J. Hilburn: A Potential Revolution in the Custom Tailoring

It’s probably be a bit too early for me to say, but I think J. Hilburn could revolutionize custom clothing.

The current market for custom clothing is, roughly speaking, separated into two camps. On one side, you have custom tailors who typically serve a local area, but sometimes also travel to different cities. All of the best custom clothing operations are of this breed. The problem with these operations is that they tend to be somewhat costly, not only in money, but also time if you don’t happen to live close to the tailor. 

On the other side you have online made-to-measure operations. For these, a customer submits his measurements, selects a fabric, and chooses from a number of customizable options. The company then forwards these specifications to a factory they’ve partnered up with (typically ones in China), and the shirt is shipped out to you once it’s made. The upside is that these garments tend to be more affordable and customers can buy them even if they don’t live in a major city. The downside, however, is that certain things can’t be accurately accounted for in the measurements, such as the slope of your shoulders or your natural posture, all of which can affect how well a garment fits. You also can’t handle the fabrics, which means you won’t be able to tell how it wrinkles or whether there’s a sheen that will affect how it looks when it’s moving. There’s a large number of tactile dimensions to fabrics that you’ll simply just miss out on. Additionally, since you can’t visit the tailor to show him or her how the finished garment fits, you won’t be able to get a professional opinion on how to improve future iterations. 

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that online MTM companies lack control over how you’re measured. In the end, almost everything hinges on the accuracy of your measurements and how well they correspond to the factory’s conception of how something should be measured. 

I have seven sets of measurements of myself - ones taken by Ascot Chang, Spoon Tailor, J. Hilburn, Franz Custom Tailors, Advanced European Tailors, a personal friend, and myself. None of them agree with each other. Some measurements even vary by as much as an inch. The problem isn’t just in the skill of the person measuring you but also in how each person conceptualizes the way a measurement should be taken. By not having in-house control over the measurements, online MTM companies are more at risk for error. 

A Third Model

J. Hilburn has come up with a third model. They’ve trained a national network of “style advisors” to come to your office and take your measurements according to J. Hilburn’s specifications. These advisors also look for things such as the angle of your shoulders and ask you how you like your shirts to fit. Since you’re working with someone in person, you can put on some of your shirts and say what you like and don’t like about them. This gives your advisor an idea of how best to design your custom shirt. The style advisor also brings with them a swatchbook, so that you can actually handle the fabrics you’re buying. Finally, once your style advisor delivers your shirt, you can put it on for them to see, so that they can take notes of how to improve future iterations. 

Where this kind of skilled service typically comes at a high cost, J. Hilburn makes custom shirts for as low as $80, which is about $10-20 more than a typical off-the-rack shirt from brands like J Crew. 

When I first learned about the company through Lawrence, the blogger behind Sartorially Inclined, I admit I was a bit skeptical of model. I had the impression of a menswear equivalent of Tupperware ladies - where a company threw a bunch of products at someone and sent them off on sales missions. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The style advisor that showed up at my home was clearly well-trained. She knew how to properly take measurements and was very informed on fabrics and fit. I had a conversation with her in the way I would have with any custom tailor. The only thing she didn’t know were the details regarding the fusing and interlining of collars, but to be fair, few people know those things. 

Of course, the real test is whether the shirt fits well. My first shirt is coming in a week or two, so I can’t comment on that yet, but I will write about it in my upcoming series on custom shirts. 

An Expansion into Custom Suits

Most interestingly, J. Hilburn now has a custom suit program. The suits will be made in Portugal, in the same factory that makes garments for Paul Smith, Incotex, Burberry, Zegna, and Armani. The fabrics will come from two famous Italian mills, Guabello and Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC). Guabello is a 200 year-old mill that sells luxury wool fabrics to houses such as Kiton and Oxxford. VBC is one of Italy’s largest mills and they supply reputable operations such as WW Chan and Brooks Brothers with many of their standard cloths. The suits will also be half canvassed, though not with a floating canvas. All in all, however, it looks like some quality stuff. 

Like their shirts, J. Hilburn’s suits will be based off of your measurements, taken by one of their trained style advisors. Once your measurements are taken, you select one of two fits - tailored or classic. The tailored cut supposedly fits a bit like Isaia, with a cleaner body, shorter jacket, and higher armholes. Classic is a bit fuller and supposedly fits like Zegna’s Roma model. You can also specify the buttons (two or three), vents (center, side, or none), and pockets (besom with or without flaps, ticket pockets, hacking pockets). There are twenty five different fabrics to choose from, and some interesting seasonal options. For fall and winter, they have a 16 wale corduroy and a range of flannel wools. For spring and summer, they have tropical weight wools and linen blends in solid and fine line stripes. They also plan to introduce a peak lapel jacket and double breasted jacket by the end of the year. 

Suits start at $700 and sportcoats start at $525. It an incredibly impressive price given that they make jackets in the same mill, using the same fabrics, as say, Zegna, which charges about $1700 for a suit. Of course, again, everything is about fit. The line is new, so I neither have first hand experience or seen anything from other customers. If it fits decently, however, I think J. Hilburn might have just struck a revolutionary new model for custom suit making.

