What size distribution of promotional t-shirts should I buy?
July 24, 2008 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I am an admin for a university English department. I want to order some promotional t-shirts for the department to give mostly to our students, both undergraduate and graduate. What ratio of t-shirt sizes should I buy? I.E. I know I should probably get more mediums than smalls, but does anyone have any good statistics for the average distribution of sizes people tend to like? Bonus points for a link to a page that discusses this issue.
posted by rjacobs to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Our department did the same thing, on a smaller scale. We ordered 10 each of S, M, L, and XL. They were fancy American Apparel tees, but sizing is at least similar. The mediums went first, then the larges, then the smalls. There are still a couple of XLs floating around.

I would say order 20% more mediums, smalls, and larges than XLs, but that's just anecdotal.
posted by rossination at 9:02 AM on July 24, 2008

your vendor should be able to give you good guidelines especially if they have worked with your school before.
posted by doorsfan at 9:03 AM on July 24, 2008

When our athletic depart has given away shirts the smalls always seem to be among the first to be gone.

Just a thought, but why not have people order the shirts? That way you'll end up with the right number of each size.
posted by theichibun at 9:04 AM on July 24, 2008

I used to have t-shirts made in college by a trusted source, and he was very helpful in figuring out a good ratio. Depending on your relationship with the supplier, you may broach the question to them. Depending on how big the department is you could just try and figure out what people wear (i.e. <50 staff/student probably do able).
posted by Big_B at 9:05 AM on July 24, 2008

I second checking with the vendor, they do this for a living, and then make the adjustments that make sense to you knowing the population....
posted by HuronBob at 9:10 AM on July 24, 2008

It would probably save the department some money if one could take the time to gather this information from the student populous. Even as simple as a clipboard on the wall... "Sign your name and indicate your shirt size" for a week or two. I'm not sure of your time constraints though, and if you're trying to make this a surprise. I couldn't find any specific sites about shirt size statistics (except the forums at T-shirtforums.com. Toward the end, there's a link to a jpeg I don't have an account to access).
posted by alcoth at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2008

I worked on this same problem last semester during a project helping the campus blood drive develop a new t-shirt giveaway. We ordered adult unisex shirts, and the majority of the co-ed females, and quite a few of the co-ed males got small shirts. Medium was next. Faculty/older male grad students seemed to prefer large universally and the few x-large and xx-large were left over. The style on campus was definitely for tighter shirts. We also found the shirt people to be unhelpful, but ymmv.
posted by lizjohn at 9:23 AM on July 24, 2008

If my recent stint selling t-shirts for some friends' band is any indication, nearly everybody wants either S (or even Youth Large) or XL.
posted by box at 9:27 AM on July 24, 2008

You have a few good options already outlined for you, but I will give you a few more.

1 - Survey one of the classes and use that as a guestimate for the rest of the department.

2 - Find out how many females vs how many males you have in the department. Females are generally going to take the small or large sized shirts, while males will go for the medium to larges. Then order 10% XL.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 9:34 AM on July 24, 2008

correction: "Females are generally going to take the small or medium sized shirts"
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 9:35 AM on July 24, 2008

If you don't have a local vendor to ask, take into account the gender ratio of your students. And it also probably depends where you're located as to how many XL to order.
posted by Ookseer at 9:41 AM on July 24, 2008

For the love of God please order a few smalls. I always end up with a "dress" that I can't wear for any purpose except cleaning the house or sleeping.
posted by desjardins at 9:47 AM on July 24, 2008

Consider your audience. Example: I was at a star trek concert (yes, really) and the people selling stuff there had the following sizes:

- Large
- Medium
- Small

a) There were no larges left by the second day. The larges they had fit snugly on the 150 lb man selling them. The smalls would have fit nicely on anyone under 10 years of age. They weren't children's shirts (actually, small children were basically banned from the concert).
b) When I asked for an XXL, the guy gave me this look of "You're the 200000000th person today that wanted that".
c) They had so many mediums and smalls left at the end of the day they probably could have clothed half of the world's starving children.

Who would have guess that there'd be WAY more XXL men than S women at a star trek concert?!
posted by shepd at 10:20 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Anecdotal evidence here, sorry, but I've found that people will get too-large shirts if the smaller ones run out, but not vice versa. (And my shoulders won't fit in anything smaller than XL, so it also means I get the extra shirts afterwards.)
posted by lothar at 10:21 AM on July 24, 2008

I've been through this over and over with band merch. 50% medium, 25% small, 15% large, 10% extra large has been a good average ratio for most of the folks I work with. You can definitely play with these numbers within 5-10%. If you lower the medium ratio, kick the small and large up equally. I advise against equaling out the small and large size shirts, as half the time people getting a large are only doing so because you're out of mediums.

