The Progression of Promotional Apparel

  • Feb 7, 2024

As is the case in so much of the promotional product field, the transition that has taken place in promotional apparel is remarkable.

Thirty years ago, if you wanted a set of promotional t-shirts for your organization, camp, or just to outfit your team in a fundraising walk/run/ride, life was pretty simple. You essentially had two choices of material – 100% cotton or a 50/50 blend.  

Even though there were variations, they were slight. You could get mid-weight or heavyweight (those designations would become heavyweight and Ultra) in a 100% cotton t-shirt. 100% cotton was considered to be cooler on those hot summer days as it ”breathed.”  A down side to 100% cotton was that it would shrink, especially if washed in hot water. And if they were worn for an athletic event, you probably would want to wash it in hot water to ensure cleanliness.

50/50 cotton/polyester blend promotional t-shirts were a bit simpler – they came in one weight.  The blend was a bit more durable and could be washed in hot water without concern for shrinkage.  Due to the polyester content, they were considered a little “warmer.”

All of the shirts came in one style or cut: crew neck.  An occasional brand might offer men’s and ladies’, but the only difference was the amount of fabric.  It was assumed that ladies were generally smaller than men.  V-neck, scoop neck, cowl, and hooded t-shirts would all come much later.

Colors were simpler then as well.  A well stocked brand, like Fruit of the Loom, might offer 10 colors – black, white, red, yellow, Kelly green, dark green, light blue, royal blue, navy blue, and gray.  Fast forward to today and not only are there many more options, but sometimes you need a color chart to identify the description.  For example, what exact shade of red does Independence Red look like? 

Fast forward a little bit and you will find polyester becoming the fabric of choice.  Originally it had a smooth, almost glossy, texture, but offered various wicking, moisture and odor management properties that cotton or poly/cotton didn’t offer.  

One more fabric.  The absolute best, according to some of my clients.  What is it, you ask?  Bamboo.  What has made it increasingly popular? The answer is that it offers many of the same properties – wicking, odor and moisture management – as the performance polyester fabrics, with the added benefit of being a very earth friendly material.  No petroleum products involved.  No chemical fertilizers to grow it. And in the words of my clients, at times the most comfortable shirt they’ve ever had.

So, what does it matter?  What matters is that you have options, actually numerous options, on what type of promotional t-shirt you use as your branding billboard and sponsor recognition item.  Traditional, and often the most economically priced, cotton and poly/cotton.  Polyester and other performance fabric shirts for more active events.  Bamboo for the discriminating and most eco conscious clients.

What’s next?  Who knows.  Cloth made from bottles?  From coffee grounds? In this ever evolving world, there’s bound to be something new just waiting for a breakthrough.  In the meantime, make your choice and let’s get your message on the front, back, and/or sleeve of some of your staff, contestants, volunteers, campers, donors, customers and clients. Contact CHH Engraving today to make your message stick.


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