Southwick Made-to-Measure at Costco?
A StyleForum member named rezzo posted this interesting story recently…

While at Costco I checked out the Southwick display they have set up.   Southwick is having a MTM event for suits, SC, pants and shirts.  The  measuring is done via a body scan where you stand in this booth in your  underwear for about 10 seconds.  Then you get a print out with about  every possible measurement you can imagine (except what’s covered by the  underwear).   They had a relatively small choice of fabrics (about 20-25). There was  about 5 fabrics from and Asian mill which cost $449 and all the rest was  an Italian mill for $549 - he told me the name but I can’t remember it  other than he mentioned it was an old family owned mill. The salesman,  who was extremely knowledgeable about the construction told me that they  had a full floating canvass and they were half machine, half handmade -  his example of handmade was that the sleeves are attached by hand. I ended up ordering a plain navy worsted, 3 button w/ side vents and ff  cuffed pants from the Italian fabric.  There were the standard type of  choices (buttons, side or center vent and so on) but you could get as  specific as you want - anything you could think of they would write it  down in the notes area.  I asked for horn buttons and they said ok.   They would also make the jacket with working sleeve buttons but I opted  not to do that because I would rather make sure they feel the right  length and then just pay to get them done locally.  For $549 I thought  I’d give it a shot.  Delivery is in about 6 weeks, I’ll let you know how  it turns out.  Southwick also keeps the measurements on file so if it  works out I’ll add a charcoal as well.  I don’t remember the other  prices except the MTM pants were $135 - a bit more for flannel.  They  were also doing MTM shirts.

That’s a very reasonable price point for a fully canvassed made-to-measure suit. I’m unconvinced that body scanners are better than… you know… a tape measure, but this is a very promising possibility for folks who have a hard time with off the rack suiting, can’t afford the $1000+ cost of most in-store made to measure, and don’t want to mess with Mickey Mouse online operations.
Has anyone used this service? Any comment as to the results? Pictures? Email us - contact@putthison.com.

Southwick Made-to-Measure at Costco?

A StyleForum member named rezzo posted this interesting story recently…

While at Costco I checked out the Southwick display they have set up. Southwick is having a MTM event for suits, SC, pants and shirts. The measuring is done via a body scan where you stand in this booth in your underwear for about 10 seconds. Then you get a print out with about every possible measurement you can imagine (except what’s covered by the underwear).

They had a relatively small choice of fabrics (about 20-25). There was about 5 fabrics from and Asian mill which cost $449 and all the rest was an Italian mill for $549 - he told me the name but I can’t remember it other than he mentioned it was an old family owned mill. The salesman, who was extremely knowledgeable about the construction told me that they had a full floating canvass and they were half machine, half handmade - his example of handmade was that the sleeves are attached by hand.

I ended up ordering a plain navy worsted, 3 button w/ side vents and ff cuffed pants from the Italian fabric. There were the standard type of choices (buttons, side or center vent and so on) but you could get as specific as you want - anything you could think of they would write it down in the notes area. I asked for horn buttons and they said ok. They would also make the jacket with working sleeve buttons but I opted not to do that because I would rather make sure they feel the right length and then just pay to get them done locally. For $549 I thought I’d give it a shot. Delivery is in about 6 weeks, I’ll let you know how it turns out. Southwick also keeps the measurements on file so if it works out I’ll add a charcoal as well. I don’t remember the other prices except the MTM pants were $135 - a bit more for flannel. They were also doing MTM shirts.

That’s a very reasonable price point for a fully canvassed made-to-measure suit. I’m unconvinced that body scanners are better than… you know… a tape measure, but this is a very promising possibility for folks who have a hard time with off the rack suiting, can’t afford the $1000+ cost of most in-store made to measure, and don’t want to mess with Mickey Mouse online operations.

Has anyone used this service? Any comment as to the results? Pictures? Email us - contact@putthison.com.

Q and Answer: Indochino Suits - Worth Buying?
Michael writes:  Have you heard of Indochino? The prices are tempting, as is the  customization. Any thoughts?
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Indochino on the men’s clothing message boards lately.  They offer a pretty compelling proposition: a made-to-measure suit, over the web, for less than $400 (or even less, given their frequent sales).
I haven’t tried any of Indochino’s pieces myself (not that I’d turn one down, hint hint), but a consensus seems to be building on the forums.  The suits are made from fabric that would best be described as of “fair” quality, and their workmanship is similarly acceptable-but-unremarkable.  That said, they do offer at least surface-level markers of quality (horn buttons, full canvassing), I’ve read nothing but great things about their customer service, and they offer a credit to have a local tailor adjust your suit if it isn’t to your liking when it arrives.  There are certainly things that you might not be able to measure on yourself, like say shoulder pitch, that are tough to adjust post-facto, but most fit issues should be addressable either in the measuring or by an in-person tailor.
So: if you’re comfortable hunting for bargains, and you’re not too tough to fit, there are probably better values out there.  At that price point, you can probably get a better-made suit at a discounter like the Nordstrom Rack or Saks Off 5th.  However, if you’re particularly tough to fit, and working with a tight budget, this looks like a great option for you.  I think it’s also a good option for more casual and summer suits - cotton and seersucker, for example - an alternative to the usual J-Crew-on-sale and H&M options for knockaround suits.
(note: as of this writing, Indochino are running a 25% off special, plus one free shirt and one free accessory, with the code REDFLAGDEAL)

Q and Answer: Indochino Suits - Worth Buying?

Michael writes:  Have you heard of Indochino? The prices are tempting, as is the customization. Any thoughts?

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth about Indochino on the men’s clothing message boards lately.  They offer a pretty compelling proposition: a made-to-measure suit, over the web, for less than $400 (or even less, given their frequent sales).

I haven’t tried any of Indochino’s pieces myself (not that I’d turn one down, hint hint), but a consensus seems to be building on the forums.  The suits are made from fabric that would best be described as of “fair” quality, and their workmanship is similarly acceptable-but-unremarkable.  That said, they do offer at least surface-level markers of quality (horn buttons, full canvassing), I’ve read nothing but great things about their customer service, and they offer a credit to have a local tailor adjust your suit if it isn’t to your liking when it arrives.  There are certainly things that you might not be able to measure on yourself, like say shoulder pitch, that are tough to adjust post-facto, but most fit issues should be addressable either in the measuring or by an in-person tailor.

So: if you’re comfortable hunting for bargains, and you’re not too tough to fit, there are probably better values out there.  At that price point, you can probably get a better-made suit at a discounter like the Nordstrom Rack or Saks Off 5th.  However, if you’re particularly tough to fit, and working with a tight budget, this looks like a great option for you.  I think it’s also a good option for more casual and summer suits - cotton and seersucker, for example - an alternative to the usual J-Crew-on-sale and H&M options for knockaround suits.

(note: as of this writing, Indochino are running a 25% off special, plus one free shirt and one free accessory, with the code REDFLAGDEAL)

Q and Answer: What is Bespoke?
Ryan asks us: In your blog today you mentioned bespoke clothing.  What does this refer to?
Bespoke clothing is made exclusively for the wearer, to the wearer’s exact specifications.  The word comes from the verb “bespeak” - meaning in this context to tell the tailor what you want.  The bespoke process includes extensive measurements, the creation of a unique pattern (or a last, in the case of shoes), and multiple fittings at various stages of the garment’s construction to ensure perfect fit.  (The man pictured above is in the midst of such a fitting.)  London’s Savile Row is known for housing numerous tailoring houses which create bespoke suiting, but there are bespoke tailors around the world.  Off-the-rack clothing only came to prominence in the late 19th century, but its ascendancy turned perfectly-fitting clothing into a privilege of the rich.
Bespoke clothing is not to be confused with made-to-measure clothing, which is sometimes called custom clothing.  Made-to-measure clothes are made specifically for the customer, but they are typically made by taking the customer’s measurements, then selecting a pre-made pattern which best fits those measurements.  Rather than offering an infinite variety of styles as in bespoke clothing, made-to-measure typically offers a few key stylistic choices (fabric, number of buttons, style of pockets, etc.)  The number of fittings varies in made-to-measure - in some cases an initial measurement is all that’s done, in some cases multiple consultations are taken.
Clothing not made to a customer’s specifications is called “ready-to-wear” or “off the rack.”  Typically men’s ready-to-wear suiting is altered by a tailor before being worn to ensure good fit.

Q and Answer: What is Bespoke?

Ryan asks us: In your blog today you mentioned bespoke clothing.  What does this refer to?

Bespoke clothing is made exclusively for the wearer, to the wearer’s exact specifications.  The word comes from the verb “bespeak” - meaning in this context to tell the tailor what you want.  The bespoke process includes extensive measurements, the creation of a unique pattern (or a last, in the case of shoes), and multiple fittings at various stages of the garment’s construction to ensure perfect fit.  (The man pictured above is in the midst of such a fitting.)  London’s Savile Row is known for housing numerous tailoring houses which create bespoke suiting, but there are bespoke tailors around the world.  Off-the-rack clothing only came to prominence in the late 19th century, but its ascendancy turned perfectly-fitting clothing into a privilege of the rich.

Bespoke clothing is not to be confused with made-to-measure clothing, which is sometimes called custom clothing.  Made-to-measure clothes are made specifically for the customer, but they are typically made by taking the customer’s measurements, then selecting a pre-made pattern which best fits those measurements.  Rather than offering an infinite variety of styles as in bespoke clothing, made-to-measure typically offers a few key stylistic choices (fabric, number of buttons, style of pockets, etc.)  The number of fittings varies in made-to-measure - in some cases an initial measurement is all that’s done, in some cases multiple consultations are taken.

Clothing not made to a customer’s specifications is called “ready-to-wear” or “off the rack.”  Typically men’s ready-to-wear suiting is altered by a tailor before being worn to ensure good fit.