Planning t-shirts for your reunion?

Reunion t-shirts in summer are ubiquitous 

I see several reunion t-shirts every time I go to the farmers market (what’s that connection?) and always at the grocery store and lots of other places. Franklin Willis reported that at their Willis Connection Reunion in Las Vegas, Nevada, members were stopped and asked about their ancestors. This sparked interest from complete strangers about hosting their own reunions and honoring their ancestors.

T-shirts can be a reunion souvenir, a memento, a billboard and a message.

But t-shirts can also be a nice source of income for your reunion.  You can either decide to take pre-paid orders in advance and only print those ordered and paid for or order personalized shirts in varying sizes and mark them up to contribute financially to the reunion. So, one decision to be made is whether your t-shirts are going to be a souvenir, fundraiser or both.

Whether souvenir or fundraiser, you’ll have to decide, design and produce your t-shirts. If you decide your reunion t-shirts are a fundraiser, you’ll have to market and sell them as well.

One important caution is to order t-shirts early enough to ensure their delivery before the reunion. If you do not have them at the reunion, you’ll incur the additional cost of packing and postage to send shirts to everyone after the reunion. And anyway, you’ll want everyone wearing their t-shirts for the reunion picture!

Personalize your reunion with custom t-shirts 

Design considerations 

It is wise to start with the design you intend to put on the shirt before choosing colors because an exceptional graphic printed on even a simple white t-shirt is desirable. Putting the creativity in the design and how the reunion’s name is incorporated is the ultimate way to achieve maximum pop-appeal.

       Keep it simple. T-shirts should have large type with straightforward designs so that they are easy to read. Keep phrases to just a few words. 

       Logos for all sizes. Keep in mind that a logo for triple-X Uncle Joe’s t-shirt won’t fit on a toddler’s t-shirt. Use a small logo for kiddie shirts. 

T-shirt design suggestions 

T-shirt designs can be the name of the family, class/school or group and the year of the reunion, a motto or special message. T-shirts can be customized with special pictures or colors to go with a theme or location.

Family reunion t-shirts are a great way to remember the event, but they can help keep the event running smoothly as well. If the family reunion is held in a location such as an amusement park where non-reunion attendees will be, family reunion t-shirts help attendees recognize one another and remain together as a group.

You can design your own or most t-shirt printers have many designs to choose from. If there is a reunion member who is eager to demonstrate h/her design chops, this may be just the project. Make sure h/she signs the design!

Cityscape: Skylines make cool shirts because they are easy to print. Use a recognizable landmark such as the Statue of Liberty or the St. Louis Arch. 

Family photos: If you have an old picture of your great-great grandparents, scan it and design your t-shirt around it. Design tip: If Grandpa won’t let you part with a cherished photo, use your digital camera to make a copy. 

Name game: Use the names of all the reunion participants, separated by dots. There’s no need to alphabetize as relatives will have fun searching for their names. Keep a permanent fabric marker handy so that members can mark their names or autograph shirts.

Signature: Bring white or light color t-shirts to your reunion along with fabric markers. Have everyone sign shirts as a reunion activity.

Wear shirts of different colors: to identify family branches or generations

Ordering t-shirts

Order a quality shirt. Use a 6.1-ounce cotton shirt because it’s durable and won’t shrink. 

Use color wisely. Printing costs for t-shirts go up when multiple ink colors are used. To keep costs down, purchase a bright color shirt and limit ink colors to one or two.

Prices of t-shirts depend on the quality of fabric and color of the shirt, number of ink colors used, shipping and sometimes the shirt sizes. In most cases, you will need to give the printer at least three weeks or more to complete the job. When ordering reunion t-shirts, consider ordering a few extra for unexpected attendees and to have extra sizes for exchange.

The front of the Bell-Ransom Family Reunion t-shirt has changed over the years. The back, drawn by family member Tyus Fee, shows the family tree and has remained the same. In the early years of the reunion, Few and his wife, the late Elaine Bell Few, designed and printed the t-shirts. We now order them from a local trophy shop. Family members order t-shirts with their registration and receive the shirts when they arrive at the reunion. The shirts are not a money maker. We give away a shirt as a door prize at the Saturday afternoon reunion dinner. The registration fee and family donations cover reunion costs.  
Thanks to Jacqueline Bell Pyatt

T-shirt roundup

Many years ago, Reunions magazine had a forum online where this discussion occurred. Denise Murphy, Antioch, Tennessee, described how she ordered t-shirts. “I had a California company come up with three designs.  I told him what I would like in the designs. He worked with my thoughts and came up with some great ideas. Then I sent diagrams to family members and had them vote. The t-shirts looked great, were well made and priced low. The two designs that were not used on t-shirts were used for an address book cover and information packet that was passed out at the reunion.”

