Blog, Direct To Garment Printing, T-Shirts

T-Shirt Basics


The next time you’re out around town, notice the T-shirt wearing habits of those around you. Look one way, and you might see a skateboarder wearing a T-shirt large enough for him and three of his friends. Look the other way, and you might see a hip teenager sporting a tee that looks as if it were designed to fit her baby sister. Look at yourself, and you might see the middle ground.

Once upon a time, T-shirts were a fairly uniform fashion trend. Small, medium or large was the consumer’s biggest decision besides color. Suddenly, age and gender are major factors in determining what styles are popular. While young men and teenage boys have embraced the oversized look, their female counterparts are rediscovering a look their mothers wore as youths, the fitted baby doll tee. But what are mainstream consumers looking for?

As the retail market wavers between fitted and oversized, embroiderers must tread the fine line between fashion and function. While more retail-oriented sizing trends have made the transition from department stores to T-shirt shops, the embellishment market will always be dominated by the basic tee.

The general consensus in the industry is that T-shirt sales will continue to be dominated by larger sizes, yet the oversized trend may be leveling out. At the same time, specialty tees are capturing a small portion of the embroidery market and are casting sizing specifications into the spotlight.


You’ve probably handled enough T-shirts in your time that sizing specifications are a minor consideration. A large is a large is a large, right? Wrong. While most major manufacturers have similar specifications, there are differences. One way to decide which T-shirt size is right for your customer is to examine the manufacturer’s specifications. Does your customer want an oversized or true fit? Are such details as double-needle hems and tubular collars important to him? Which fabric weight will best support your design? Educating yourself about T-shirt sizing specifications can help you sell the right shirt.

So, what measurements do manufacturers use to document their specifications? Many manufacturers have unique measurements designed for their specific garments, but there are standard measurements that apply to most companies. Some of the most important include:

  • Chest Width. This describes the area from one sleeve to the other, the area that is most often the target for your embroidery. This specification is achieved by measuring the distance across a flat shirt, beginning at the bottom of one armhole and ending at the bottom of the opposite armhole. Some manufacturers measure from 1 inch below each armhole.
  • Body Length. This specification measures the length of the shirt, from the point where the collar and shoulder seam meet to the bottom hem of the shirt.
  • Sleeve Length. Also called sleeve top, this describes the length of the sleeve from the shoulder seam. It is measured from the outside fold of the shoulder point (where the sleeve meets the shoulder seam) to the sleeve’s bottom hem.
  • Neck Opening. There are several dimensions on a T-shirt’s neck opening, including the distance from one side of the collar across to the other and the distance from the top of the collar to the bottom, a measurement that is often called neck drop. In most cases, neck opening is a measurement describing the width from one side of the collar to the other. The drape of the collar, then, is a combination of the neck opening and neck drop measurements.

There’s a plethora other specifications manufacturers use, some of which are armhole opening, collar length and length of shoulder seam. An important point to remember when evaluating manufacturers’ specifications is that while each company adheres to standard measuring procedures, hidden factors affect the final measurements. A scooped-out neck, for example, has a different neck opening measurement than another type of collar. Also, a company that provides more length between the neck and shoulder seams may have shorter sleeves than those that do not, something that is not reflected in the sleeve length measurement alone. Examine the different specifications, and experiment with different brands to know which shirt (or shirts) best fit your buying needs.


About Erik Mickelson

Erik Mickelson is the author of Northwest Custom Apparel's blogs. Erik has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 1996 after graduating from Washington State University and is the founder of the Apparel Graphic Academy. Trained by the custom graphic apparel industry's best, Mark Venit, Erik brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the Embroidery Adventure blog. As they say, 'Experience is the best teacher.' We are proud to have Erik as part of our team!

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