you to envision how a certain fabric looks with a certain collar, you will set up an appointment with one of their style advisors. They will conveniently visit you at your office or at home in order to take your measurements, and sometimes they may even have a showroom where you can meet them as well. My J. Hilburn style advisor arrived with numerous fabric samples in hand, so that I could see and feel them all in person.
The J. Hilburn Shirt Fabrics & Options
Once the 10 measurements are taken, you can choose from a variety of fabrics. When I ordered my shirt, J. Hilburn claimed that the fabrics came from Tessitura Monti in Italy, although it’s hard to believe, considering that they also weave fabrics at a lower cost in India and that some summer fabrics came from Thomas Mason. Both are renowned European manufacturers of high quality fabrics.
All J. Hilburn fabrics are categorized into four price tiers: Blue Label $89, Brown Label $109, Burgundy Label $139, and Black Label $159.
In order to keep the prices low, J. Hilburn buys fabrics only once a year. Since it is difficult to predict what fabric will be popular, some fabrics will inevitably sell out. Since my appointment was at the end of the season, there were a number of fabrics that were not available anymore. However, that did not really matter to me since I opted for a classic light blue and white striped twill fabric of super 80’s 2/2 from Tessitura Monti, which was in the Burgundy Label Range for $139.
Subsequently, I picked the curved cutaway collar, double or French cuffs, a front placket and side pleats in the back. While it would have been possible to change the length and angle of the collar wings, I was unable to get a collar with a tie space. Generally, J. Hilburn offers two armholes – a regular sized one and a slimmer European version. Optionally, it is also possible to make the armhole even smaller.
Many men have sloped shoulders, and usually the dominant arm is more sloped than the other arm. Unfortunately, at J. Hilburn, you can only get a shirt with different arm lengths, but the shoulder slope cannot be considered. In my case, this leads to creases over the shoulder blades and in the front.
Since quite a number of men wear wrist watches, you can specify the cuff circumference on either side, so you will be able to button your cuff, even if you wear a large chronograph.
Personalization of a J. Hilburn Shirt
All J. Hilburn shirts come with your embroidered initials inside the collar band. Additionally, you can have your initials displayed either on the cuff, the chest pocket or the waist for an upcharge of $10. In my opinion, monograms of cuffs or chest pockets look highly unsophisticated. Considering that there was already a monogram inside the collar band, there was absolutely no reason to have another one, however since I was testing the shirt, I wanted to see what the monograms look like and so I just ordered a Diamond monogram on the waistline.
On top of that, you can order contrasting cuffs and collars for an additional $15 or add contrast stitching for $10. Contrast stitching may work on casual shirts but since I picked a classic fabric, I decided against it. Moreover, I already own a light blue and white striped shirt with white contrasting collars and cuffs, and so I skipped on this option as well.
Interestingly, you cannot choose any kinds of buttons, and so my shirt came with white plastic buttons. Real mother of pearl buttons would definitely lend the shirt a more high-quality look, and I really think every manufacturer of MTM shirts should at least have the option of mother of pearl buttons, since many men, including myself, consider plastic buttons to be unacceptable on a fine dress shirt.
The Workmanship of a J. Hilburn Shirt
As I mentioned before, the Albini fabric quality is excellent, but that doesn’t help if the fit of the shirt is wrong. The seams are sewn neatly but not en par with other shirts in that price range. The armhole shows a clean finish on the inside, with double needle stitch seams, which is better than overlock stitched shirts, but not as good as top quality shirts. In this price range, one should expect something better. I was told, all J. Hilburn shirts are made in Korea / Hong Kong.
The side seams are sewn with a double needle machine, which creates a wrinkly side seam in the long run. A single needle machine would prevent that from happening, but it is also more expensive to use a single needle.
All J. Hilburn cuff and collar interlinings are fused, and not sewn like the ones on the IGN Joseph shirt we recently reviewed. All interlinings are just available in one kind of stiffness, which lends an overall structured look without being overly hard. So far, the interlining has held up beautifully in the laundry, and they seem to average quality. At this price point you find other shirt makers that offer you a broader range of things.