According to Mary Valmer, t-shirts at the Larling Family Reunion had the Bible verse “You will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:16” along with names of family members in attendance.

Shirley Savage Harris, Hernando, Mississippi, wrote that her grandfather headed the Savage Family Reunion from the 1960s until he died in the 1990s. Harris has now planned 10 more reunions, most recently at Hugh White State Park in Grenada, Mississippi. Everyone brought a plain white t-shirt and as an activity, they spray painted them. It was a great time. 

From eHow: these suggestions for making your own t-shirts

You’ll need: t-shirts, t-shirt transfer paper, iron or heat press, stencil and fabric paint.

Ask a reunion member artist to create a design. Or use clipart. 

Test the design by printing a test page on plain paper. If you like the way the design looks, print it on t-shirt transfer paper following directions provided with the transfer paper. Sometimes a reverse image will need to be printed onto the transfer sheets, especially if the t-shirts are white or light grey.

Check transfer paper directions for the proper heat settings. Transfer the t-shirt design onto the shirt using an iron. Place the finished shirts flat and allow to cool.

Jack Raymond, Varsity Graphics, who was asked for his expert advice about ordering t-shirts, said, “Order at least a month ahead … decide on color of shirts, sizes and what you want on the shirt. It’s typically THE SMITH FAMILY REUNION with the date and place. We’ve put outlines of states where the reunion is to be held with a star marking the exact place on the map. Best is to contact the t-shirt company to discuss ideas.”

T-shirt tips

  • More is better. The more t-shirts you order, the better the price per shirt.
  • Often, family members don’t order a t-shirt, but want one when they see them. So always order extras; you’ll likely sell them.
  • Smaller children’s sizes (smaller then 8) or very large adult sizes may require a second set of screens. So even though there are some really small kids, order the smallest (standard) size you can without incurring extra charges. Considering how fast kids grow, they can wear them longer.
  • Larger t-shirts (XXL and above) cost more than do sizes up to XL.
The Ransom-Sease Family Reunion was held in Niagara Falls, New York. The slogan, printed on the back of the shirt was, “A Strong Family Survives the Falls.” The purple and light blue colors were chosen to honor two key members of the Family Reunion Planning Team who passed away in early 2021. The light blue lettering was to honor our Reunion Committee Treasurer Cynthia Vaughn. The purple was to honor Buddy Glover, who co-edited the family Newsletter for 17 years, was President of the local host committee for six Reunions, served as the National Reunion President for 12 years, and was a strong advocate and mentor for the growth and longevity of the yearly reunion gatherings. Also in his honor many attendees wore black Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars, the only brand Buddy wore most of his life.  
Also, this was the first time, women were given a choice of a round or V-neck shirt. As it turned out, the V-neck shirt was more form fitting and needed to be ordered in a size larger than in the round neck version. 
Thanks to Charlotte Glover.

Booker T Washington High School Class of 1960 Sails on Reunions

We have sailed to many places on our cruises: the Eastern and Western Caribbean, Hawaiian Islands, and Inside and Outside Passages of Alaska. We have sailed on many cruise lines including Princess, Norwegian, Carnival and the most recent reunion on MSC Cruises. 

We’ve had shirts that showed where we traveled on our reunion trips. In addition we’ve used some interesting mottos on the shirts. For example: “Cruising into the New Millennium” and “Striving for Excellence Past, Present and Future.” 

Our shirts are proudly worn at reunions or when we’re requested to by classmate’s families at their funerals.

Shared by Anita W. Crawford, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Tracing the family tree


According to reporter Jeff Daniel in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Karen Mack, University City, Missouri, indulges in gene fashion. “That’s gene as in genealogy,” writes Daniel, “a word that serves as the theoretical fabric of the family reunion t-shirt.”

Daniel continues, “Those who follow and study reunions can’t pinpoint when the tee tradition began, but they make a case that it followed a larger mid-1970s trend: the undershirt’s explosion into full-fledged sloganeering outerwear.

“We all started wearing t-shirts in the ’70s,” says Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions magazine, “I’d say that’s probably when families started creating them for reunions as well.”

Downtown Imprints in St. Louis says family reunion t-shirts translate into brisk business. A sign in the store’s front window proclaims that reunion t-shirts are the shop’s specialty. The rest of the window space is dominated by colorful examples of family reunion t-shirts. Sales manager Nicole Lang estimated in June there were 200 orders for family events, with the number of shirts in each order ranging from 30 to several hundred. The price per shirt usually falls between $4.80 and $5.80.

