With the advent of more casual business attire and the crossover between the work day and business meetings on the golf course, polo shirts have became a very popular piece of logoed apparel. Millions are spent annually on promotional and retail knit shirts.
Comfort, durability and quality separate the good shirts from the bad. The brand of the shirtmaker also is a factor.
The cheapest shirts are little more than a T-shirt with a couple of buttons and a collar. Fashion house polos can go for over $600, high end polos for over $100 and the cheapest polos for less than $8. In between is a promotional knit shirt that will serve your brand well.
When shopping for promotional polo shirts, decide your primary objectives. What’s most important - comfort, durability, price or brand recognition?
- A quality shirt has reinforced stitching with fabric taping on critical upper seams
- Cotton, polyesters and other fabrics each have advantages - base the choice on your primary objective
- Finishes and treatments add value, but also add cost - determine what serves your needs best
Anatomy of a polo shirt
Cotton and polyester with blends in between are most common. Cotton has been treasured for comfort and polyester for durability. Newer designs have improved moisture-wicking, a comfort variable, for both though polyester remains a leader here. Polyester wrinkles less. Cotton washes easily. Higher quality cotton uses long fibers. Any polyester content is forbidden by safety rules in places where people work with high voltage. Buyers should find a balance that serves their workplace and budget best. Cotton/polyester blends cost least, cotton is next highest and usually performance polyester carries the highest cost. Long staple cottons may mean more cost. Also available at additional costs are synthetics made from natural materials like Modal, soy-based fibers and rayon, a wood-based fiber sometimes utilizing bamboo. Each will tout its benefits.
The knits may be called jersey, piqué, jacquard, interlock or something else. Check with your promotional consultant for the differences in these. A tighter knit offers more sun protection. If you need this feature you should look for a rating of UPF50+.
Consider 6.1 oz. cotton a standard for shirts. Polyester is naturally lighter than cotton. Heavier weights cost more to produce than lighter weights. Lighter weight fabrics in any shirt are less durable, though a lighter polyester shirt may be more durable than a slightly heavier cotton shirt.
Cotton and polyester require different dyes, so blends of the two must be double-dyed for full color saturation. It will take a few launderings to tell how well the color holds up. This is an area where brand names are especially concerned about their reputation. Cheap shirts may skimp in this area. Mercerization is a process that makes dyes more effective and adds a bit of sheen to cotton. Some jobs may require certified safety colors.
To assure true sizing, it is best that the mill uses a preshrinking process. Interfacings or other reinforcement fabrics used should be preshrunk to the same degree as well to avoid puckering.
There are finishes that enhance moisture wicking, improve wrinkle resistance, eliminate static and more. An antimicrobial finish is especially helpful for polyester shirts because those inherently retain odor. A soil or stain resistant finish is another plus for some applications. All of these finishes will add to cost.
The problem with collars is they tend to roll or wrinkle with washing and wear. The solutions are rib-knit/flat-knit collars, a welt collar that has a reinforcement insertion or multiple layers. Some collars have up to four layers. Don’t believe anyone who says their collar will absolutely never curl.
The front placket is the area below the front of the collar, often with the buttons. A strong placket has multiple layers, good quality buttons and stitching designed for reinforcement. Fused placket, interfacing and box stitching are additional terms that can indicate higher quality.
Look for double stitching across the top of the shoulders and an additional fabric strip, called taping, on the underside. This adds durability and comfort to a shirt. These reinforcements further help maintain the shirt’s original shape when it is on the hanger. Taping inside the neck is also a comfort feature.
Sleeves and armholes
This is another place that benefits from double stitching. Ribbed cuffs add the benefit of preventing a saggy look. Self-fabric cuffs should be double-stitched. Without double stitching seams are more likely to come loose and the fabric ends unravel.
Double stitching helps here, too. Often bottom hems also have side vents, which benefit from reinforcement including taping. Many men’s shirts have a slightly extended tail to keep the shirts tucked when bending forward.
Woven labels have been the standard for years, but now there are tear-away labels and imprinted labels. These are designed to not scratch a person’s neck.
Some apparel brands may add prestige to your own brand. The higher end brands have a reputation for quality and generally try to live up to that reputation. Keep in mind reputation has cost.
If brand is a factor in your decision, consider your market. Some who see a shirt may be familiar with Cutter & Buck and LaCoste, but may not know even more prestigious labels like Bobby Jones or Fairway and Greene. Few would have familiarity with some of the super luxury fashion labels above these that probably don’t lend themselves well to promotion.
Keep in mind you may need various shirts to meet the multiple channels your company serves. For your best choices, check with your trusted Staples Promotional Products advisor.