The Art of T-Shirt Buying

Due to body image issues, I’ve tended to buy t-shirts at the largest size available, preferring shapeless bags that would hide my body. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve benefited from getting some perspective, and decided that I would slowly replace my t-shirt collection over the course of this year with shirts that I actually enjoy wearing.

A strange thing happens when a habit like this is changed. At first, I felt self-conscious, and I crossed my arms over my stomach to hide myself in the way that my shirt was suddenly failing to. But then, I started to get used to the feeling of exposure, and it didn’t bother me any more. Even better, I started feeling better about myself. By no longer trying to hide my body, I stopped thinking about my body (at least in the inappropriate/intrusive sense). Just in the past year, and largely as a result of changing my dress, I have started to feel far more confident in my body, and even happy with it.

This has had a pretty huge ripple effect. When I’m not thinking about hiding my body, I can think about running, about moving, about getting exercise. I can do that without worrying that someone is going to laugh at my flesh moving around, one beat off from the rest of me. It’s fantastically freeing, and quite a bit better for my health.

All this is just to say that I’ve done a fair bit of t-shirt buying this year, and I wanted to share some of my experiences with different companies.

LootCrate

The company that got me started when it forced me to actually measure myself rather than just pick the largest size. Owning a shirt that was properly fitted inspired me to get more, and set off my journey to feeling better about myself.

Designs: LootCrate is a “mystery box” service. That means that you pay a fee for the month, and get a box with an unknown assortment of items. Sometimes that includes shirts. While the box themes are announced ahead of time, I’ve found the predictive value to be quite poor. So far, I’ve gotten a D&D shirt, two Transformers shirts, and a Power Rangers shirt – none of which are shirts that I would have bought on my own (although the D&D shirt has an interesting design that I actually quite like).

Quality: The quality is variable, since LootCrate sources its products from a range of places. The D&D shirt, for example, is fairly thin and already (after just under half a year) getting a hole or two. While none of the shirts I’ve received so far have been really great quality, the others have at least been thicker than that. The designs are well printed, and aren’t fading or flaking.

Fit: Every LootCrate shirt so far has fit me perfectly. That said, there are fewer larger options, (shirts only go up to 20.5″W).

Value: I find LootCrate to be a pretty good deal, most months (there have been one or two months of disappointment, but also one or two months of happy surprise, so it evens out). At under $20 for the US, it definitely does come out to a good deal (a shirt alone will often cost that much). At close to $40 CAN for shipping to Canada, however, the price gets a little harder to justify, especially when you don’t know ahead of time if there will be anything you’ll like in the crate.

Customer Service: I had an issue with one of the boxes a few months ago. When I contacted LootCrate about it, they responded fairly quickly and sent a replacement box within a couple of days.

Conclusion: If you want to buy specific shirts, LootCrate isn’t the right place to go. On the other hand, it’s a decent value just to get a little surprise every month, and sometimes shirts are included. The shirts often aren’t what I would buy for myself, but the designs have been interesting and I’ve enjoyed them anyway. The only problem I have with LootCrate is that the billing can be tricky, particularly if you want to wait and see the theme for the month before ordering. There’s no way to sign up for a single month, only one month recurring, and the packages are processed well in advance of the “next billing date” displayed in your account. So if you want to order for only one month, you have to sign up for the one month plan, then check with your credit card company so that you can cancel it as soon as the charge comes in. Leave it too long, and they will begin processing your crate for the following month, and there’s no way to stop it if you don’t like that month’s theme. (I see that they’ve now added the option of skipping a month, but it only gave me the option to skip the month I wanted, not pre-skip the next month. So the downside of having to monitor and click the right button at the right time remains.)

TeeFury

When I first wrote this review, it had been a month and a half since I had ordered the shorts, and three and a half weeks since they had been shipped, and I still hadn’t received them. Because of this, my review was mostly about their customer service, since I didn’t have much else to go on. But now, about two months since I placed my order, and about a month since they were shipped, I finally have them in hand and am ready to amend my review!

Designs: TeeFury’s designs are fantastic, and they have tons of options (with more added frequently). It was the quality of the designs that made me risk TeeFury, despite its poor reviews. I particularly like the variety of fandoms (I was able to find a Monkey Island shirt, which was understandably far more of a temptation than yet another Doctor Who design).

Quality: The shirts themselves look quite nice. The material is fine, and has some flexibility to it. I did notice that threads started coming out of one of the shirts the first time I wore it, which is pretty unusual (but could be a fluke). The printing of the design seems fine – you can see the weave through the design, which is a good sign (it means that the shirt can move around on your body without the design cracking).