Every J. Hilburn shirt comes with removable brass collar stays, which I think is a welcome deviation from the plastic collar stays you would usually find on shirts.
The buttonholes on a J. Hilburn Shirt are all machine-made and of average to poor quality. There is only a little bit of fraying on the inside and sometimes there was a loose thread. They seem to have been cut first, and then sewn – just the way it should be done. I have definitely seen worse buttonholes in the past, but also better ones.
The plastic buttons are sewn on in a cross stitch by machine and do not feature a shank. Consequently, there is not enough space for a shirt placket in between the fabric and the button. As such, you will see little concentric wrinkles around every button, just like on the IGN Joseph shirt we recently wrote about.
Overall, the level of workmanship at J. Hilburn is average , and has lots of room for improvements.
The J. Hilburn Service
In my opinion, J. Hilburn’s service is, probably, the most unique feature in the online made-to-measure shirt world. The fact that a J. Hilburn agent will take your measurements does not only make it convenient for you, but it also shifts any room for error to J. Hilburn. Let’s assume the shirt does not fit – there is no doubt that J. Hilburn alone is responsible for it because they measured and manufactured it. With other online shirt companies, you bear the risk of the wrong measurement.
In addition, you always have an agent who is responsible for your specific needs, and not just an email address or phone number of a person you’ve never met.
In my case, the first J. Hilburn shirt that arrived was off in a number of ways. The collar was too wide, the armholes – too big; the bust was too narrow, and the waist too wide – all despite choosing the narrowest “European” fit. So, my agent, Sarah Ramsay, visited me and looked at the shirt. We measured an existing shirt that fit me well and we made the necessary corrections – the new shirt, of course, free of charge. Even if you buy a number of shirts at the time, they only make one to begin with and remake it if necessary until the best possible fit is achieved.
Once my new shirt was done, Sarah delivered it to me personally. Although J. Hilburn shirts do have many limitations with regard to the sloping shoulders and tie space as mentioned above, aSarah did everything in her power to deliver a shirt that was as good as possible within these limitations.
In my opinion, this constitutes an excellent service. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s the way the staff deals with it that reveals how great their customer service really is.
Of course, the best service isn’t worth anything if the product doesn’t stand up to it, and unfortunately J. Hilburn stuff simply didn’t fit even after the second shirt. The armholes don’t work, the lack of darts and the cut of the shirt is terrible and even worse than off the rack, and I think I wore the shirt a total of two times, before I donated it to goodwill.
If you have been buying off the rack shirts thus far, you have a fairly standard figure without sloping shoulders and you do not care about details like real mother-pearl-buttons, you can look into J. Hilburn shirts but frankly, you will likely get a better deal with other shirt manufacturers such as mytailor.com who offer comparable in person service.
You can find their website at: www.jhilburn.com
For a comparison, please make sure to read our other shirt reviews here.
Edit:Additional Information about J. Hilburn: 06/16/2011
Today, I had a conversation with Jon Patrick, J. Hilburn’s Vice President of Product. He told me that J. Hilburn does indeed not have a shoulder slope correction option at the moment, but that they may consider adding it in the future. However, as discussed in the comments, there may be a possibility to correct a shoulder slope, with the J. Hilburn ” A Frame” solution that was designed with body builders in mind.
Additionally, J. Hilburn will offer new shirt fabrics from Tessitura Monti’s 200 and Prince Rose line in the near future. Moreover, he told me it may be possible for good clients to have certain shirt features added on request even if they are not listed on the website.
When J. Hilburn had initially started, they offered mother of pearl buttons that were prone to breakage and due to customer demand, they switched to (more durable) all-plastic buttons. Since this happened before he worked for J. Hilburn, he did not know how thin these buttons were. Along with the introduction of the new fabrics, every J. Hilburn customer may be able to choose between a double stack mother of pearl buttons and plastic buttons.
In my experience, thin mother of pearl buttons (1mm thick) may indeed break, whereas I have never broken a mother of pearl button that was 2mm or thicker.