What fits you to a tee?
March 28, 2005 10:13 AM   Subscribe

I’ll be launching a new t-shirt site over the next several months and am looking for insight into what makes a good shirt (our fearless leader, for example, likes American Apparel shirts and the designs from Protoculture, nerdnyc and glarkware). So what do you look for? Comfort (cotton? cotton-poly blends?)? Funny or clever slogans (you bet your ass there’s a difference between funny and clever (and witty, too))? Artistic value? Originality? Retro styling (or do you think retro's going back to the grave)? What’s your favorite t-shirt? Where and how did you find the shirt/seller? Please don't get all riled up about "self-linking": I emailed #1 twice for an OK and got no response and of course am not including any link (here or in my profile).
posted by Sinner to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total)
I like blank american apparel t's.
nothing on a t-shirt is ever funny. please prove me wrong.
posted by mike_bling at 10:31 AM on March 28, 2005

Have you checked out Category 18 at all? There's a nice bit of information on this topic in the archives.

That protoculture site made me think of a funny t-shirt. I like the one that says "I'll mess with Texas". Not rolling on the floor funny...

Anyway -- comfort should come first. I've ordered batches of t-shirts from many companies who I would never order from again because the shirts were just uncomfortable. Doesn't matter how clever the slogan is if you don't wear it.
posted by ontic at 10:44 AM on March 28, 2005

I'm one of the guys behind nerdnyc and have a few points of perspective.

- We're actually getting out of the t-shirt business for a while due to time constraints. Shipping shirts yourself is a huge pain in the ass. We turned over almost all of our inventory to a reseller (RPGMall.com). I strongly suggest finding an outlet like this that can do fulfillment for you. The loss in revenue is small compared to the time you save.

- American Apparel makes the best t's. Their wholesale prices are excellent.

- You generally pay for printing by the color (remember, black counts), so keep that in mind in your designs. We use a local printing shop in Brooklyn, but YMMV depending on location.

- What you as a designer think is funny/clever/cool is not always in line with what the people who buy your shirts think. Be prepared to eat a lot of inventory. My favorite shirt we ever made was this one, which was our worst seller.
posted by mkultra at 10:47 AM on March 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

something that's been bothering me a lot about t-shirt sites is the implication that american sourced cotton is morally better because it avoids sweat-shops.

reading this book (in which a nobel prize economist rips the imf a new one) i learnt that american cotton is hugely subsidized, and that this damages developing economies, by depressing the global price of cotton to the point where their own cotton growing becomes unsustainable.

so it's no longer clear to me that american sourced cotton is the good guy in all this. i suspect buying foreign sourced cotton might actually help developing people more (and, of course, fair trade cotton, or something with good unionized labour, for example would be even better).

maybe it's not the kind of thing you're looking for, but it's something i worry about when online shoping for t-shirts. and, of course, americans might feel differently. just an idea...
posted by andrew cooke at 10:51 AM on March 28, 2005

I have to say, I hardly ever buy t's online, because sizing and quality varies so much, and returns seem a pain. I don't know if I am typical here. But anyway: IRL, I go for functionality, average-low price points, and generally treat t-shirts as potentially disposable. I like slightly heavier weight cotton shirts, plain colours, breast pockets. I check Target, K-Mart, etc., and if I find a good one I can go back for more. I also don't go for slogans or logos.
posted by carter at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2005

I agree that I have never liked any phrases printed on a shirt (except "Weapons of mass destruction related activities." Bushisms stand alone). I see it as a waste of money to wear something I think is clever which will cease to be funny after about 5 wears. Everything Abercrombie has ever done has been lame, American Apparel's ads are lame and their clothes are too expensive and too small (as a size 6 I still can't fit into their skirts, but I do like their clothes).

What I do like on ts are interesting letters (calligraphy, intricate illumination), beautiful old logos (this old GNU button is amazing), beautiful old anything (posters, ads, maps, etc.), neat foreign logos (Thumbs Up), animals (Marc Jacobs has this great knit cap for fall 05 with a hedgehog on it that I love), wordless political illustrations.
posted by scazza at 11:01 AM on March 28, 2005

I'm not sure if this is the kind of answer you're looking for...

...but two things I look for in a t-shirt are the material and the printing. I like the material to be thick and soft... so that it feels smooth to the touch. I don't know how to really express it... but cafe-press tshirts I've gotten fail this test.