Fit: The sizing charts are rather unrealistic for women (being only half an inch larger than the equivalent youth size). So I ended up paying an extra $2 per shirt because, according to TeeFury, I’m so huge that I’m costing them that much in extra fabric, even though the same size is only a medium in men’s (and thus is $2 cheaper). This also means that women who would like larger shirts are plain out of luck. Adding a bit of insult to injury, it seems that they still skimped on fabric. While the shirts otherwise fit quite nicely, they are fairly short. I like shirts that come at least halfway down over my bum, and these end right at the bottom of my stomach. If I’m going to be charged extra for additional fabric, I expect there to actually be sufficient fabric for the shirt to fit properly.

Value: At around $20 USD per shirt, the prices are pretty average, though the extra $2 for a shirt would only be M in men’s (a Girl Tax?) is a bit ridiculous. Shipping and currency conversion can make it a fair bit more expensive for Canadians, but that’s pretty normal as well. Until I find a local distributor with the same quality and selection of designs, I’m stuck ordering at higher prices from the US.

Customer Service: Pretty bad. It took about two weeks to get a response, even though my credit card was charged as soon as the order was placed (which I find rather odd – most online retailers don’t charge my credit card until the item actually ships). Once I finally got through, the representative was apologetic and offered to send replacement shirts. Since I had finally received the original shirts on the same day, this wasn’t necessary. So I can’t say how long things would have taken if they hadn’t resolved on their own. It seems that this backlog for customer service is a chronic situation for TeeFury. The consensus online seems to be that they’re great if nothing goes wrong, but if things do go wrong, they go really wrong.

Conclusion: I’m on the fence about TeeFury, and I think it will be a long while before I risk ordering from them again. While I did eventually get the shirts I ordered, it took about two months, and the customer service is extremely slow to respond if anything goes wrong.

DFTBA

Designs: Most of the designs are YouTube channel branding. Which, I get it, that’s the niche they’re going for. But, personally, I don’t believe in paying to advertise someone else’s company. They do have a handful of nice designs, though, so it’s worth checking out.

Quality: Really good. I believe they get their shirts from American Apparel, and they are very soft and quite thick. The shirts are clearly well made, and they feel great to wear. The designs are fairly well printed, and I haven’t noticed any flaking or unusual fading.

Fit: I’ve had some trouble finding shirts that come in women’s sizes, which is quite a problem for me (my breasts are rather on the large side, so if I get a men’s shirt that fits my chest, it’s very frumpy around my waist, and a men’s shirt that fits my waist is obscene around my chest). But the shirts that do come in women’s sizes fit very well. I also noticed that, unlike TeeFury and LootCrate, the women’s sizes go up quite a bit higher than what I need. In fact, according to DFTBA, I’m only M (thank goodness I checked instead of just ordering XXL!).

Value: At around $20 per shirt, the prices is fairly average. I’ve also been able to take advantage of a few sales, getting one shirt for $10 and another for $15.

Customer Service: I haven’t needed to contact customer service, but so far my interactions with the company have been very pleasant. My orders have all been filled within a day or two.

Conclusion: The shirts are really nice, and the price is reasonable. I also love what the company stands for, and the way that its owners hold themselves accountable. The problem is the lack of designs that I’d be willing to wear (or, in the case of branding, that I’d be willing to pay for).

CafePress

Designs: Since CafePress prints on demand, the designs are potentially limitless. There’s a bit of an overload factor, though, in trying to find something worth buying. The two times I’ve ordered from CafePress, it’s been for my own designs, and being able to customize what I wear to that degree is a pretty big draw.

Quality: The shirts are pretty good quality. The cotton is nice and thick, so it takes a long time to wear them out. The design printing isn’t quite as good, I believe because it’s more cost effective when doing one-off printings. I ordered one shirt about four years ago and, while the shirt itself has held up, the image is very faded and cracked. The shirt I ordered more recently (this summer) has the same plastic-y feel to the design, and I’m sure that will begin cracking in not too long.

Fit: The fit around my breast and waist is quite good, and the length of the shirt is nice (I can pull it partly down past my bum). The only problem is with the sleeves, which I find are a bit too tight. It’s not constricting or particularly uncomfortable, but it means that I’m aware of the shirt being there all the time, and I find that distracting. It wouldn’t take much for them to add half an inch or so, and the fit would be much improved.

Value: Individual sellers set the prices for the shirts themselves, but they are almost always above the $20 USD benchmark (since CafePress charges the regular rate and, to make any kind of profit, sellers must go higher). I found the shipping charge to be quite a bit higher than normal as well. The result on my last order was a $45 CAD charge on my credit card for a single shirt that had only been priced at $24 USD. It can be worthwhile to wear your own design, but is far too much for regular shopping.

Customer Service: I accidentally bought the wrong size shirt several years ago. When I contacted CafePress, they responded quickly and sent me a replacement shirt, even though the issue had been my own fault. This was several years ago, though, so I don’t know if the quality of the customer service has changed since then.

Conclusion: There’s a lot of potential for finding (or making!) great shirts, but with so many options, it can take a while. This versatility must be balanced against the so-so quality of the fit and printing, as well as the higher cost.