T-shirts are a fan favorite! They can be a comfortable, versatile icon of casual clothing. And many earn the right to be well worn out. But not all t-shirts fall into that comfort clothing label. So what makes one better than another?
The artwork on the shirt might be a factor, with some people showing a preference for pop-culture icons that have a deep meaning for them. But more likely, the actual material is notably comfortable. The fabric feels good on the skin and isn't prone to shrinking or fading.
Qualities that Make a Good T-Shirt
What goes into making a comfortable t-shirt? What specific qualities can you look for when choosing t-shirts for your brand? For one, the weight of the material. Heavier weight t-shirts that are more than 6 oz are better suited for colder climates. If you are an outdoor brand popular in mountainous regions, this will be more important for you. Lightweight t-shirts typically range between 3 - 5 oz and are more comfortable for warmer weather.
Lightweight t-shirts tend to have a more fashionable fit, whereas heavier t-shirts have a more utilitarian fit. That brings us to the next important aspect. Choosing the fit of the shirt is important. Many women will only wear fitted t-shirts to avoid looking bulky or masculine. Similarly, most men prefer a classic t-shirt fit.
There are a few choices for t-shirt material, and they are not all created equal. From classic cotton t-shirts to optimal blends, the best t-shirt depends on the need.
Cotton is one of the most popular materials for a t-shirt. It is soft and breathable and strikes a perfect balance between cost and comfort. The main drawback to cotton is that it wrinkles and it often shrinks in the laundry.
Think of it as an upgrade to the classic cotton t-shirt. Combed cotton is made from pretreated fibers that produce a softer, more durable fabric. On the downside, the extra processing adds up to a higher cost.
If environmental impact and sustainability are important to your brand, organic cotton is the way to go. It utilizes the most popular t-shirt material but limits the selection to materials that achieve certain standards for limiting their impact on the environment. This type of cotton is more labor-intensive to produce and therefore more expensive to buy.
This type of cotton is the highest quality cotton available. It is soft, durable, resists pilling, fading, and stretching. If your brand is high-end, this is the high-quality t-shirt fabric for you.
Second only to cotton, polyester is an extremely popular clothing material. It is most notable for its resistance to shrinking, fading, or stretching, which means that polyester t-shirts have a long lifespan.
The best of both worlds is a blend between cotton and polyester. Not all blends are created equal, so you will need to look at the percentage of each material in the blend before making a decision. However, most cotton/polyester blends are soft like cotton and wrinkle-resistant like polyester.
T-shirt manufacturers have found another way to improve on a good thing! By adding rayon to the mix, they have created an ideal t-shirt blend that marries the comfort of cotton and the durability of polyester with a touch more softness and lighter weight with rayon.
In addition to the type of fabric, you should be familiar with and intentional about choosing other aspects of the t-shirt. Weight and yarn count often determine the look and feel of a t-shirt and explains why two different 100% cotton t-shirts might not feel the same.
The weight of a t-shirt is measured as ounces per yard (grams per square meter.) In the United States, manufacturers will use a number like 6.0 to reflect the ounces per square yard, with the measurement being implied. In general, weights above 6 ounces are heavy. Weights around 5 ounces are midweight. And t-shirts less than 4.5 oz are lightweight.
Lighter fabrics provide a more natural fit and may feel softer. However, these fabrics also have a problem becoming too see-through. Like the garment's overall weight, the yarn count will tell you how thick or thin the yarn used to make the fabric is.
Stiff, heavyweight shirts have a lower yarn count which means it is made from thicker yarn. This measurement might be expressed like an 18/1. Similarly, a softer t-shirt might have a measurement of 30/1, indicating thinner yarn which translates to a lighter feel.
You might notice that higher-quality t-shirts are almost always made with thinner yarn. It costs more to produce tightly woven fabrics from thinner yarn, so a higher yarn count will almost always be a higher-priced garment. The fit and feel of the t-shirt usually match with the higher pricing, which makes it desirable to produce.
If you are new to buying t-shirts, here are a few more descriptive terms that you will encounter. It is a good idea to know what they are talking about so you can make informed decisions.
Heather, as in heather-gray, is a technique where two different color yarns are combined to create a variance in the coloring. To further exaggerate this effect, producers often use two different materials like cotton and polyester, which each receive dye differently.
Fleece is a technique used on polyester garments to create a softer, thicker side. For example, the underside of a sweatshirt might be fleeced. The producer took a polyester fabric and teased the ends of the fabric to produce the intended effect.
Slub is the result of sewing with yarn that has thicker and thinner sections. Originally this slub yarn was a mistake, but the effect it produced was interesting, and it became a regular technique used for t-shirts.
Jersey is a type of stitch commonly used for t-shirts that provide natural stretch. Jersey does not refer to the material as much as it refers to the construction of the material.
Rib Knit is another type of weave that is popular for collars and cuffs and provides natural elasticity.
The Bottom Line
Choosing the right t-shirt material takes a little bit of knowledge about what you are looking at. You will always have to find a balance between price and quality, but at least with this information, you aren't in the dark trying to guess your way out. The material, fit, yarn count, and weight are all factors that create a t-shirt that is either stiff and boxy or fitted, soft, and comfortable.