Many silk-screening and printing businesses allow families to choose from standard designs or submit their own creations.


When the creative spark is handled well, says Ione Vargus, PhD, founder of Temple University’s Family Reunion Institute, the results are often something quite special. Vargus adds that the shirts serve as a way of expressing family pride and a sense of personal identity. “Families can express themselves in so many ways through these shirts,” she says, mentioning designs that take creative twists on the family tree or a state logo. “And the more reunions that take place, the more creative these designs become.” In a way, the decorated clothing works as a kind of folk art.

The reunion t-shirt is more than a cotton swatch and a dab of ink. Quite a bit of planning goes into the process. Who does the design? Will it be kept inside the family? What colors will be used? These become big decisions because the host often has the attitude of “I want to have the best reunion ever.” And that includes a good t-shirt. And a winning shirt often results in a wearable one, a clothing item that manages to make its way out of the stack of old t-shirts in your bottom drawer.

“If I wear a reunion t-shirt,” concludes Karen Mack, who has coordinated family get-togethers for more than 25 years, “it’s almost guaranteed that someone will notice.”

From a story by Jeff Daniel in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri.

Dual duty: use reunion souvenirs and keepsakes to raise money

By Megan Moyer

Outfitting your reunion
T-shirts are a long-time reunion staple. They characterize unity and pride and are not complicated to coordinate. Collect everyone’s size, decide on t-shirt color(s) and design and find an experienced company that provides great service and quality, and fits your budget and timeframe. We contacted two companies that specialize in imprintable reunion clothing, Graystone Graphics and Hollopoint Design. Both have several standard family reunion designs, Graystone also has standard class and military reunion and genealogy designs. Their designs are customizable and both companies can also work with your artwork.

Decisions, decisions
Choosing t-shirt design and color(s) are the toughest decisions. The least expensive t-shirt colors are white, ash gray or natural which also happen to be the best backgrounds for colorful designs.

Listen to the experts as you make these changes. Michael Waite of Hollopoint Design says, “Don’t choose t-shirt and design colors that are too close in value, like royal blue and warm reds. Although they’re different colors, the values are so close that when used together, they tend to blend and detail is lost. Contrast is key, light with dark is best. White is the best canvas for full- and multi-color graphics.”

At reunions of large families, different color t-shirts are often used to identify branches or generations. The Orth Family Reunion is every other year in Farmington, New Mexico, for great-grandma Orth’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They order their reunion t-shirts from Hollopoint. In the past they ordered different color shirts for the families of each of grandma’s six children. But there never seemed to be enough acceptable choices and someone always got stuck with a color they didn’t like. New color choices offered by shirt manufacturers eased that problem. To avoid the hassle altogether, the Orths thought about using one color for everyone.

Hollopoint suggested a different shirt color for each of the four Orth generations. Embroidery threads are easily changed to complement different colors. Grandma got a white sweatshirt (she likes to stay warm), and her children and their spouses (the second generation) got indigo blue t-shirts. Grandchildren and their spouses (third generation) were outfitted in earth-toned green t-shirts and great-grandchildren (fourth generation) chased around in stone-washed navy blue. Babies drooled onto embroidered bibs.

So many to choose from
When it comes to reunion designs, both companies offer several standards, viewable on their web sites. They can be personalized with your family name, logo, reunion date, location or any other information. They can also use your original design. Many families choose photos of ancestors or a family tree.

Another alternative and truly unique keepsake is to print family members’ signatures in a design. Screenprinting signatures is Graystone Graphics specialty and most requested service. Signature Designs give every family member a feeling of involvement and kinship. Graystone offers signature sheets online. Ramona Stites of Graystone suggests, “If collecting signatures prior to your event isn’t possible, a good alternative is to typeset family members names. It still creates a sense of union.”

The details
Collect everyone’s sizes and keep track of them so there is no confusion when it’s distribution time. Michael Waite of Hollopoint suggests, “You will invariably need to guess a size for one or more members, so guess big. T-shirts are typically worn oversize, they’re a casual-comfort garment, so loose is best. Going a size bigger is also common for outfitting growing kids.”

Prices can range from $6.50 to $13.00 for t-shirts, $10.00 to $20.00 for sweatshirts. Ask about set-up fees and minimum order quantity. Then determine what you will charge members to raise reunion funds.

Turnaround time for an order on average is two to three weeks. Check with the company to ensure the color(s) you choose are available and ask for the company’s requirements if you are customizing a design or providing original artwork.

Hollopoint Design and Graystone Graphics both offer other imprintable alternatives — tote and duffel bags, aprons, hats, golf shirts and long-sleeve t-shirts.