How Many Different Size T-Shirts Should I Order?
July 15, 2016 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I have an event coming up where I'll be selling screenprinted shirts of various sizes... any suggestions on how to spread these out among different sizes? 30% mens large, 10% Ladies small, etc? Is there a rule of thumb to go by? I know demographics plays a role, but assuming this is an adult audience, evenly split male/female, 18-60?
posted by Unsomnambulist to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of event?
posted by arnicae at 3:25 PM on July 15, 2016

This is a dark art, and every demographic is different, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that women can wear men's shirts, but not vice versa. If I had our badly planned t-shirt buy to do over again -- grrr, bad advice from a fake "expert" -- we'd mainly get men's medium and large, and a pretty small number of petite lady cut Ts and XL or S men's Ts.
posted by Scram at 3:27 PM on July 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I second arnicae. It depends on the event. If it is cheese fries eating contest, just get a bunch of xxxlarge. If you are promoting a hot young band, then you want a lot of fitted, ladies tees. Think about who you want wearing your shirts and size them accordingly.
posted by myselfasme at 3:28 PM on July 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have friends who sell screen-printed t-shirts and merchandise at expos and conventions and they have found it's more efficient to sell some printed shirts on the spot and rely more on selling pre-ordered shirts when they run out. They usually ship within a few days of the event. But they also travel by plane and can only bring a limited amount of merchandise.
posted by mmmleaf at 3:29 PM on July 15, 2016

Not all ladies like to wear men's M and L sized tees. Get some ladies' XL and XXL for the bigger girls, we like hot bands too.
posted by matildaben at 3:40 PM on July 15, 2016 [30 favorites]

women can wear men's shirts,

Really? What's the basis of this claim?

I attended an event recently where I suspected the free shirts would be mens. So before hand I went to the store to try on the men's shirts to see what size would work for me. The answer was none. Men's shirts are made for people with wide shoulders, big bellies, and no hips. Oh, and they're too long for me, though that obviously varies across women. Women's shirts are made for people with narrower shoulders, waists, and hips. Women mostly can't wear men's shirts for the same reason men mostly can't wear women's. They're shaped wrong.

I mean if you're giving away t-shirts that are just basically giant shapeless nightgowns on both sexes to wear at an event, then err on the larger size and you'll be good. If you want people to actually pay for t-shirts that they can wear after this event, then they're not going to pay for t-shirts that won't fit them properly.

Depending on what your profit margins are, can you err on the side of more than you might sell in each size and then sell the leftovers later at a discount via some other venue?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:46 PM on July 15, 2016 [25 favorites]

Depending on your margins, you may want to plan to sell out and then take orders, like mmmleaf suggests above. As in, deliberately do not bring enough shirts. I could easily see unsold stock esting up your profits if you go in with the goal of making sure that everybody who wants a shirt can get one.

You probably want mostly medium, large, and extra large. For the men, skew that toward the L/XL side of things since that's what most men wear. I'm less familiar with women's sizes, so I can't really help you there. Do try to bring at least a few shirts in unusual sizes (XXXL for instance) because fans who normally have a hard time finding shirts at shows will probably be extra happy that you had one in their size.

myselfasme's suggestion of tailoring your size selections to the type of people who you want wearing your shirts is probably a good one from a marketing perspective, but it sounds kind of evil to me. I would strive to be inclusive rather than focus on selling to whatever body type you percieve as the ideal model for your brand.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:10 PM on July 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

I work for an apparel company. In our market, at least, women frequently go out of their way to buy unisex t-shirts, especially when the women's option is from a company that tends to run small and tight (i.e. American Apparel and similar.) My wife just doesn't like the short sleeves on women's t-shirts, even from much less AA-like manufacturers. (This is why we and most of our manufacturers call them unisex, and not men's, shirts.)

Our audience definitely isn't split 50/50 and skews younger than yours, but the women I sell to at in-person events are themselves probably split no more than 70/30 in favor of women's-cut garments when we have both available. As a result, we skew very heavily in favor of unisex cuts and end up selling out of both unisex and women's sizes at about the same time.

Size-wise, I'm not looking at numbers but I'd say M-L-XL-S-2X is probably the order you want, with as many smaller and larger sizes on either side as you can afford to print in single-digit numbers. (People are very, very happy when you have their uncommon size, and you will be very happy when you make them happy. But up around 4-6X you might start having to think about a second, larger print, so costs and quantities are going to be important.)

Re: myselfasme's suggestion, "who you want to wear the shirts" may or may not do it for you, but I do think "who you think wants to wear your shirts" is a very important input.
posted by Polycarp at 4:27 PM on July 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

Not only do bigger women like hot bands, lots of cheese fries eaters are really skinny. Please bear in mind that large people do everything small people do.

