If you’re a TV watcher or pop culture enthusiast, you undoubtedly know about Hulu’s The Bear starring Jeremy Allen White who plays Carmen “Carmey” Berzatto, a chef who returns to his hometown of Chicago to manage his deceased brother’s restaurant. Audiences are obsessed with the show, with its chaotic kitchen, business stress and dysfunctional characters.
Certainly, it’s not the typical recipe for a hit TV series, and Carmey’s “uniform” of t-shirts is just as unlikely to be the fashion statement everyone wants to own. But they do.
The Strategist did a deep dive to find the tees, even contacting Cristina Spiridakis, The Bear’s costume designer for the pilot episode, to confirm where the coveted tees could be purchased. Turns out, Carmey’s white t-shirt is manufactured by the German clothing company Merz B. Schwanen on vintage loopwheel machines, some of which are more than 100 years old.
As the names suggest, both vintage loopwheel and tubular machines knit fabric around a circular hoop to create a tube of fabric that becomes the body of the t-shirt. The appeal is that there are no side seams, giving the shirt a more finished appearance and a higher perceived value.
While all vintage loopwheel t-shirts are tubular, not all tubular t-shirts are made on a vintage loopwheel. In fact, vintage loopwheel construction is the exception, not the rule.
Today, most tubular t-shirts use modern knitting technology, and these machines are commonplace in garment manufacturing factories. On the other hand, there are very few true vintage loopwheel machines left in the world. Unlike their modern counterparts, vintage loopwheels require skilled artisans to operate, and only a handful of craftsmen have the precise knowledge to work these machines.
That’s not all. Vintage loopwheel machines are analog and they knit quite slowly. According to this post on Craft Café, knitting one roll of fabric seems to take two to three days because the loopwheel uses only one to four threads at a time. Compare this to modern high-speed circular knitting machines that use 40-60 threads woven at once.
Thread tension also plays a role in the quality of the knit and distinguishes vintage loopwheel knit shirts verses modern tubular construction. Vintage loopwheel fabrication puts almost no tension on the thread, whereas modern tubular machines pull the thread tight as they knit. This is important because excessive thread tension can cause shirts to lose their shape over time.
When comparing the two manufacturing types, it’s easy to see why vintage loopwheel t-shirts are sought after because of their high quality, exceptional workmanship, fashionable silhouette and unique texture. But there’s one drawback. In the case of the Merz B. Schwanen t-shirts popularized by The Bear, they come with a €90 price tag.
That’s pretty steep for a t-shirt, but for those who are connoisseurs of heritage fashion, it may be a price worth paying.
It’s one thing to invest in a luxury t-shirt for yourself, especially if it becomes a wardrobe staple that’s worn often. But when you need 500 t-shirts to commemorate an event or promote your brand, the high cost and long turnaround time of vintage loopwheel-manufactured tees make them a cost-prohibitive choice.
Not to worry, however. It is possible to achieve the look of a vintage loopwheel t-shirt with high-quality tubular tees available within the promotional products industry.
We know that not all t-shirts are created equal, so we sampled a number of best sellers to determine which options are most comparable to the Merz B. Schwanen t-shirt.
To have a proper comparison, we ordered the Classic Loopwheel T-Shirt from Merz B. Schwanen (MBS). Secretly, we also wanted to know if it lives up to the hype.
Made from 5.5-ounce 100% organic cotton and has an amazing feel. It has a ribbon-paneled classic crew neck and triangle inserts under the arms—details that you won’t find in mass-produced tees.
This model is considered a “classic fit,” but keep in mind that European clothing is overall smaller than American options, and the manufacturer recommends U.S. buyers go up one to two sizes. We ordered a large, and it was definitely a more fitted silhouette and closer to a traditional size medium.
So is it worth €65? Perhaps…
Part of the appeal of this vintage loopwheel tee is how luxurious the fabric feels. But this asset can also be a major drawback, at least from the decoration perspective. The fabric has a texture, and this uneven surface has the potential to compromise imprinting.
Thus, even if you want to spend the extra money on this luxe tee, the likelihood of poor imprinting isn’t worth the risk. It’s just not right for branded merch.
We’ve been fans of the Gildan Softstyle® T-Shirt for some time because of how soft it is (hence, the name!) + it’s offered in 56 colors. This gives marketers extreme flexibility when trying to match corporate colors or align the tees with an event color scheme.
When compared to the vintage loopwheel t-shirt, the Softstyle holds its own and delivers a similar look and feel for a fraction of the cost. A lighter weight at 4.5 ounces, it’s made of 100% ring-spun U.S. cotton or a cotton/poly blend (depending on the color).
Additional Softstyle features include a modern classic fit tubular body, non-topstitched rib collar, taped neck and shoulders, double-needle stitched sleeves and hem, and a tearaway label.
If you want to add a tubular t-shirt to your merch lineup, the Gildan Softstyle T-Shirt is tops with us. Get all the details here.
Coming in a very close second, the District® Very Important Tee® (VIT) is another great option to emulate Carmey’s style. Similar to the Gildan Softstyle, it is made from 100% combed ring-spun cotton or a cotton/poly blend (depending on the color). It is slightly lighter, weighing in at 4.3 ounces, and it’s offered in a rainbow of 35 colors.
The VIT has a slightly slimmer body and shorter sleeves, and it features a 1x1 rib knit neck, shoulder-to-shoulder taping and a tear-away label.
To see why the VIT is a VIP, check it out here.
While tubular t-shirts have many benefits, there are also some disadvantages to consider when deciding which style of t-shirt is right for your branded merch.
When t-shirts are imprinted, silk screeners use the side seams to ensure the decoration is properly aligned. With tubular t-shirts, there are no built-in reference points. Thus, decoration placement may not be 100% accurate on every shirt.
Because tubular knitting machines apply pressure to the threads as they are knit together, sometimes this pressure may not be even across all knitting needles. This results in what’s called torquing, a condition in which the fabric becomes twisted. Side seams help the garment hold its structure, and without these seams, torquing can become more prevalent.
With tubular tees, the body of the shirt is straight up and down. This can cause issues with fit, especially for ladies. If the recipients of your shirts are women, side-seamed ladies’ fit tees will better accommodate the shape of women’s bodies.
If you love the look of tubular t-shirts, the best way to avoid the above issues is to choose high-quality t-shirts. It’s understandable why most people want cheap t-shirts; they want to stretch their budgets and/or maximize profits. However, today’s consumers demand a certain level of quality if they are going to keep and use the branded merch they receive.
If your merch doesn’t measure up, then it goes in the trash—and everyone loses. Don’t contribute to the throw-away market. It’s bad for the planet, and it’s bad for your investment. Instead, work with a promotional consultant who can help you use your budget wisely to choose quality goods.
Marlon Brando and James Dean first popularized the classic white tee, and today Jeremy Allen White continues the tradition. White t-shirts, whether emblazoned with a logo or unadorned, never go out of style.
There are so many choices, and our concierge service can help guide you to the right t-shirt that fits your aesthetic needs and budget requirements. Just reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or book an appointment at https://meetings.hubspot.com/corpspec/chat-about-swag to schedule a quick chat to get started.
Ready to get started? Contact us at email@example.com or book an appointment at https://meetings.hubspot.com/corpspec/chat-about-swag to schedule a quick chat.
Photo of Jeremy Allen White courtesy of Hulu’s The Bear