Many a good soul has gone totally mad, and wandered the world backwards wondering how to choose a T shirt.
It’s ok, we’ve all done it, been really specific and wanted light but heavy, fitted but loose, soft but strong and all things to all people. It can be painful, so we’re here to help by sharing the road, on our endless choose a T shirt journey.
The sad fact is, and it grieves us but truly, we can’t have it all, and we have to compromise when we choose a T shirt. Actually, compromise is the wrong word, we have to list all the features that relate to a T shirt, and then pick the ones which are most important to us in order of preference. Maybe that is compromise, anyway, here is one way of isolating all the key considerations in a checklist that you can work through, if like us, you feel that this stuff matters.
Fit – fitted, semi-fitted, standard.
Broadly speaking we have three choices of fit – fitted, semi-fitted, and standard. Pretty self-explanatory, fitted is what it says, verging on the spray on, hello sailor would you like a quick look at what I’ve got. A limited market perhaps for the bunny that lives in the gym, but if that is your market, worth a look. Semi-fitted, a contoured silhouette that just sits nicely, not too cling film, not too waffty. This would be our most commercial recommendation – you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but this will please most of the people for most of it. And standard, by which we mean a classic old school boxy American fit. The sleeves on these can be peaky, the body boxy – perfect for a certain very urban streetwear swag, but we must consider our market wisely. There are exceptions to the rule, but generally the more fitted and semi-fitted T shirt tends to be a lighter weight fabric, the standard T shirt is more likely to be heavy weight. Fitted, semi-fitted or standard – which do we prefer?
Weight – lightweight, mid-weight, heavy weight, and grams per square metre (gsm)
T shirt fabric weight is measured in grams per square metre, or gsm, where a lightweight T-shirt might be 115 gsm, a mid-weight 165 gsm, a heavy weight 215gsm. The lightweight with the odd exception as we mentioned above tend to be more fitted or semi fitted, and often with a neat, smart, narrow rib at the neckline. The heavyweight with a few exceptions are a squarer cut with a wider rib at the neck, to add stability for the heavier fabric. The lighter weights are very generally softer and more liquid in their movement, the heavier weights more stable in shape. Light weight, mid-weight, heavy weight – how do you feel?
How to choose a T shirt – Fabric content – cotton, polyester, elastane, bamboo, modal, Tencel.
We’ve chosen a weight and a fit, but made from what kind of fabric, is it cotton, a cotton polyester mix, with elastane, bamboo, modal, and what in God’s name is Tencel? If you’re serious about your clothing brand on this subject we would probably pick up the phone to be really safe, because if the garments are going to be decorated the choice of fabric can dictate the print method, and so the texture of the image. !00% cotton is good for everything, safe safe safe, polyester however won’t take a nice soft discharge screen print (although it is good for sublimation), bamboo, modal and Tencel take most screen print inks, but they’re so light and gorgeous we like a nice light soft ink. (Oh, and like we wouldn’t tell you – Tencel is a sustainable fabric, regenerated from wood cellulose obtained from eucalyptus trees). But we need to choose our fabric content, do we want cotton, polyester, elastane, bamboo, modal, or Tencel?
Texture – is the fabric combed or ringspun?
You may see when leafing through our product descriptions, that some fabrics are combed or ringspun, which will dictate the texture of the fabric. If you have an electron microscope in the back bedroom, pop a T shirt under it and you’ll see big boulders of impurity amongst the fibres. If these are combed or ringspun out, the fabric will feel softer, more pure and decent. We don’t have anything on our site which isn’t softer than your average Spaniel’s ear, but it’s worth considering and discussing. Often the lighter weight fabrics in bamboo tend to be softest, but then there is the heavyweight brushed T to be the exception to that rule. Mmmmm….Texture, do you want the fabric to be combed or ringspun, how soft do you want to go?
Construction – how is a T shirt built?
Not something that a lot of us pay as much attention too perhaps as we should, but how a T shirt is built and its overall construction is of course important. Side seams or tubular knit fabric? We have no real beef with either. Some might say that a tubular built T shirt doesn’t look so obvious if it twists, unlike a misaligned side seam which will show – but a quick flick into shape when they come out of the washing machine and that’s no issue either way. We would recommend a taped shoulder seam however. This will give good stability. Sleeve cut is important, do we like a raglan or drop shoulder, but the biggest issue for most is neckline. Do we want a thin neat rib that looks smart under a jacket, or a wider more down with the kids neck rib? Do we want the neck fitted, or a more slouchy just fell off the sofa look? Construction – how do we want our T shirt to be built?
Ethics – do we care about the polar bears?
Of course we care about the polar bears, we have ethics, and we care about the pandas, and the people, and the world, as best we can. So this section will be short and sweet. We will be looking for carbon neutral, organic fabrics, made under the accreditation of the Fairwear Foundation, Eco Tex 100 on dye stuffs, Soil Association accredited and without any Uzbeki cotton, maybe recycled and trucked, not flown in. Ethics, we don’t shout about it like some holier than thou Cliff Richard fans, but yes we care about the polar bears, and think such things should just be a nice quiet given.
Customer – what does the market sector want?
While we’re considering fit, weight, fabric, texture, construction, and ethics, we of course never take our eye of our customer, and what the market sector we intend to target really wants. It is very common to forget the customer and think about what we look for personally in a T shirt. I may prefer something very lightweight, soft and semi fitted (my personal favourite is the poetic flow of a bamboo T), but if I’m targeting the hard core chopper riding motorcycle clubs of the American mid-west, that would be tantamount to questing their sexuality. A nice old school bullet proof piece of kit that goes up to 10 XL would be the way forward.
What do I do next – the Magnificent Seven?
The above is all very interesting, but what do I do next you might wonder. Grab the pen, paper and thinking cap, and list the above – fit, weight, fabric, texture, construction, ethics, and customer, the Magnificent Seven. Decide which order they come in for you, it can’t be perfect and there is sacrifice, but list it as best you can. When we chat, you can then start with the top two and say ‘my priorities are fit and weight’, or ‘my priorities are ethics and construction’ and we will be well on the way to making the right recommendations.