And... printing. I don't know much about the processes, but most of the printing that won't last is easily identified by touch. It seems like it's raised and just glued on. This stuff just never lasts more than a few washes before it starts crumbling or cracking. The more the printing seems to be a part of the shirt fabric, the better it seems to last.
posted by odinsdream at 11:15 AM on March 28, 2005

With t-shirts online, I'm going mostly for content -- whether visual or typographical. Doesn't necessarily have to be funny. An observation that may or may not help: I rarely see good t-shirts of a literary bent. I'll come back again if I like the quality.

American Apparel sizes run small -- and yeah, it's small enough to make me look elsewhere for t-shirts, no matter whether AA is, in fact, good or evil.

Other than checking out individual clever shirts that people IM me with and their accompanying stores, I mostly just go visit Threadless and OMG. The Hot or Not premise brings me back again and again, and every once in a while there's a real gem.
posted by gnomeloaf at 11:17 AM on March 28, 2005

I don't know what you're thinking as far as pricing goes, but for me, the bottom line often boils down to price. While quality is always appreciated (the more broken-in feeling, the better - I'll often sleep in shirts for several days so they become really soft), paying more than $15-18 (excluding shipping) is outrageously expensive.

As to witty/cleverness — unless you're really witty and clever or you've got something that's not really comparable in today's market, avoid. Nice design (geometric, paisley, whatever) is always encouraged and won't be passe in a year.
posted by Hot Like Your 12V Wire at 11:23 AM on March 28, 2005

I don't know what AA's wholesale prices are like, but they are the best t-shirts I've been able to find. It really upgraded my wardrobe to have all sorts of different colored t-shirts, I can dress them up or down, and use them as accents if I'm wearing a shirt on top (light blue collared shirt with a dark blue undershirt (or vice versa) is nice and contrasty). They never fall apart and the quality is great. I think the reason I like their stuff so much is two-fold; the quality of the stitching and material is really good, but the cut of the shirt and placement of the seams is good too. I always buy XL shirts and their XL t-shirt fits me well, so I haven't seen a problem with sizing, but it sounds like maybe their smaller sizes are a little off.

As far as designs go, I think the best ones are two-color designs. More colors are expensive and can be pretty visually busy, I've always liked a color t-shirt with black designs or text. White t-shirts with designs never seem to look good. And text or phrases usually gets old/trendy quick.
posted by beaverd at 11:31 AM on March 28, 2005

mkultra, that's a great design.
posted by kenko at 11:33 AM on March 28, 2005

mkultra, that's a great design.

Yeah, it is!
posted by carter at 11:39 AM on March 28, 2005

A very brief note before I run off to a meeting for a little while - all of these responses have been fantastic and I'm really learning quite a lot. Thanks for that.

For my part, I agree that (1) topical t-shirts are rarely funny enough to be worth the investment; (2) that Am. Apparel makes the best shirts out there; (3) anything outside of $15-18 is an unreasonable price - although I'm not counting shipping, which does add to that.

I do think there are a number of very funny shirt sites out there - off the top of my head, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (disclaimer: I've done work for some of those companies, but I'm not an owner or employee - posting this and/or increasing their traffic doesn't provide me any benefit) but far more that are terrible. No one in their right mind wants a white cotton heavyweight shirt that says "is that your head or did your neck throw up?" But trust me, it's out there.
posted by Sinner at 11:51 AM on March 28, 2005

I have to say that the only one of those sites I found at all amusing was BustedTees with the Oregon Trail t-shirt. Too many puns, really, for my taste.
posted by scazza at 1:03 PM on March 28, 2005

I know that the market doesn't satisfy my needs. What I can't stand is a big white T-shirt with a tiny little (non)joke in the center, nothing on the sleeves or the back. I would probably buy dozens of shirts (endangering my marriage) from Liquid Blue if any of them came in medium!!!! Ahem. Sorry.

To be honest, as we speak I'm wearing the ATM shirt from perspicuity.com, but it was a gift.

I sat next to a professional t-shirt maker (whose website I have forgotten -- something like tombstonetees.com, but that's not coming up) on a plane recently, to whom I expressed my distaste for essentially blank t-shirts. He was amazed, as his artistic sense was that all the rest was distraction, to clutter and confuse the eye. Lucky for him that it was the cheapest too. (Liquid Blue's shirts are $25-$30 but one can appreciate why.)

