How to buy a T-shirt (10 most important criteria)

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I think most everyone I know has a T-shirt story to tell –  a favorite t-shirt and a story to go with it. Even your t-shirt can tell you one – a very fascinating story of an underdog starting out as an underwear and then going on to superstardom as a coveted outer garment – the stuff blockbuster movies are made of.

A T-shirt can adapt itself to any situation, be it a political rally or disco party or as a corporate uniform – the versatility of a t-shirt needs not much validation. An affordable good quality t-shirt is a go-to clothing for a lot of people around the world.

But not all T-shirts are made alike. Some are more equal than the others – How to know these differences – What do you look for when you buy a T-shirt? This post aims to look at these simple but effective factors.

You can find the 16 different styles of t-shirts and their popular names in this post.

Buying T-shirts – Take the 9 criteria test

1. Fabric type

Choosing the T-shirt according to the fabric and the fiber content is number one on my considerations list.

T-shirt fabrics are usually 100% cotton or a blend of cotton and synthetic fibers or 100% Polyester or a mix of synthetic fiber, cotton and rayon; For thinner cheaper t-shirts a jersey material is used, for thicker t-shirts a sweatshirt jersey is used; for more drapey and costly t-shirts an interlock fabric is used; Cotton spandex is also used for stretchy t-shirts.

fabric of the t-shirt

Interlock knit (double-knit fabric) is densely made, durable and will not curl like a jersey knit t-shirt would. Jersey fabric is thinner and not as durable.

So, How do you know if you have interlock fabric or jersey fabric – Interlock will have Two series of knitted loops per course whereas Knit fabric would have only one series of loops. Interlock fabric will look more or less the same on the face and back of the fabric whereas jersey fabric will look different on face and back if you look carefully.

tshirt fabric

Related post : 12 Different types of Knit Fabrics ; Jersey fabric

Your comfort level, if it is important to you, will depend on the fabric your t-shirt is made of – and this depends on the place where you spend your time when wearing the t-shirt.

A 100 % cotton fabric is a must-have fabric configuration for a T-shirt worn in hot climates. But if you are going to be in an A/C room, even if you live in a tropical climate it does not matter if your t-shirt has Polyester fibers or other synthetic fibers mixed to the cotton fibers.  And you may even welcome the synthetic fibers because of the additional benefits they provide – like colorfastness, less shrinkage after wash, stability, wrinkle-resistance and easy maintenance.

The cotton fibers give the t-shirt comfort and water-absorbing properties. A Ring spun cotton t-shirt is the softest and most durable as well as lightweight- so if you find these types of t-shirts look no further. Combed cotton is another superior cotton type.

A blend of cotton and polyester fibers make t-shirt fabric easier to care for and durable than cotton ones. A blend of rayon-polyester-cotton makes the t- shirt fabric the softest and very comfortable to wear. This type of t-shirts (50% polyester, 25% ring-spun cotton and 25% rayon) are called tri-blend t-shirts are considered very good as they have the good qualities of all these fibers – the durability of polyester, the absorbency and comfort of cotton, and the softness and drape of rayon.

100% polyester fabric t-shirts may not be very comfortable to wear for day to day wear, but they are great for sports activities as they are lightweight, stretchy ( maybe with lycra) and wicks away the sweat from the body and takes it to the surface where it evaporates. This does not happen with cotton. Cotton, even as it absorbs sweat, stays wet for longer. Polyester t-shirts dry quickly. And when you are sweating it out on the field you want nothing to do with that wet feeling on your body.

Another criteria is transparency – can you see through the material?. 

2. Printed Designs

designs on the tshirts

The designs printed on the t-shirt can sometimes take precedence over even the fabric type or anything else. The artworks, cool texts, quotes etc on the t-shirt fronts are usually what attracts you to one in the first place and all other considerations can pale and fade away if you have fallen in love with one. The above t-shirt is worth its weight in gold for my husband.   

3. Size & Fit

I once read of a trend among women to go and shop in the young teen section – apparently, those impossibly small clothes made them look fitter or whatever. Size and fit are important to some more than the others. If you belong to the latter category, just select one in the same size as the one that you wear all year around.

Otherwise you can go to the shop and try them one by one. But this becomes a problem when you are buying online. The size will vary between brands. The best thing is to take a measuring tape and measure your shoulder width and chest size and then double check the measuring chart given for each brand. 

Another thing to note is that cotton shrinks so a t-shirt with more of cotton fibers will need a larger size to account for future shrinkage.

When measuring the chest, measure around the fullest part of the chest under armpits keeping the tape flat across the back.

General T-shirt sizes for men.

Chest 76/79 cms ( 30 -31 inch)  – XS

Chest 80/88 cms ( 32 -34 inch)  – S ( same as a 36″ shirt)

Chest 89/97 cms ( 35-38 inch)  – M ( same as a 38″ shirt)

Chest 98/106 cms ( 39- 42 inch)  – L ( same as a 40″ shirt)

Chest 107/115 cms ( 42- 45 inch)  – XL ( same as a 42″ shirt)

Chest 116/124 cms ( 46-49 inch)  – XXL ( same as a 44″ shirt)

Chest 125/133 cms ( 49 – 52inch)  – XXXL ( same as a 46″ shirt)

Women’s T-shirt sizes

Chest 30 -32 inch  – XS

Chest 34 -36 inch  – S

Chest 38 -40 inch  – M

Chest 42 -44 inch  – L

Chest 46 -48 inch  – XL

Chest 50 -52 inch  – XXL

Chest 54 -56 inch  – XXXL

4. Occasion

I am talking about the purpose of you wearing a particular t-shirt – though even before this, occasion is a consideration. You will not usually be wearing t-shirts to formal events. But where you are wearing one, the type of occasion matters. A trip to the gym or playing a game of football or a night out with your friends – all need different considerations.

For sports, you need t-shirts that will disperse perspiration and dry quickly. A 100% Polyester with these properties is used for Football Jersey t-shirts. For relaxing in your home this may be uncomfortable – you will be more comfortable in a t-shirt made of natural fibers. For winter outings you need a long sleeved t-shirt or even one with a hoodie or even may layer more than one t-shirt. 

5. Price

This is a very important consideration but a very personal one. You buy what you can afford. Nothing more to say.

6. Cut of the T-shirt & Styles

The most common style of t-shirts involves a crew-neck and short sleeves. But it does not end there. There are so many different types of t-shirts and many styles of wearing them including layering many t-shirts one over the other – these are dependent on the trend of the moment and individual fashion style.

7. Color of the t-shirt

This again depends on your personal preference – and a lot of other factors like the best color combinations according to the color wheel and some others as mentioned in this post on choosing the best color for your clothes.

8. Fabric Quality – construction, Shrinkage, Pilling & Color fading

A t-shirt that becomes an impossibly wide, crop top after one wash – the nightmare and reality of some of the t-shirts you buy. 

This is a very common thing seen when you wash a new t-shirt – it starts to become wider and shorter- this is usually due to a fault in the knit fabric construction – the already overstretched fibers when washed return to their un-stretched position and make the garment shorter and wider.

So take a look at the fabric structure when buying t-shirts – The knitting should be relaxed, round in shape and not overstretched. Also if it is unevenly knit this maybe a sign of poor fabric construction. Holes may develop after some time. 

Know beforehand that cotton fibers are prone to some shrinkage So your 100% cotton will shrink a lot more than a polyester cotton blended one . If the cotton one is not marked preshrunk, choose a larger size. 

Another problem is over stretching on particular areas like the neckline armscye etc. Quality t-shirts will have a stay tape around the neckline that will prevent the overstretching.

Shrinkage and overstretching depends on the fabric construction in the first place but can be prevented to an extent if you take some precautions when you care for the clothes. Read more on preventing shrinkage here. 

If you buy t-shirts made of cotton choose one made with long staple cotton fibers – they will pill less than any other.

Regarding colorfastness, my advice is to buy from reputed brands.

color bleeding

This one did not bleed in the wash at all despite me being almost sure it will because of the vivid colors ( As it usually does with inexpensive t-shirts).

As for fabric quality, 180 gsm is the minimum you can look for in a good quality t-shirt.

9. Sewing construction

This is a very important criterion – as a wrongly made t-shirt can distort your shape – it will hang down your body in all the wrong ways. The neckband should lie smooth and not twisted. The sleeve hems and the body hem will be twisted in case of a bad quality t-shirt. If it looks twisted in the showroom, chances are, they will be twisted at your home too. 

10. Care Label

fabric care label on a t shirt

Though the spelling of sequins is quite wrong this care label of a t-shirt does tell you how to take care of it properly. There are other things the clothing label may tell you.

Fabric fiber proportion – If you see 50/50 written it means it is a blend of 50 % cotton and 50% polyester or a synthetic fabric.

If there is a mention of Gsm it refers to the fabric weight.

Fabric weight – Fabric weight is usually considered as an indication of durability. A 180-200 Gsm is preferred for a heavy t-shirt fabric and 130-160 Gsm is alright for a medium weight good quality t-shirt. Usually, this is indicated on the care label. The heavyweight t-shirts will shrink less than lightweight t-shirts.

Fabric maintenance – Shrinkage, colorfastness etc will be indicated in the care label clearly. If you live a very busy life and you would want to spend the least amount of time in care and pressing of your countless t-shirts you will be better off with blended t-shirts rather than 100% cotton t-shirts which wrinkle a lot after a wash.

Another sore point in maintenance of t-shirts is the prints which need real good care which can cost you the most precious commodity of all – time. They ought to be hand washed to prevent color fading and ironed from the backside, especially vinyl prints. This will be indicated in the care label. Are you up to it ?  If yes, buy it.

Interesting reading : Who made that t-shirt.

Related posts :10 important things you need to know to start a t-shirt business.; How to do T-shirt embroidery ; How to paint on a t-shirt ; Different types of printing on t-shirts.

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

6 thoughts on “How to buy a T-shirt (10 most important criteria)”

  1. Buying t-shirts sounds very easy but when we buy them online we need to keep many things in mind. I buy t-shirts from and I do not have any complaints so far. Thanks for coming up with these tips.

  2. Hey, I just read your article.

    Which is very Nice content I think. I just come to your blog searching about How to choose the perfect t-shirt & others t-shirt stuff. This whole article is so informative. This whole article gives me the best possible information to choose the perfect t-shirt. I really enjoy the while reading the column about M There a fabric Quality – construction, Shrinkage, Pilling & Color fading.

    Thanks for sharing such an informative article

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