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Nearly 80% of Americans in all demographic groups say they feel a sense of attachment to at least one of their old t-shirts, and that shirt is most likely to be one that was acquired on vacation, according to research from BlueCotton and conducted by Synovate.

The nationwide study, which was undertaken to learn the fate of all the t-shirts created for sports leagues, fraternity parties, church camps, fundraising events and innumerable other groups and activities, found that 79% of survey respondents still have an old shirt, and that the average number of shirts per person is 2.5.

Shirts picked up on vacation are respondents’ most favorite, cited by nearly half (48%) of those surveyed. The research also found that shirts from a business employer, a concert, a favorite pro or college sports team and a charity run/walk also are popular.

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The most likely age group to hang on to old t-shirts are those between ages 18 and 24, of whom just 7% (compared with 21% of the overall population) say they haven’t kept a shirt, the survey found. More than two-thirds (70%) of respondents age 65+ also still hold onto a favorite tee.

Younger respondents are also far more likely than their older counterparts to keep a shirt from a concert (46.5% of 18-24-year-olds vs. 27% of the overall population) and to have a shirt from an election or political party (10% vs. 6% of the overall population).

Additional findings about demographics and specific types of t-shirts:

  • People are more likely to keep shirts they acquired as a sports spectator than as a sports participant. From the total sample, 27% keep a shirt from their favorite pro or college sports team, while just 17% have a shirt from a team they were on.
  • Men are more likely than women to have a shirt from a pro or college sports team (30% vs. 24%). But the genders differed by only 3.5% when it came to having a shirt from a sports them they were on (19% of men and 15.5% of women).
  • The second most popular shirts overall were from businesses or employers, held by 30% of all respondents. Business shirts are preferred by those in the highest income bracket (35% vs. 27% at all other income levels), by those in the South (35%, compared with 24%, 26% and 30% for the Northeast, Midwest and West, respectively), and by whites (31% vs. 23.5% of non-white respondents).
  • Those who have done post-graduate work are most likely to have shirts from their alma mater. These types of shirts were their second choice by only 3 percentage points (43% vs. 46% for vacation shirts). Post grads are the only demographic group to seriously challenge the vacation shirt preference and also are twice as likely as those with a bachelor’s degree to have a shirt from a fraternity/sorority.
  • Concert shirts are most popular with the younger set: The youngest three age groups beat the average (46.5% of those 18-24, 30.5 of those 25-34, and 34 percent of those 35-44, compared with 27%of the overall population).
  • Shirts from a church event were most popular among women (15% vs. 8% of men), respondents from the South (16% vs. 7% of those from the Northeast), and non-whites (17% vs. 11% percent of whites).

“A glimpse into someone’s t-shirt drawer is like a stroll through his or her past,” said Mike Coffey, CEO of BlueCotton. “A Little League championship, a first concert, a family vacation, a cherished alma mater, your own business – every person’s list is like a snapshot of their personality. And if someone hasn’t kept any old shirts, that can be telling, too.”

About the survey: The BlueCotton T-shirt survey was conducted using respondents from Synovate’s eNation online Consumer Opinion Panel. The research was conducted in early February 2009 among 1,000 US adults ages 18+. The sample was balanced to represent the general population based upon region, gender, age, and household income data from the US Census Bureau. Respondents received a customized e-mail inviting them to participate.

BlueCotton invites anyone to share their own lists of favorite old t-shirts they still own. Visit Facebook and add a list to the discussion titled My Favorite Shirts, or add a photo under “fan photos.”

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