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Tee Talk in 2019

Visual identity, among other uses, keeps the comfortable and classic tee a staple in any wearer’s wardrobe.

By Jennifer Morrell, Contributing Writer

January 28, 2019

In 2018, T-shirts were defined by versatility. This year, industry suppliers say that versatility will be coupled with the element of communicating wearers’ identities. The basic tee has a touch of fashion but can adapt to current trends, whether it’s paired with a hoodie, sweater or blazer. Wearers then can say who they are and what they believe via decoration.

“Late 2016 saw a cult following into athleisure, which then shared space with streetwear in 2017,” says Nabeel Amin, CEO and founder of Lane Seven Apparel. “It is showing no signs of slowing down. The tee is a staple of streetwear and has shown how it could evolve from being a basic tee to having different iterations serving its versatility. Different washes, fashion colors, a pocket, etc., are what define purchase behavior, since people want to be able to wear [tees] everywhere.”

And it’s not just the easy, “go-to” nature of the tee that makes it a staple, says Jeanene Edwards, vice president of Fruit of the Loom/JERZEES Activewear. It’s also the physical and emotional comfort evoked from wearing it. The throw-it-on-and-go aspect of the T-shirt reinforces its role as a layering piece in many closets.

Fabrics and Color
To be sure, all tees are not the same, and there’s a style available for everyone. “Fit and fabric are perhaps the most important characteristics in today’s T-shirt,” says Jennifer Oleksik, design and merchandising manager, LAT Apparel. “The fit has to be right, and it has to feel good when you put it on. Fabric is continuing to grow in importance year after year. With all of the great new fabrics in the market, customers want a great hand-feel with good quality that is easy to decorate.”

Gone are the days of rough, coarse-feeling tees. In 2019, they are softer than ever and of premium quality. In 2018, some styles ventured back to heavier weights, but ring-spun cotton fabrications and soft-hand feels dominate the market.

“People are falling back into classic items,” says Marcus Davis, product development manager for Hanesbrands. “Rather than disposable, trendy tees, [today’s] consumers are looking for classic, retro styles. A vintage look and feel, stripes and garment-dyed [styles] — consumers want classic.”

It’s no surprise that sustainability is a consideration for socially conscious consumers. Sustainable trendiness is important to Millennial and Gen-Z consumers looking for something new in wardrobe longevity.

A trend that definitely has legs for the future is the augmentation of neutral color palettes, Edwards says. “People like neutrals because a great neutral color can be paired up with just about anything,” she says. “Combine a neutral with a heather textile construction and you’ve got a winning combo. The explosion in black/gray heathers, along with shades of taupe, oatmeal and military green are great examples of sustainable trendiness.”

Oleksik says LAT Apparel continually conducts market research and studies sales trends in an effort to narrow down what “fashion” really means to the wholesale market vs. at retail. “It’s all about the design details that elevate a garment without making it too fashionable for the masses,” she says.

Finding a Fit
T-shirt silhouettes in 2019 will vary to accommodate the wide array of consumers looking to find comfort while looking fashionable.

“For men, we have seen the rise of the slim jean and from there, the tee has also evolved to fit,” Edwards says. “From classic, modern and slim-cut tees, the more form-fitting styles are emerging as more popular in the new year.”

She also says the biggest trend in tees will be the continued growth of online, on-demand printing that delivers a customized and unique product to the customer. Text-centric designs remain on-trend, so expect to see lots of slogans, fun phrases and ironic sayings. In terms of graphic treatments and fonts, nostalgic road-trip graphics and a return to the 1970s and 1980s also will trend strongly.

Gameday styling will continue to be a valid trend in wholesale and retail channels. Color-blocking also will have a stronghold on T-shirt styles this year. Likewise, cropped short- and long-sleeve tees, and tank tops, will be relevant this year. In fact, on long-sleeve tees, drop shoulders will take center stage in 2019, Amin says. Davis says unisex and “boyfriend” tees are trending with women as gender-fluid apparel gains traction.

The new year also will see more blends, textures and interesting dye techniques in fabrics. Women’s styles will continue to diversify from slim and fitted to full, flowy and boxy, with fabrics that include Modal, rayon and spandex.

Also, apparel decorators will be giddy to know experts agree that logos will be prominent, opening the door for embellishment creativity.

Retail in a Wholesale World
Retail brands still are in demand in the wholesale channel because of their high awareness and reputations for quality, Edwards says. “That said, the definition of a brand is changing as retailers and online sellers are developing new brands backed by substantial design, product development and marketing support.”

Designing a T-shirt brand is now much easier thanks to online capabilities. “It’s now simpler than ever to develop a brand, design your graphics and use platforms like Printify and Shopify to produce a line and bring it to market,” Edwards says.

The evolution of the wholesale channel eliminates the need for retailers to establish overseas, large-quantity production of a style that can be found at wholesale. “Retail brands now have more options for quick-turn items that are a little more fashionable,” Oleksik says.

Brands are important for Millennials. “Millennials want to know the brands they support do business responsibly, and that goes beyond using recycled or organic materials,” Davis says. “It means operating ethically, paying fair wages, supporting communities and reducing the impact on the environment.”

T-shirt fabrics continue to be explored around the world, which Oleksik says is the perfect way to bring new life to the basic T-shirt. With so many options for different blends, washes, textures and visual interest, the possibilities are endless.

Customers want the premium fabrics they see at retail, and new fabrications have opened the door to soft, elevated tees with unique textures. For example, Davis points to the Hanes Modal Triblend Crew, which is a 4.7-ounce tee made of a Modal/combed, ring-spun cotton/polyester blend for optimal softness. He also says the Lenzing Modal tri-blend fabric uses sustainably resourced material, is carbon-neutral and requires less energy to produce than other fibers in the apparel industry.

Jennifer Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at

Decorating to a Tee

New fabrics bring myriad choices to consumers, but they also can facilitate various decorating challenges.

Different inks and heat settings must now be considered, and screen printers may even need to adjust platen heights if working with a garment whose fabric has a raised surface. Understanding how a new fabric may perform with any given decorating technique underscores the importance of testing.

“At the wholesale level, we have to be very conscious of the fabrics we choose,” says Jennifer Oleksik, design and merchandising manager, LAT Apparel. “It has to be decoration friendly. We are always performing decoration tests to make sure the fabric is a viable option as both a blank option and a decorated option.”