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Fit Factors

Though it can be tricky, there are multiple components that determine how garments fit their wearers.

By Jeanene Edwards, Contributing Writer

Women’s T-shirts are complicated. They have the most fit diversity, with classic, junior, fitted, shaped, relaxed and plus being the most common.

October 17, 2019

Fit can be one of the most challenging issues an apparel decorator faces when selecting the correct style for a customer. A garment that didn’t fit the way the customer expected is the No. 1 reason for most online apparel returns, according to a 2017 Narvar report, Making Returns a Competitive Advantage.

Fortunately, the decorated-apparel market includes a wide array of brands, styles, fabrics and colors from which to choose. Fit is one element that can be brand-specific and is directly related to the
target consumer.

Most brands also publish their garment fit specifications, or “specs.” Visit any distributor or brand’s website and you can find size charts that offer specs by size — typically chest width and body and sleeve length.

Fit Terminology
The terminology for fit can be challenging to understand. In men’s tees, terms like “classic,” “modern,” “fitted” and “unisex” can be found. Men’s tees offer the most standardization in our industry, with a typical size of 22 inches in chest width and 30 inches in length for a large size.

Women’s T-shirts are just, well, complicated. They have the most fit diversity, with classic, junior, fitted, shaped, relaxed and plus being the most common. One brand’s classic tee can have the same specs as another brand’s junior or fitted option because each brand designs the garments for its target consumer’s body type and shape. A women’s classic fit sometimes is referred to as “missy.”

Decorators working on programs with women’s tees need to check the garment specs. No matter how cute that online photo looks to your customer, you could have issues if the garment isn’t designed for her.

For instance, if you’re working with a school dance or cheer team, selecting a junior tee with its more fitted shape likely will work for most of the girls. It’s age-appropriate and designed for their body types. However, if you’re working with a retail shop that wants a women’s tee that works for most customers, then you can’t go wrong with a classic-fit tee.

Women’s tees also offer more fashion styles, which can impact fit. Fashion styles like the boyfriend tee — with its oversized, boxy fit — and more ultra-premium tri-blend fabrics — such as modal or Tencel — offer a flowy, draped look with a different fit.

Given the ages that the segment spans, youth tees also can be challenging, with fits typically falling into infant, toddler, juvenile and youth ranges. As a decorator, knowing the kids’ ages helps in understanding which tees and sizes to offer. However, this never will address the fact that kids simply grow at different rates and ages. In any fifth-grade class, there’s always one kid who’s already taller than the teacher.

Fabric Type and Fit
A tee’s fiber content also can play a key role in how it fits, as does fabric weight. The three most common fiber contents for jersey tees are cotton, polyester and cotton/poly blends.

Cotton tees typically are the standard for most occasions, and decorators find them easy to embellish. They are especially soft if made with ring-spun yarns and can be found in a wide range of styles, colors and sizes.

Polyester is a synthetic fiber that offers multiple benefits. Tees made with this fiber typically are designed to be closer to the body so that the garment doesn’t impede athletic performance. It also is more resistant to shrinking and can offer moisture-wicking properties that keep wearers cool and dry.

Blending different fibers combines properties, giving wearers the best of all worlds. In a blend, polyester can deliver a softer hand and drape. Also, with cross-dye techniques, you can get a wide range of textile colors and effects, making a more interesting garment.

Tri-blend fabrics typically are a blend of cotton, polyester and rayon. Rayon adds stretch, drape and enhances the softness, offering a comfortable, relaxed fit. Drape certainly can affect the fit, and rayon’s additional drape allows the fabric to lay closer to the body.

Fabric weight also can impact fit. Lightweight fabrics in the 4.5-ounce-or-less range will lay closer and drape against the body more. They work well in silhouettes where these factors are part of the designer’s aesthetic goal. Heavyweight fabrics in the 5.5-ounce-and-higher range simply are more substantial and offer more coverage. Right now, they are very much on-trend on the West Coast and in more streetwear programs.

Brands and Fit
Most brands have established fits for their product lines based on their target customer. Garment prototypes generally are fitted on a mannequin form during the design process to help develop a base size.

Then, initial size-run prototypes are put on fit models so designers can see how the garment executes across all sizes. Some brands now use high-tech software that allows them to see how the garment fits in a 3-D type of process.

This results in a consistent fit across the brand’s product line. Brands know fit consistency and reliability are more likely to drive customer loyalty.

However, brands that are more fashion-forward or have more of a ladies’ consumer base will find that fit has to be
adapted when considering trends toward flowy, drapey styles or boxy boyfriend tees. Fortunately, specs can be available online; remember to also ask for samples if you want to see the garment before ordering.

Classic Fit
The classic fit tends to flatter almost any body type; offering it can be an easy solution for a decorator who is trying to satisfy wearers across numerous sizes and body shapes. A men’s classic-fit shirt typically will be straight from under the sleeves to the bottom of the hem with sleeves that follow the shoulder and arm. A women’s classic-fit shirt will have some shaping but is not too extreme at the waist.

Classic-fit shirts are easier for decorators to embellish. Straight shirts are easier to load onto pallets than some of the more narrow, trendy cuts, and classic-fit tees always are a good option for large orders.

Men’s and women’s classic-fit tees have the most potential to satisfy the customer simply because the styling is timeless. The fit is designed to be accommodating across a wide range of body shapes and sizes. Overall, this fit makes it easier and faster for customers to decide on sizing.

Always check the garment specs and discuss them with your customer as they’re deciding how many tees to order by size. This is just as important for a value giveaway tee program as it is for a premium program intended for retail or corporate apparel.

Remember, there’s no such thing as a “bad fit;” rather, it’s a situation where the customer’s expectations and the actual garment aren’t aligned.

Jeanene Edwards is vice president of marketing and merchandising for Fruit of the Loom/JERZEES Activewear. For more information, visit