After two years of planning and three different bookings, my family and I were super excited to finally go on our very first Disney vacation! Being a planner, I started buying Disney-themed apparel as soon as we set a date, which was three weeks after the U.S. shutdown. A year and a half later, I realized none of the apparel fit anymore. The kids outgrew their clothes, and while I did not get any taller, somehow I encountered the same problem. Wanting to take our Disney experience up a notch, I decided to invest in a Cricut and created personalized matching t-shirts for each day.

Knit shirts are the top-selling apparel category, accounting for $1 out of every $5 spent within this industry. Following today’s casual trend, t-shirts make up over half of knit shirt sales (54%) with a growth of 6%, when compared to pre-pandemic 2019, according to NPD consumer data. The t-shirt trend spans both active and casual tees, as they both play into the versatile lifestyle for wardrobes that was accelerated by the pandemic.  

Time at home, especially early in the pandemic, led me to my new custom shirt hobby, and I was not alone. One out of four adults have ordered or made customized t-shirts, rising to one in three among adult women. Those who personalized their t-shirts most likely ordered a custom design online (45%) from sites like Zazzle or Etsy, or they used tie-dye, cutouts, paint, or other at-home craft techniques (40%). Another 20% said they used style and sizing options offered by retailers that allowed them to customize their colors, fabrics, and/or fits, while 12% used machines, like a Cricut or Silhouette, to personalize their t-shirts, according to NPD’s recent Thought Leadership Survey done in partnership with CivicScience.

Those who ordered custom-designed t-shirts online were likely to be between 25 and 54 years old, with household incomes of $100,000+, while those who used at-home techniques were more likely to be between 18 to 24 years old, or 35 to 54 years old. These age ranges suggest that younger consumers are likely customizing t-shirts for themselves, while older consumers are doing it with or for their families. After all, having a new blank t-shirt on hand allows moms, like me, to be prepared for school theme days, especially when realizing (the night before) that her child needs to wear a peace sign for Mindful Monday.

According to NPD consumer tracking information, children’s apparel with some sort of messaging on it (typically humor) grew 20% in 2020 versus 2019. T-shirts became a form of self-expression for kids, who likely had a lot to say, especially while on Zoom. Customization across all ages, for a category like tees, allows for this expression at an affordable price-point.

Having just returned from our Disney vacation, it was easy to spot other families and individuals who had a similar idea. From “Bride & Groom” shirts to those representing various family reunions – and many iterations in between – it’s clear that the self-expression via t-shirt trend is a popular one currently, and what better way to express yourself than in a place like Disney?