None of these numbers are written in stone. Taking a good, literal, look at your student body and basing your ratio on that will probably be more effective.
posted by greenland at 10:29 AM on July 24, 2008

I used to run a screen printing shop. I would get mostly mediums and distribute the rest based on an educated guess. Really it's hard to give guidelines because it depends on who you're selling them to, ie. indie rock bands would go through smalls like there was no tomorrow, but this LAN party organizer always needed larges and XL's more than anything else.
posted by bradbane at 10:46 AM on July 24, 2008

I've found that people will get too-large shirts if the smaller ones run out

Please don't do this to us, it's really disappointing. We take the shirt just to have the memento, but ultimately can't wear it. I experience this about half the time I'm offered a T-shirt.
posted by reeddavid at 10:58 AM on July 24, 2008

At college, there were never enough smalls. I've actually debated writing an e-mail, though I've graduated, to complain about that. I would always take a medium as a memento, as reeddavid said, but I either never wear them or they become the shirts that get cut up. I'm not saying order more smalls than mediums, but you might need to order more smalls than you realize you do. Generic smalls actually aren't that tiny. They're a good size.
posted by quirks at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2008

Never underestimate the appeal of baggy clothes. When we do the uniform rounds in our company the largest proportion of requests are XL or XXL where 90% of those wearers would fit a medium or large.
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:17 PM on July 24, 2008

Never underestimate the appeal of baggy clothes.

Baggy clothes don't appeal to students these days. They like fitted, tight clothes. I give out t-shirts to college students, and our demand is something like 30% small, 25% medium, 25% large, 15% XL, and 5% XXL.
posted by decathecting at 12:28 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with lothar (and consequently disagreeing with reeddavid)

Saying you can't wear a shirt thats too large is just being a whiner - you can wear it, you just don't want to. If you can wear a small then you can wear a medium, whereas the reverse isn't true. You can't physically put on a shirt thats too small, its not a matter of style or personal preference, its a simple fact of there not being enough material to cover the body.

If you can't get pre-orders, I'd go with going into a class and scoping them out - not just their body size but their style. Some people like baggy shirts, some prefer skinny fit. Its not enough to know that 50% would fit a medium, if 20% of those wear baggy shirts, they'll probably want a large.

Generic averages probably wont be that helpful to you since you're not dealing with the general population, you're dealing with a specific subset of the population.
posted by missmagenta at 12:58 PM on July 24, 2008

If it's at all an option, get a few printed on XS. Depending on the makeup of your group, you may have more than a couple of small women (especially if you have a high Asian population) on whom a "Small" is baggy. My fiancee is one such small woman.

I'm a 6' tall, 165 lb man, and I wear a medium t-shirt. So, frankly, it's not surprising that smalls and mediums move quickly when anyone from a small woman to a medium-tall man of average build wears smaller-than-large.

I'll second the "ask everyone for their size/do sign-ups". Then there's no complaining because everyone knows what they ordered. If it's not possible, skew small, as tight clothing is still overwhelmingly more popular than baggy, at least as far as shirts go.

Missmagenta: I disagree with your statement that the "reverse isn't true": When you fit a small and you're given a large, it really is as unflattering and awkward as fitting a large and squeezing into the small. A too-large shirt is just plain unwearable if you give even a modicum of care to your appearance.
posted by explosion at 1:24 PM on July 24, 2008

If you put it out for sign-ups, note the t-shirt brand, if possible. American Apparel fits way differently than Hanes.
posted by cabingirl at 2:11 PM on July 24, 2008

As an average-sized girl, I've frequently gotten stuck with Ls or XLs that I'll take but only wear for sleep or exercise, which would defeat your goal of advertising. Have a gender ratio ready for your t-shirt people?
posted by ecsh at 2:13 PM on July 24, 2008

does you school have a lot of fat people? do you want to exclude them?

apparently, you have people who CHOSE not to wear larger shirts But larger people CANNOT wear smaller shirts.
posted by Megafly at 2:26 PM on July 24, 2008

Saying you can't wear a shirt thats too large is just being a whiner - you can wear it, you just don't want to.

If it were a survival issue, sure. But the point of a shirt giveaway is to have shirts that people want to wear.

If you (larger folk) could technically fit into a T-shirt but it was skin-tight and unflattering, would you ever wear it in public?
posted by reeddavid at 3:00 PM on July 24, 2008

Literally every single time I've ever been on the receiving end of something like this they run out of smalls. Usually before I get my pick. And the mediums are always huge. I'm not even all that small.
No wonder you don't see that many fashionable midgets.
posted by cmoj at 3:05 PM on July 24, 2008

(1) You can combine the "T-Shirt Signup List" with the giveways. Just go with greenland's ratio above, keep a list for anyone who wants XS or XL (or for when a size runs out), and let them pick the T-Shirt up in a week or so.

(2) Have them sign up by email, rather than writing names on a list. Advertise the email address on noticeboards. Include a closing date on the advertising posters.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:59 PM on July 24, 2008

Definitely buy more smalls than you think you need and if you can some extra smalls or youth larges. I can assure you that most, if not all of the female undergraduates are going to want a small or extra small.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 6:31 PM on July 24, 2008

Nthing everyone above who's said that there are never enough smalls. Seriously. Buy more smalls than you think you'll need. They always run out first. Especially if you're on a college campus.

At my job (where nearly employee is either a college student or at least dresses like one) they throw free t-shirts at us about every 3 or 4 months, but I've only ever been able to snag 1 small, so that's the only one I actually wear - because even the mediums fit like nightgowns.

This is why: anyone who's relatively in shape and not super tall is going to grab a small, and anyone who's short at all is going to grab a small, even if they aren't in shape. I'm not thin, but since I'm 5'2", all mediums are too long/wide for me.
posted by Quidam at 3:58 PM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

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