The T-Shirt: Why We Love it + How to Buy

The T shirt

Let’s make a bet. We bet that if we rummaged through your wardrobe, the odds of us finding at least one branded promotional t-shirt are pretty high. We’ll also bet that the kinds of t-shirts you own will tell us a whole lot about you too. Based on your t-shirt collection, we can tell that you are a Rolling Stones enthusiast who loves Mickey Mouse and/or voted for Obama in the last election. Maybe you paid a visit to New York last summer (which you loved), and visited the Hard Rock Café. Oh, and Napoleon Dynamite changed your life. (Maybe you secretly wished you could have voted for Pedro instead of Obama!)


Branded t-shirts are the 2nd strongest promotional product category in the U.S. This category has captured 44% of the population that claims to own a promotional product. Guess that explains how that random promo tee crept into your drawer.

So, why do people love promo tees so much, and how do we find the right promotional t-shirt for your campaign needs? First, here’s a little history.

The Birth of an Industry

In the beginning… there was a button.


This button, which dates back to 1789, was created in mass quantities as a political commemoration of George Washington’s election into presidency. It was this button that marked the birth of the promotional goods industry in America.

In 1902, the t-shirt was invented. It was originally designed as a lightweight undergarment for men and didn’t become main stream outerwear until 1948, with the help of movie icons Marlon Brando and James Dean. One of the earliest known branded promotional tees sprouted from the Air Corps Gunnery School during the time of the Spanish American war in 1942.


In the 1960’s, t-shirts were viewed as a wearable form of self expression and amassed a substantial cult following. Popular t-shirt printing included psychedelics, advertising, political messaging and that epic smiley face.


Later in the 1970’s and 80’s, the t-shirt’s skyrocketing popularity led to further innovations from manufacturers including extended size runs, necklines, cuts, colors, materials and other innovations. Today this item has become a part of our everyday lives and exists in a multi-billion dollar industry. Never thought that t-shirt of yours had such a rich history, now did ya?

So… Why do we love em’?

Marketers and businesses love them because they are an affordable and easy way to spread your brand message, and cultivate brand awareness. Consumers love them because they are useful and attractive. Put these two things together and you have a match made in heaven! Studies have shown that when a consumer receives a promotional t-shirt, they view the advertiser as 61% more favorably than before receiving one.

Picking the right promo shirt can be tricky, especially with so many options to choose from. Here are some tips to help you choose the right t-shirt for your campaign and budget.

1) Know who is wearing your T-Shirt.

First you must determine who your target audience is. Are you targeting the college-age school spirit types, or  the middle-age conservative corporate America types? Knowing who will be wearing your tee is very important. The type of cut and style you choose for each of these target markets will vary drastically as a result.

Perhaps a super conservative corporate America type would prefer a branded polo, whereas a college orientation freshman would prefer a fitted cotton tee. This leads us to…


2) Fit is Everything.

No matter who you are, no one wants to wear something that doesn’t fit properly. Let’s say you are hosting a college event and offer a boxy one size fits all t- shirt to young college-age girls. You might not get the level of excitement you are looking for with that ill fitting, boxy shirt. Even worse, they may not even bother to take one of your promotional shirts at all! The image below is a perfect example of a poorly fitted t- shirt.

 big tee

 Let’s face it, that horrible thing is just plain unflattering. So, how about this one instead?

good tee

MUCH better right? Taking the time to get to know your target audience’s taste can help to narrow down your choices. It can also help you to get a better reaction from your consumers. The goal is to get the consumer to wear your product, which will increase exposure to your brand. Making sure you have all of the basic size runs will also better ensure that your consumer will wear your t-shirt around town. It does no good if your t-shirt just ends up in the pajama drawer.

3) Let’s talk about the materials.

Once you know who will be wearing your t-shirt, the next question is to think about its purpose. Is it intended for work, sports performance, fashion or casual wear?  Answering these types of questions will help you determine the type of materials that are suitable for your audience. Modern t-shirt companies feature fabrics for every purpose. You can choose a fabric that is breathable, organic, stretch, has moisture wick technology, heavy weight or even fashion fabrics to suit your needs. Taking special performance or fashion features into account will help make your t-shirt more desirable to you consumer.

Colorful fabrics on sale

4) Budgeting

Now more than ever, when it comes to t-shirts, there are endless options to choose from at every price point. Once you have set your budget, you can filter out the different features you are looking. Here are some tips on how to save some serious cash.

  • Choose to put your logo in one place on your tee. Choose the most prominent location to place your logo like the center of the chest or the center of the back. Choosing multiple logo locations can cost you a lot extra.
  • Stick to one color when printing your logo. Multicolored logos require more resources and labor, which means added cost. Try printing your logo in a single color, and carry over the additional color in your t-shirt fabric instead.
  • Order early. Save your dollars for picking the best possible item, not on rush shipping. Shipping costs can eat away at your precious budget.
  • Choose cotton. If your budget is super tight and you are really pressed for cash, opt for a classic cotton shirt. Cotton is typically the most cost effective choice, but make sure to choose the most flattering fit.

Picking and designing the right tee for your campaign can be a lot of fun and a great way to gain a positive impression of your brand from your consumers. Including target market strategies into your purchasing decisions may drastically increase the probability of your customers wearing your product for a long time.

Make sure to visit Shoplet Promos for neat ways to customize your next branded t-shirt!