You are an avid T-shirt wearer. You buy a few from New York City-based Plurawl and discover they are quite soft and comfortable. You buy a few more at a pop-up shop in Brooklyn. These are not so comfortable. You have to ‘break them in’ by wearing and washing. What gives?

Why are some T-shirts and hoodies comfortable right off the rack while others have to be worn for weeks before they stop scratching and itching? The good folks at Plural say it is all about processing and manufacturing. The way manufacturers go about producing clothing ultimately determines how comfortable their T-shirts are.

Knowing that, here are four reasons some T-shirts have to be broken in:

1. Poor Quality Fabric

Though you can buy 100% cotton T-shirts, these aren’t the norm. Most T-shirts are made with blended materials. Manufacturers choose textiles that blend cotton with polyester, nylon, and other fibers. As you might expect, blends affect quality. A poor-quality fabric doesn’t feel as good as a genuine cotton or a high-quality poly-cotton blend.

Know that the quality of the blend itself is influenced by the fibers used to make it. For example, the cotton in a poor-quality poly-cotton blend is not going to be Egyptian cotton. It is going to be something else, and probably with shorter and coarser fibers.

 2. Poor Quality Weave

Fabrics are created by spinning fibers together to make threads. The threads are then woven together to make fabrics. A T-shirt can be uncomfortable off the rack if its weave is of lower quality. What makes for lower quality weaves? Several things:

  • Insufficient carding
  • Insufficient combing
  • Poor blending practices.

Each of these three factors, or any combination thereof, creates threads that are not so comfortable. Weave them together and you have an uncomfortable fabric.

3. Inferior Blends

Manufacturers sometimes look to save money by introducing low-quality, synthetic fibers into their blends. If these additional fibers have not been processed or treated properly, they may reduce the overall quality of the fabric. The end result is something you might not find all that comfortable.

It is also worth noting that some synthetic fibers just don’t play well with cotton and polyester. Mixing them is like trying to mix oil with water. If two or three fibers don’t work well together, fabrics are more likely to cause itching.

As a general rule, the cheapest T-shirts and hoodies are made with inferior blends. That’s why they are so inexpensive. Spending more generally results in a higher quality blend offering more comfort.

4. Harsh Dyes

Manufacturers dye fabrics before constructing the T-shirts you buy off the rack. Alternatively, fabrics can arrive from the factory already dyed. Either way, using a harsh dye with certain types of chemicals can create a fabric that isn’t as soft as it was prior to dying.

The good news about harsh dyes is that their effect on fabrics is lessened over time. The more often you wash a T-shirt, the more the dye fades.

Manufacturers can get around dye issues by choosing dyes made of natural materials. Organic dyes tend to be less harsh on fabrics and, as a result, less harsh on the skin. The downside is that they also tend to be more expensive.

The underlying point to all of this is that T-shirts (and hoodies, too) can be broken in by way of washing and wearing. Every wash and wear cycle breaks down the fabric to some degree. This is why T-shirts and hoodies almost always get softer with age. And now you know.

Lem Oswin