The Three Tiers of Sweatshirts: Entry, Mid, and End Level
The sweatshirt is the king of sportswear. Virtually unchanged in over 100 years, the blueprint set out by college football player Benjamin Russel Jr. in 1920 has become a cornerstone of American style and an undisputed mainstay of the modern wardrobe. But behind the fundamentality of the sweatshirt are hundreds of brands offering their take on the cotton classic, spanning from humble high-street numbers to the not-so-humble Japanese loopwheeled behemoths.
We’ve covered the different levels of raw denim jeans, leather jackets, and welted boots, so we’ve put together this buyers’ guide on the different grades of sweatshirt makers on the market today. Just like before, we’ve broken this guide down into three tiers that will help you to understand where your money is going when choosing your next sweatshirt.
This is not to say that the more expensive options are necessarily better, just that they have certain details that are more specific and often time-intensive to manufacture. Whether that’s worth the money is entirely up to you!
Entry Level (Sub $70)
Entry level sweatshirts cover anything sub $70 that you can find on the high-street or in your local mall. Sweatshirts of this caliber will typically be mass-produced using a fleece-back cotton or loopback jersey. They will typically feature basic construction with overlocked seams and minimal stitch count. Sweatshirts of this level may lack in artisanal quality or heritage kudos, but they still get the job done. Many unique vintage sweatshirts you can find in thrift or vintage stores will be of this ilk, and collegiate sweatshirts are usually printed onto cheap wholesale sweatshirts from a brand like Gildan or Jerzees.
Notable brands of this tier include:
Mid Level Sweatshirts ($70-$150)
At the middle tier, sweatshirts get a bit more niche and will typically demand a cost of around $70 to $150, depending on the brand. Sweatshirts of this caliber will be made from a more substantial fabric that has been specially selected by the brand. For example, National Athletic Goods uses a lightweight loopback cotton fleece milled in Japan, and Sunspel uses their own ‘Q40 Loopback’ fabric knitted from superfine cotton yarns.
Despite its humble price-point, we have included Champion Reverse Weave sweatshirts in this tier. Champion patented their Reverse Weave fabric in 1938 (though not finalized until 1952) and revolutionized the athletic goods industry. Sports coaches at the time were looking for a fabric for sports kit that wouldn’t shrink or deteriorate when laundered heavily in large quantities. Champion’s answer was Reverse Weave, a horizontal knitting technique which not only minimized shrinkage but made athletic garments more durable. To this day, Reverse Weave cotton fleece makes for a solid sweatshirt that will sit comfortably next to its more expensive counterparts.
In terms of build-quality, mid-tier sweatshirts are more likely to be made in a first world country using more laborious construction techniques such as flat-locked seams and tubular knitting. Flat-locked seams are more durable than overlocked seams and provide a higher level of comfort as they leave no layers of seam on the underside of the fabric. Tubular knitting is a much slower construction technique that leaves a sweater with no side seams for optimum fit and durability.
Notable makers of mid-level sweatshirts include:
End Level Sweatshirts ($150+)
This is where sweats get serious. End level sweatshirts will likely be made from loopwheeled fleece or super-heavyweight cotton fleece, complete with the aforementioned premium construction techniques. Loopwheeled cotton is only made in a handful of factories in the world, producing an extremely low tension knit that wears well and, naturally, is more expensive.
Sweatshirts of this tier will start from around $150 and reach prices over $300, but you will notice a considerable difference. It’s hard to beat the feel and durability of truly well-engineered sweatshirt that will age gracefully. Some brands like Studio d’Artisan apply unique dyeing techniques to their loopwheeled sweatshirts such as rich indigo dye and Dorozome mud-dye, both of which have the potential for untold patina.
Notable makers of end-level sweatshirts include: