February 23, 2014 by Ville Raivio
Hilditch&Key has been making very British shirts since 1899, and represents the old guard of Jermyn Street. They offer 10 shirt collections, ties, formal wear, knitwear, nightwear, accessories and other wear for men, with a smaller offering for the ladies. A basic shirt from them is priced at three digits, costing around 120 pounds in England, and sales offer no relief for the frugal man as H&K’s sales percentages are miniscule. The company uses woven Italian and English 2-ply fabrics, mother of pearl buttons and has production in Scotland. All collars and cuffs are unfused, sewn instead of glued. A small leaflet comes with every shirt, espousing the quality and details as follows: removable collar bones, two-piece yoke cut on the bias, pattern-matching throughout, reinforced gauntlet with extra fabric, gussets, two-piece collar turned by hand, MoP buttons, longer tails, very nice fabrics, dense single needle stitching, shirts pressed by hand. With all these nice details, a closer look at a H&K shirt was in order.
The example shirt is a checked one from the firm’s Chatsworth range, a button cuff model with chest pocket and classic collar. All collar shirts rise and fall with their collars, so this variable must be taken care of first. I want to be clear: Hilditch&Key’s classic collar is the dullest, most sad thing called a classic collar on Jermyn Street. While the back height is a reassuring 4.3 cm, the points end at 7.7 cms with an 8 cm spread, which makes for a maximally understated miniscule collar. When buttoned, the collar demands a tiny tie knot lest the points rise from the body of the shirt. A look most odd for any chap with broad shoulders or wider face. What’s good and proper: the single needle stitching is neat and even all around, the purl buttonholes are tight and clean, the MoP buttons are pleasant and have not broken in three years.
Pattern matching is very careful, placket is sturdy and pleasantly wide at 3 cms. The long tails do stay tucked in no matter what, seams are tidy and armholes have been cut high, if not small, to allow great range of movement. The overall cut is average, not for the corpulent or wisp-thin but normal. While I’d prefer a stiffer lining on the collar and cuffs, these H&K’s unfused models do stay presentable after ironing. They’re also pleasant on the wrist and neck. The shirt fabric is very smooth, soft and enjoyable. It hasn’t really aged in three years. The button cuffs are okay, not interesting but not poor either. A last surprise: after removing the chest pocket, which has no real use for any trouser-wearing man, I noticed that the pocket came with lining. Something to guarantee a somewhat stronger pocket. I’ve never seen a similar detail from other shirt makers.
For a bit over one hundred pounds, Hilditch&Key offers a well and carefully-made shirt with many fine details. It fails to offer an interesting collar, one with shape and presence like Turnbull&Asser’s, its closest competitor in both make and pricing. The selection is wide enough, with excellent fabrics, and the very British unfused construction is a huge bonus in my strange books. With an hour or two spent in collar design, H&K might offer the best British shirt on the market. What’s available now is a nosedive in collars, when all other details are in order. Coming so close and failing in the one variable that lends its name to a garment is ironic if not moronic. Still, make no mistake, these are some good shirts.
First published in Finnish 8.9.2011.