Oh yay!! Some of LB's shirts are in medium nowadays. I had given up hope years ago. Thanks, AskMe!
posted by Aknaton at 2:22 PM on March 28, 2005

Great colors! Nothing binding around the neck. I hate boxy tees. I still want to look like a woman in a t-shirt. Fit is really important. I like soft fabric and if there is printing, it shouldn't be stiff. It should move with the fabric.
posted by abbyladybug at 3:16 PM on March 28, 2005

American Apparel make comfy tees, no matter their position morally, and as far as their sizing goes, I appreciate that they go to the smaller end.

Ringer tees are my favorite. Cotton ringer tees are the best of the best. Good, non-flashy design are also the best. I actively dislike clever/"funny" tees, and would never buy one.

(Although, I have to admit, I once was impressed by a shirt with a woman giving a blowjob to a skeleton, with the caption saying "GET A JOB!", and I was impressed. Because, I mean - what? huh? I do have a job, you silly! A job sucking off skeletons!)
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:13 PM on March 28, 2005

Like abbyladybug, I also like t-shirts that are reasonably "form-fitting." At places like Old Navy, sometimes even the shirts that are size small feel like a large to me - thus, I tend to shop in the juniors department, or if baby doll tees like this one are available, I buy them.
posted by invisible ink at 12:53 AM on March 29, 2005

Beautiful or interesting designs without words. No credit, no logo, just forms/pictures. It engages your brain in a completely different way than words, and is more likely to stay interesting over time. I bet if you titled your new site "wordless shirts" or something you'd get quite some interest.

And I know that more colors means more expensive, but in the right hands, its worth it.

Just get the very best artists you can. "Cleverness" is old, now.
posted by amtho at 5:15 AM on March 29, 2005

To anyone still reading this thread, first, thanks again. It's really a great and informative thread (for me, at least), with lots of fantastic information.

I should note, by the way, that I will be selling American Apparel's retail markups are astounding. Their wholesale prices really are quite reasonable. Unfortunately, they won't permit you to resell their blank tees online or I'd skip the whole process and just sell them for $10 apiece or something. I'm sure I'm not the first person to have thought of it, though.

Anyway, I have to respectfully disagree with a surprisingly large number of you on the "cleverness" front. This may be a knee-jerk CYA response from me as it's the heart and soul of my company-to-be, but on examining it, I'm pretty confident with my logic.

People have been wearing shirts with funny slogans pretty much since I can remember - I'm ashamed to admit that my dumber, younger self bought a blurred-text "State Sobriety Test: If you can't read this, you may be drunk" shirt in the early nineties. I'm ashamed to tout that as an example of a well-written shirt, but it really was somewhat clever, especially to my teenaged self at the time.

On the other hand, so-called "artistic" shirts (as opposed to simply well-designed ones - always a critically important thing) strike me as being more of a fad (or at least as much of one). I really don't remember them being around at all, and I grew up in a community where one could expect to see them.

Again, I do think that there will be a shakeout of a lot of the crappy funny-but-not-funny shirts: and I'm not inclined to follow a lot of the trends you currently see (for one example, the place-name thing: "Missouri Loves Company," "South Korea's Got Seoul," "New Mexico: Cleaner Than Old Mexico). Personally, I also think that the retro thing will be thing of the past pretty soon - I recently saw a vintage store hawking a mid-eighties or mid-nineties Comerica Bank freebie shirt (in mediocre condition) for $39. That's crazy.

But I'm pretty convinced that people will continue buying clever/satirical/intelligently funny shirts for a long time to come - whether I can produce them is a different story (looking at my resume/portfolio, I'm comfortable saying I've got a good track record). When the time comes, I hope some of you will land on my site (again, not a self-link - there's no active site at this point nor even a URL in my profile).

One last thing, while I'm at it, as this thread seems to be heading towards its demise - does anyone have experience with either ZenCart or OSCommerce? This is obviously a derail - I'd much prefer to see comments on the shirt aspects, but if someone reading this has some insite into either package, I'd also be interested.
posted by Sinner at 10:41 AM on March 29, 2005

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