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Choosing The Right T-shirt Size Breakdown for a Bulk Merch Order

Imri Merritt

January 26, 2021

“What shirt sizes should I get?”

This is a question every customer has to ask themselves when placing a bulk order. Whether you’re buying inventory of your branded merch or company logo shirts, planning a promotional giveaway or organizing a large event,  you can find yourself at a loss trying to decide on sizes.

I’m here to help you answer this question. In this short post, I’m going to break down the typical size spreads that are purchased, and give you an informed recommendation about what your size spread should be.

Avoid Guesswork

When it’s time to place an order with an array of different sized T-shirts, sometimes our customers will make wild guesses or crude judgments like:

“Let’s just do 50 of each.”

The first problem with this type of guesstimate is that you end up with extra inventory. Inventory has always been the Achilles heel of the T-shirt business. Extra inventory cuts directly into margins and takes up space in the basement.

The second problem is you could run out of the sizes you need. Uncle Bill could be stuck having to wear a medium when he really needed an extra large.


Calm down, Uncle Bill. You look fine in an extra medium.


Or, if you’re selling merch, some of your fans could leave empty-handed because you don’t have their size. A typical situation is someone buys lots of mediums, larges, and extra larges, and forgets about the little ladies who want a small, or the big guys who need a 2XL.

In these two scenarios, it’s the worst of both worlds. You don’t have the sizes people need, and you have leftover inventory that nobody wanted.

Speaking of unwanted inventory, when you have clothing to donate, we recommend using GreenDrop. Super easy to use, and you can schedule a pickup in your area. For even more tips on what to do with old t-shirts, check out our full list of ideas. 

Back to the question at hand: what should your T-shirt size breakdown be?

Looking at the Numbers: What Are the Most Common Shirt Sizes Sold?

Below is a graphic showing the average distribution of sizes purchased, based on data collected from around the world. The numbers on the left side of the chart are percentages. The U.S. is the purple line. What do you notice about it?

Normally this is called a bell curve. I call it a belly curve. Source: Dizzyjam


As you can see, the United States leads the world in XXL. Go USA! We’re number one! Not sure how Germany is beating us in the XL category. We need to work on that. Another round of beer, please!


That should do it.


Speaking of bars, below is a bar chart I whipped up that rounds out the averages. And the thing to keep in mind here is that these are the numbers for average sizes typically purchased:


You’ll notice that the majority are medium and large. This could be partially due to the fact that, believe it or not, some people who buy in bulk will place their entire order for a single size (medium or large). To say this is a big mistake would be an understatement.

I would call it an extra large mistake.

Now let’s look at what we recommend here at RushOrderTees. I spoke about this topic in-depth with our sales managers and we came up with a more accurate breakdown. Our recommendation is to move the curve of the spread towards the larger sizes:



The majority is still large. After all, that is the average size. But the key difference here is that there are more extra larges and less mediums.

“A shirt that is too small stays in the box, while a shirt that is too big can still be worn.” – Mike Callahan, sales manager

Other Considerations Before You Order

One additional thing to consider is shrinkage. If your shirts are all 100% cotton, you may want to skew a little farther towards the larger end. If your shirts are 50/50 poly cotton you don’t have to worry as much, and if your shirts are 100% polyester, you don’t have to worry about shrinkage at all.

Another thing to consider is that many of today’s “fashion fit” styles run slightly smaller than their standard counterparts. On certain styles from American Apparel, Anvil, Next Level, and District, for example, the cut may be tapered for a slimmer fit.

This “fashion fit” may be enough to make someone who is used to fitting in a certain size wonder why it seems so tight. (Remember, Uncle Bill takes his shirt size very seriously.) Check with your sales rep if you are unsure about the cut of the particular shirt you are ordering.

Finally, think about your market or demographic. Is it a BBQ festival? You might want to skew a bit larger. Is it a yoga retreat? Maybe skew smaller. Is it band merch for people in their 20’s? Go with the fashion fit.

Take all these things into consideration and you will make your customers, employees, family, or fans very happy.


Ok maybe not this happy, but still.

The Ratio for Calculating T-Shirt Sizes in Your Order

A quick and easy way to remember the formula as represented in the chart above goes like this, based on a total of 10:

S – M – L – XL – 2XL =  1 – 2 – 3 – 3 – 1

So you just divide this out by the number of shirts you are ordering. For example, if you are getting 1,000 shirts, the breakdown would be:

100 (S) – 200 (M) – 300 (L) – 300 (XL) – 100 (2XL) = 1,000 shirts

You may want to add to the far ends of the spectrum, with some XS, and some 3XL, which are not accounted for in this formula but would typically be even less of a percentage than the S and 2XL sizes.

That’s it, hope this information is valuable to you!


Imri Merritt

About the Author

A graduate of the Multimedia program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Imri Merritt is an industry veteran with over 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry.