Sweet Tees Are Made of This: How to Pick A T-shirt Brand

Fit By D tees-berry

Bella+Canvas unisex tees in Berry

One of the most frequently asked questions we hear is what brand of t-shirts do we use? Like most questions we get, my answer is “It depends.” And since you’re wondering, yes, I do get a certain amount of sadistic enjoyment from being vague. At least momentarily, then I put on my Mr. Rogers Helping Sweater and offer real support.

I’ll start with you right now by qualifying my “It depends” answer. When it comes to t-shirt brands, most of our customers fall into three categories:

I couldn’t name one brand if you pulled out my toenails.

Hold on, let me look at my shirt tag. I think I want this kind.

I like {insert brand name}, I only wear {insert brand name}, everything else is crap.

There’s no right answer, and that’s why my earlier response is that it depends. It depends on who will be wearing the shirts, what kind of activities they’ll be doing, are they men, women, kids, dogs (yup, dogs), and are they very fashion/trend conscious?

Whew. That’s more depends than a senior center movie marathon.

Rather than just tell you what t-shirt you should like, I thought it would be more helpful to give you some descriptive reviews of the more popular brands we print on. Then you can make your own extremely well-educated (if I do say so myself) decision. Let’s get to it!


Okay, I kind of cheated right off the bat by combining these three brands. For our purposes here, they have very similar offerings. All these brands are best known for their tough, no-nonsense tees that stand up to frequent washings. A 6-oz, a Hanes Beefy-T is among the heavier t-shirts you can wear. They’re boxy, manly, tough. In contrast, one of those amazingly soft vintage-style tees you find at Nordstrom are likely 3 or 4-oz. ringspun cotton. That means it has a tighter weave and is smoother in feel than open-end cotton. Gildan, Jerzees and Hanes are best known for open-end cotton, looser weave shirts.

So a Hanes Beefy-T is best suited for a landscaper, construction worker or somebody who likes to putter in the garage or garden. Gildan and Jerzees offer similar tough, heavy tees. They also offer lighter styles that use poly/cotton blends. They’re comfortable enough.

If Made in the U.S.A. is important to you, know that these brands are mostly manufactured overseas. Something we note, as we try our best to source as locally as possible. Your call.

So would a Hanes Beefy-T be the t-shirt of choice for the young, fashion-forward people working your trade show booth? I think not. For your landscaping employees, it’s a great choice. It’s tough and stands up to frequent washings.

American Apparel

Okay, let’s get the “ugh” out of the way first. People tend to get very opinionated about the brand. It’s had its share of controversy from sexed-up ads and its equally sexed-up founder and (recently exed-out) CEO. Whatever your opinion, there are some things you may not know about the actual shirts they make.

One of the things we love about American Apparel is that their shirts are made locally to us, right here in Los Angeles. We can go to them directly and see how they’re made. They have excellent working conditions, pay and benefits. They treat their people right.

That wouldn’t make a lick of difference if the shirts were terrible, but they aren’t. They’re great. Our customers typical go-to AA shirt is the unisex 2001 style. A crewneck tee, it’s a little more fitted than a boxy Hanes tee. They’re also super soft.

When we print, we love tighter weaves because it makes a smoother canvas for screen printing. American Apparel tees are awesome for screen printing. They take the ink really well and hold up after multiple washings.

Some people (including me) think that some of the crew neck styles are a bit tight in the neck and shoulders. They do seem to be made for wispy thin people. I’m fairly athletic and they can be snug. Great in winter, not in summer. However, they do have several styles with looser necks, lighter weight cotton and v-necks. The basic 2001 American Apparel is the pricier tee over other brands, and those thinner, looser fitting styles are more so.

That said, some of our customers are very faithful to the brand, love the shirts and will pay more for them. Another advantage is that anyone can go into an American Apparel store and feel the shirts for themselves. Information is knowledge… said Mr. Rogers.


Like American Apparel, Bella+Canvas is located in Los Angeles. Bella is their ladies line and Canvas is for dudes, or unisex. They do have a special Made in USA line, but some of their apparel is also manufactured overseas. As of this writing, Bella is our go-to t-shirt. They are fantastic quality and a great value for the price. Their basic crewneck style in both unisex and ladies is fitted, but a little looser in the neck and shoulders, not quite as snug as American Apparel.

We recently printed tees for an energy drink company, Marquis Beverages, using Bella+Canvas v-neck tees. They are super soft and make a great canvas for screen printing.

A Word About Buying Your Own

A quick word about purchasing your own tees. Some customers ask us if they can just purchase their own shirts instead of us sourcing them. We don’t mind, we’ll take ’em as long they’re clean and new. A few things to consider:

  • You’ll need a resale certificate and business license to buy wholesale.
  • We source from several vendors, so sometimes we can find things that are out of stock. For example, on a recent order, Bella+Canvas was out of Berry-colored tees. We found them at another vendor to fill the order, at no additional cost to our customer. And no searching time for them.
  • When we order, we get an extra in each size for spoilage (when we mess up). We don’t charge our customers for those tees and if we need them, we don’t have to wait for extras to arrive.
  • Sure, you can get those $1.00 Gildan tees at Michaels. Can you get 200 of them in all the sizes and colors you need? Or just fluorescent orange?

Also keep in mind that if you’re buying your own t-shirts, do your homework. Know exactly what you’re getting and talk to a screen printer about how it will be to print on. Certain blends require special inks, and that can be more costly to print. So you may think you’re saving money on apparel, but you blew it on a specialty printing method.

In the end, t-shirt fit and feel are so personal. We’ve worked with marketing managers who love a certain brand and style, then the other employees hate them. We’ve recommended a brand to a customer who was used to something very different, and they loved them – they’re hooked.

The moral is, first decide who will be wearing your shirts and what your message is. Then choose a brand and style to fit that.




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(818) 835-2585 Woodland Hills, California | sparky@sparkyfirepants.com

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