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Why some T-shirts are five dollars and some are 50

Krissy Brady is a women’s health + lifestyle writer who’s so out of shape, it’s like she has the innards of an 80-year-old. Instead of learning how to crochet, she decided to turn her emotional baggage into a writing career (genius, no?)...

The art of shopping for quality T-shirts without overspending (because they're just T-shirts)

You're browsing in your favorite store and spot the T-shirt of your dreams… only, you know, it's $50. Once you see the price tag, you can't decide between hyperventilating or throwing up. I mean, what exactly makes a T-shirt cost so much? Are you really paying for a quality shirt, or just the logo on the front?

To make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck, it's important to know what to look out for when T-shirt shopping. According to Melissa Core of Dead Horse Designs, there are several factors in play.

1. Fabric quality

For example, 100 percent cotton is standard and cheap, whereas if the T-shirt is made with bamboo or modal blends, the price of the shirt will go up.

2. Cut and sew

If the company is making the T-shirt pattern themselves, this will cause the price to rise since it's a custom design and not mass-produced.

3. Where it's made

Making garments in the USA is more expensive than making garments overseas, due to our wages being higher.

4. Quantity

Depending on how many units a company orders, the production value will impact the final result of the retail price. "The lower the units, the more expensive the shirt will be to produce," says Core. "The higher the units, the better the price breaks and margins."

5. Colors in design

If your tee has a snazzy design on the front, the number of colors in the design will impact the price to print them. "One color will be cheaper than say, three," says Code.

Other qualities to look out for

Even though they're pricier, look for tri-blend shirts: Tees that are spun using three different fabrics such as polyester/cotton/rayon. Why? They last longer, wash well and hold prints better.

Also, look for shirts that are already pre-shrunk, says Andreea Ayers, founder of Tees For Change. If there's a graphic on the front, make sure it's of high quality too — you don't want it to crack after one wash! While it can be tough to tell, here's a good rule of thumb: "If you can feel the print on the shirt as you run your fingers over it and it's a bit raised, it's usually not as durable as ink that's embedded more into the fabric," says Ayers.

If you're looking for a more budget-friendly tee, here's how to find a cheap tee that looks like a million bucks (you can also use these tips while sussing out the cheap tees masquerading as high-end): 

  1. "Make sure the front and back are both cut and sewn on either the bias or the grain," says fashion and beauty blogger Laura Yoder. We've all been there: You find a fab shirt that doesn't annihilate your wallet, only to find it twists when you put it on. This is because one side's cut on the bias, the other on the grain. Bring more than one of your size in the changing room to avoid this kerfuffle.
  2. Make sure the front and back colors match. "Sometimes you'll find inexpensive tees where the front and back offer just a bit of a color variance," says Yoder. "They were likely cut from two different bolts of fabric."
  3. Check the seams: They should be finished and free of dangling threads.

More fashion tips

DIY T-shirt to tank top refashion
How to dress up your favorite tee
Warning: This fashion contains graphic content

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