How to buy a T-Shirt for life
You know the shirt. You got it at a road race in 2008, or a bar crawl, or a bachelor party for your friend who’s been divorced more recently than the last time you wore it. Maybe you wear it to the gym, or to mow the lawn, but for most of its sad life it’s been stuffed in the back corner of the dresser drawer. Why? Maybe because it has too much text, or because it fits awkwardly, or because it doesn’t actually feel that good against your skin. But why? Because it’s cheap. It’s made with no care for longevity, quality, or comfortability. It’s simply a shirt to buy in bulk, as cheaply as possible; the backbone of fast fashion. The average T-Shirt out there is not much of a step above. So how can you identify a quality T-Shirt in a sea of choices? One that you can wear for years, decades to come; grow into it, wear it in.
I love old T-shirts. I have some from childhood, some thrifted, some
gifted. When doing my laundry, the quality of Goodwear vs. the Others is clear as day. My oldest shirts are ratty, pilled, and holey, almost see-through. My Goodwear on the other hand, is softer than when I bought it, but looks the same as ever. Hundreds of washes, thousands of hours left on beaches, hiked up mountains, rolled in the dirt on camping trips. I don’t know if a shirt can have a patina, but that’s the word I’d use.
Nineteen years, the age of my oldest Goodwear tee, shown here. Below are some tips to help you find the perfect shirt on the rack.
Like any great recipe, the quality of the ingredients and how they are handled is fundamental to the final product. The best chefs always openly praise their producers, growers, farmers, fishmongers, and butchers. No matter how beautifully cooked or presented, your dinner will fall short without them and their high standards
In apparel, in T-Shirts, the rules are the same. Without a focus on great materials, the end result just won’t stand up.
Shirts can be made in any number of fabrics from merino wool to silk to nylon, but most T-shirts fall into one of three categories: Cotton, Polyester, or a Blend.
Cotton has been used for millennia in fabrics around the entire world for its durability, comfortability, and sustainability. It can be woven to almost any weight, thickness, or density. It takes dyes well, it wears in softer and softer over the years, and can take on an endless number of forms depending on the application.
In the mid-century, synthetic materials were created, such as polyester. Poly is derived from oil, is non-biodegradable, and is prone to pilling, stretching, fading, and tearing. It is the apparel equivalent of a plastic bottle. Maybe you use it a few times, but eventually it gets tossed. Every wash, thousands of microplastic strands are released from polyester fabric, washing down the drain, released into the air, until the shirt loses all its structural integrity. From there, it ends up in the trash and in the landfill where it stays: yet another wasted piece of plastic buried underground to be forgotten forever..
Beyond polyester, a number of alternative materials are available either for the entire shirt, or blended into cotton like polyester often is. At Goodwear, we have experimented with a few materials. We use raw hemp, which is just as it sounds: fibers taken from the plant are turned into yarn, just like cotton or linen. In addition, we use a viscose from hemp or bamboo, blended with organic cotton. Viscose behaves similarly to polyester but is from a natural source, and is therefore biodegradable. It uses a chemical process to turn the organic fiber from hemp (or bamboo) into usable yarn, but using a closed system there is minimal waste or chemical run-off. It’s also more durable, and wont pill and shed over time like polyester.
Country of Origin
Beautiful clothes, textiles, and products are made around the world, in every country. However, when it comes to apparel, there are a number of reasons to choose American-made over imported, beyond the environmental concerns.
With the foundation of better wages and higher labor costs for American workers, companies are much less likely to compromise on other costs. The average wage in Indonesia, a hotspot for fast fashion, is less than $200 per month. At that cost, for decades companies have been outsourcing (exploiting) extremely cheap labor to produce clothes with cheap materials for an incredible margin.
When a company is willing to pay the premium for domestic labor, they are more than often willing to source higher quality materials and have higher quality control standards.
For more information check out one of our previous posts:
Many of the American Brands you know and love have been around for years. Some, including Goodwear, have been using the same factories for decades. That means the cutters, sewers, stitchers, and finishers have thousands and thousands of hours working with the same materials, styles, and standards. In other words, our producers are hand-crafting, in small batches, shirts and Goodwear styles that could never be produced in a sweatshop made to pump out fast fashion as quickly as possible.
Take a look at the finishing of the shirt to get a better sense. Look at the stitching, is it sloppy? Shoddy? Loose threads? Look at the collar and how it moves. Will it get loose and flappy after a few washes or is it stiff enough and thick enough to hold up to years of use? Same for the hem and the cuffs of the sleeves. Another thing to note is the body, are there side seams or is it tubular? Side seams are a sign of cheaper production and are more prone to rip, wash strangely, and lose shape over the years (or months).
Below is my nearly two decade old shirt on the top, and a similarly aged shirt underneath. Note the wear in the collars, and the quality of the seams.
A cheap shirt can only have been made with sacrifices to quality through the whole process. It is made overseas with exploited labor, with lower quality materials, and expected to lose quality soon so you buy another one.
A shirt like ours is made without compromise. We use cotton 100% grown and processed in the United States. And they are cut and sewn here in America with decades of experience and commitment to quality and craftsmanship.
Our blend of cotton we use in our classic styles is denser, heavier, and more durable. This uses more cotton than average, which increases the cost of the fabric, but ensures a longer-lasting and more comfortable end product.
The image on the left is the blue shirt over a light box, on the right, the green Goodwear tee. In the amount of light shining through you can tell how sheer and nearly worn through the old blue shirt has become. The Goodwear tee is still a consistent and tight weave, showing signs of wear but not sheer. Zooming in you can see the thin weave on the left and the heavier Goodwear weave on the right
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