T-Shirt Test: Old Navy vs. Target vs. Walmart vs. JC Penney vs. Gap

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The basic T-shirt is as much a wardrobe essential as a good pair of jeans. Whether dressed up with work clothes or dressed down for yard work, a go-to tee should be comfy and well-fitting, as well as durable and affordable. To help consumers find the best inexpensive T-shirts, Cheapism.com picked up men's and boys' shirts from five popular stores for comparison. Each tee went through six washes on the heavy-duty setting and six normal dry cycles, a test designed to simulate wear and tear. Before and after washing, Cheapism evaluated the feel and color of the fabric, the strength of the stitching, and the fit on a model, among other attributes. Feedback from online reviews also factored into the final ranking.

RETAILER
BRAND
REGULAR
SALE PRICE
MATERIA
SHRINKAGE
Collar to HemShoulder to Hem
GapGap for men$16.50100 percent cotton1"1"
Gap for boys$1560/40 cotton/polyesterNone0.25"
JC PenneyArizona for men$12 / $6100 percent cotton2"1.75"
Arizona for boys$14 / $360/40 cotton/polyesterNone0.25"
Old NavyOld Navy for men$1060/40 cotton/polyester0.5"1.75"
Old Navy for boys$8 / $550/50 cotton/polyesterNoneNone
TargetMerona for men$13100 percent cotton0.25"0.5"
Circo for boys$6 / $5100 percent cotton1.5"1"
WalmartFruit of the Loom for men$4.50 / $3.50100 percent cotton1.5"1.25"
Fruit of the Loom for boys$3.50100 percent cotton0.75"1"

1. Old Navy.

The men's crew-neck tee retails for about $10 and the boys' jersey ringer tee for about $8, and shoppers can snag them for less during frequent sales. The fabric is soft, with a nice weight, although some online reviewers say they would have preferred thicker material. The men's T-shirt, a 60/40 cotton/polyester blend, shrank 1.75 inches from shoulder seam to hem, but its ample length fit a 6-foot-1 model even after multiple washes. This shirt is best suited for those seeking a body-hugging fit or a layering piece for fall. The boys' T-shirt, a 50/50 blend, runs on the big side and didn't shrink at all. Overall the Old Navy shirts held up well when subjected to the laundry test, fit nicely, and quickly became the favorites of the testers. Hundreds of reviews on the Old Navy website also lean toward the five-star end of the spectrum.

2. Fruit of the Loom, Walmart.

These 100 percent cotton tees immediately stood out for two reasons: low price and heavy-duty fabrication. The men's version generally retails for less than $5 and the boys' version for less than $4. The material is thick and, judging by online reviews and Cheapism's testing, impressively durable. The men's tee shrank about 1.25 inches and the boys' tee about 1 inch from shoulder to hem, but their generous size still offered wiggle room and an easy fit post-wash. They come in a wide range of color options, and Walmart customers give the tees plenty of love on the retailer's website. Out of more than 100 reviews, more than 90 percent recommend the men's shirt.

3. Gap.

Although the Gap isn't as cheap as its sibling brand Old Navy, there is no denying the popularity of Gap tees. They were included side by side with the less expensive offerings to see if the higher price was justified. The men's shirt, made from 100 percent cotton, cost just under $17, and the boys' tee, a cotton/poly blend, was about $15 at full price. Both fabrics were soft to the touch and obviously a higher grade than the material of the cheaper shirts in the test. The fit was relaxed but skimmed the body nicely. The material held up well in the wash, with no visible fraying or pilling. On the downside, the necklines stretched out visibly, especially on the men's version.

4. Merona and Circo, Target.

These Target-brand tees -- Merona for men and Circo for boys -- go for about $13 and $6, respectively. Perhaps their biggest selling point is the optimal weight of the fabric. Both the men's shirt, a 100 percent cotton tee, and the boys' shirt, a cotton/poly blend, were thinner than Fruit of the Loom tees from Walmart yet thicker than the other tees in the test. The sleeve fit also hit a sweet spot. Although these T-shirts fit nicely and earned the testers' approval initially, they didn't hold up as well as others. After repeated wash cycles, the fabric fuzzed, pilled, and faded slightly but noticeably. The crew neck of the boys' shirt also stretched out quite a bit.

5. Arizona Jean Co., JC Penney.

The Arizona Jean Co. men's slub-knit tee, $12 at JC Penney (but half the cost on sale), was the biggest disappointment of all the shirts in the comparison. Slub-knit cotton may be trendy, but the material of this T-shirt has an odd texture that contrasted with the smooth, soft feel of most of the other shirts. This tee shrank inconsistently in the wash, pulling tightly in the chest and sleeves while stretching and bagging unattractively in the neck and shoulders. The boys' version performed better but didn't offer anything special. Normally $14, it was on sale for about $3. The fabric was a little on the thin side, and the fit was slightly skimpier than the others. Combined, these tees were underwhelming and left the testers scrambling to change into something more comfortable.