T-shirt manufacturers use many terms to describe their products. The terms are not always consistent and it helps to have a reference guide.
The following is the official Green Man T-Shirts Guide to understanding t-shirt terms:
20s, 20/1, 20s single: Unit of geekowear measurement that defines the fineness of cotton thread. A standard spool of single-ply cotton thread is comprised of 840 yards of cotton thread. If it takes 20 spools to weigh one pound, then the thread on those spools is referred to as 20s cotton, or 20/1. If 30 spools weigh one pound, then the thread on those spools is referred to as 30s cotton thread, or 30/1. If it takes 40 spools to weigh one pound, then the thread on those spools is referred to as 40s cotton, or 40/1. The higher number means a finer thread, and thus a finer, softer fabric is created. T-shirts made of 30s and 40s are softer, finer, and have better drape than t-shirts made of 20s. The terms are used many ways, but it’s the number that counts; “20s,” “20/1,” and “20 singles” are the same. Threads can be twisted together into thicker strands. If two 20/1 cotton threads were twisted together, it would be referred to as 20/2.
Bamboo Fabric: Rayon made from bamboo cellulose. Although rayon is a man-made synthetic material, most experts agree it is readily biodegradable. Bamboo fabric is extremely soft and has excellent drape.
Bamboo: Fast growing plant, classified as a grass, which can be readily processed into rayon to make bamboo rayon clothing.
Bleach Wash: A process that uses bleach to soften and distress the look of the fabric being washed.
Boat Neck: A very wide neckline that runs across the collarbone area to the shoulder points. Derives from early sailors’ shirts, where the wide neck enabled quick removal if the sailor fell overboard.
Boy Beater: Women’s fashion answer to the wife beater. A women’s tank top, although it can be any color.
Brushed Cotton: A method to remove excess lint and fibers from cotton fabric. Brushed cotton usually has a very soft, smooth finish.
Burn-Out: A process that uses sulfuric acid or other strong acid to “burn-out” parts of a fabric knit, usually a polyester/cotton blend. The process gives a see-through, very sheer effect.
Cap Sleeves: Usually refers to shorter sleeves on women’s garments.
Carbon Dioxide: CO2. A chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms and one carbon atom. Known as a “greenhouse” gas because of its relationship with global warming. A few t-shirt manufacturers are now measuring and recording the CO2 emissions involved in manufacturing their shirts.
Carbon Trust: Independent organization founded in 2001 in Great Britain that monitors carbon emissions. The Carbon Trust works with companies to help reduce their carbon footprint, and now certifies companies and products as having a “low carbon” or “no carbon” footprint. A few t-shirt companies now manufacture “low carbon footprint” t-shirts.
Carding: A fiber cleaning process that eliminates short fibers and removes dirt and foreign matter. Carding can be done by hand or by large machines using drum rollers. Carded-only cotton is not as desirable as combed cotton.
Cellulase Wash: Another name for enzyme wash. This gives fabric a soft feel and a vintage look, depending on how the wash is done.
Cellulose: Derived from the cell walls of certain plants. Useful in making certain types of fabrics, including acetate, triacetate, and rayon. Bamboo fabric is actually rayon made from bamboo cellulose.
Cheap Cotton T-Shirt: T-shirts made with carded cotton, using 18/1 thread, usually knitted on 20 gauge machines. These t-shirts are coarse, rough, and have poor drapability. Used often as cheap promotional give-aways.
Climate Neutral: A term used to describe a company, process, or product that has zero impact on the Earth’s climate. A few t-shirt manufacturers advertise their company as climate neutral.
CO2: Carbon dioxide. A chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms and one carbon atom. Known as a “greenhouse” gas because of its relationship with global warming.
Colorfastness: The ability of a garment to withstand multiple washings without losing its color.
Combed Cotton: A method to remove short fibers and to arrange longer fibers parallel to create a smooth, fine cotton yarn. Combed cotton has high strength, excellent uniformity, and better hand. Combed cotton costs more and is used in finer t-shirts.
Compacting: A process that compacts the space between cotton fiber pockets. Helps to reduce shrinking.
Contrasting Stitching: Stitching with a different color than the garment. Gives a nice design detail in t-shirts.
Control Union: An international organization that offers certification services for a variety of programs–including many organic certification programs. Certifies USDA Organic, as well as GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard).
Cotton Jersey: Knitted, very slightly stretchy fabric with a smooth flat face and a more textured but uniform back. Average weight per yard is about 5.5 to 6 ounces. Basic t-shirts are made of cotton jersey. Fine cotton jersey is usually smoother and has a lighter weight per yard.
Cotton: A natural fiber that is the most popular in the world for fabrics. Cotton fibers are usually ½ to 2 inches long. Longer fibers produce finer cotton fabric. Varieties such as Pima and Egyptian, which feature fibers exceeding 1.5 inches, are more highly valued than ordinary varieties.
Crew Neck: A round close-fitting neckline. Most common neck on t-shirts.
Crop Top: A shirt with a short body to it; made to expose the midriff area.
Double-Needle Stitched: Used mostly on sleeve/bottom hems and refers to a parallel row of stitching. This type of stitching gives durability and a cleaner, more finished look.
Drape, Drapability: Refers to how a fabric hangs. A fabric like bamboo rayon has excellent drape, while a coarse fabric like burlap has very little. T-shirts that have good drape qualities feel nicer to wear.