I help with vending T shirts at an annual fencing tournament - so think athletes of all ages, including lots of super skinny high school students. The shirts are bought by participants in the tournament - when a Mom or Dad buys one, it's for a child. XXL and XL sell out right away. The shirts always sell out, but the smaller sizes are invariably the last to go. I don't really know how many we start with - and they're unisex shirts - but I can say that lots of people like their T shirts on the loose side.
posted by FencingGal at 4:51 PM on July 15, 2016

Best answer: When I used to work for s screenprinter, our breakdown would generally be around n small, 2n medium, 2n large, 2n XL, and 0.5n XXL. We only old unisex shirts (we were at boys' sporting events), so I don't have a feeling for girls' sizes, but I would imagine they'd be similar in terms of distribution. Maybe more larges, and probably a 3:2 ratio of men's to women's.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:53 PM on July 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: As a runner who attends lots of races where they give us shirts and race organizer where we have to supply the shirts, I'd say go with unisex. Order 20-30-30-20% split of S/M/L/XL.

If you are doing gender cut we typically go with:
Women: 15-25-35-25% split for S/M/L/XL

Men: 25-25-35-15% split for S/M/L/XL
posted by floweredfish at 5:06 PM on July 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

> women can wear men's shirts,
Really? What's the basis of this claim?

I'm a woman, I choose to take mens shirts at giveaways, and I was recently involved in two separate T-shirt giveaways where a large percentage of women chose to take men's shirts. Both of them were tech demographics.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:36 PM on July 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I hatehatehate that men's shirts are the only option at these things. Like someone said above - they fit me all wrong. Please offer some women's sizes!
posted by valeries at 5:49 PM on July 15, 2016 [10 favorites]

Ok, let me modify what I said above to specify that I'm referring to situations where both the men's and women's t-shirts are your basic t-shirt design, not the situation where the men's t-shirt is a normal t-shirt and the woman's t-shirt is a super-tailored, low-cut, cap-sleeve thing that exposes your belly when you lift your arms. I'm assuming that what is varying here is the size/cut not the actual style.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:04 PM on July 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I just placed an order for a trial run of 100 shirts based off my carvings this week! I went for generic adult shirts,15s/25m/35l/25xl. I hear the need for women's shirts, but I simply cannot afford the variety at this point. I tilted large because my stuff is woodcuts of medieval alien abductions and, well, you know.

That said, at my last show a surprising number of women bought my work, so a series of women's shirts is definitely in the planning - I just need to sell 30 shirts in order to fund it and to do that I need to be as generic as possible. My wife often complains that her favorite bands sell shirts that she'd love to buy if they fit, so women's sizes are certainly on my list. I'm hoping I can do a run with 2 generic adults for every 1 women's T or so, something like 6s/16m/18l/16xl.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:04 PM on July 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't like unisex shirts -- if it's free, fine, I'll take a huge one because I have boobs and they aren't cut for them (and if it's free I might choose that because those can be handy for chores and stuff), but I won't pay for one, and I don't bother to go back to places/people/etc that only order shirts that are unisex but somehow made to fit men and not women.
posted by jeather at 7:37 PM on July 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

If I'm in a situation where it's a freebie t-shirt and I'm uncertain about sizing, I will sometimes go for a ginormous men's cut t shirt because at least I know I can wear it to bed. If it's merch I'm buying, I want it to fit. For me, so-called unisex t-shirts never work. I don't want "baby Ts," I just want shirts that will work with my boobs, but aren't cut for a larger-framed person.
posted by missmerrymack at 7:38 PM on July 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

What t-shirt manufacturer? American apparel vs Golden Goods vs. Gildan will make a difference.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:00 PM on July 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

"Event" is kind of ambiguous. Band merch vs. event freebie (but hopefully not uniform!) vs. work attire have much different implications as a fat lady. My work has an approved supplier but their 5x is basically a 1x american and it's meant I can either try to file an HR complaint and draw more attention to my weight (and possibly health insurance premiums) or find an independent supplier and pay for it myself. Very different implications. And honestly, I've given up on finding band merch on site; remote asks are generally more accommodating.
posted by smirkette at 10:13 PM on July 15, 2016

I will not buy a men's tshirt. But if I did, it would be a small, and they've always run out of those, too. Lots and lots of companies/bands have missed out on taking my money because of this. I want a shirt cut for women, and preferably something with an American Apparel-type of fit. (But if it's actually an AA product, I won't buy it, because I don't support pedophilia.)
posted by MexicanYenta at 10:25 AM on July 17, 2016

Chiming in to say that I prefer a woman's cut shirt (shorter in the torso, more room for hip and bust without bagging at the waist, slightly lower neckline that doesn't feel like it's choking me) but I often have to take a men's cut because many vendors do not carry larger womens' sizes. If you look at the size charts, often their women's "3XL" has the same measurements as a man's medium!

Recently, Tee Fury has diversified their line, so that they now carry three sizes: men's, women's, and juniors. The "juniors" tees are the ones that you usually see as "women's cut" - the tiny ones. Their women's sizes actually fit me now (approx. size 22 US dress size).

I have bought a LOT of shirts from Tee Fury since they made this change.

That is to say, if you HAVE these less common sizes, people like me who are used to sadly settling will love you and be loyal to you in the future for giving them the opportunity to do something that most people take for granted (buy a shirt at an event and take it home with them.)

(I want to buy the Chvrches t-shirt with the art by Jamie McKelvie, and it only comes in tiny babydoll size. It makes me sad.)
posted by oblique red at 2:46 PM on July 19, 2016

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