All too frequently, I hear the same question, “Why should I pay $40-50 for a Class A uniform shirt?” and all too often, I always reply “You’re paying to keep the quality”.
Hey, I understand, newer law enforcement officers and security officers (especially those without a uniform allowance) don’t really want to fork out $500 on uniforms, specifically when the risk of damage is rather high (blood, physical contact, et cetera).
A recent debate with a rookie LEO (law enforcement officer) on this very issue caused me to put my money where my mouth is. After some searching on the internet for different options, I purchased a few ‘Class A’ uniform shirts from different manufacturers, two of those was from Image First.
Now, you should be wary of a Class A uniform shirt that only costs $20, but I ignored the little voice that kept screaming at me and pulled the trigger. After all, if you are relying on the boisterous verbage produced by the company; “heavy duty construction” and “100% polyester fabric with soil release”, you may think that it’s worth the purchase.
Out of the two shirts that I had purchased, one of them was completely out of the question. I’m not sure if the quality assurance employee was taking a nap break when this shirt went through the line or not, but I’m sure that Helen Keller could have performed the job better. A missing button on the front of the shirt was the first thing that caught my eye, followed quickly by a feeling that perhaps one of the breast pockets was in a different location than the other. After digging around for my pair of digital calipers and using them to measure points of the shirt, I realized that my eyes were not deceiving me. Comparing the left of the shirt to the right of the shirt, I found discrepancies ranging from around 1/8″ up to almost 1/2″. One half of an inch may not seem like a lot, but the eye almost automatically realizes it and once it does, it’s extremely hard to ignore.
As for the second shirt, initial impression definitely wasn’t as bad as the first. Everything looked to be where it should be and it didn’t look ‘lopsided’; this is the one that I would wear to see if it performed even remotely as well as my Elbeco TexTrop2 shirt.
Now, as a disclaimer, I will say this: I do wear concealable body armor under my shirts and I do use a Quiqlite Mic Keeper ‘TMK’ on the third button from the top to keep my radio mic in place. I mention this for a reason that will become apparent very soon. I also get all of my uniform shirts dry cleaned aside from washing them at home. For me, dry cleaning always seemed to be the best choice of getting the junk out of my uniforms.
After a few hours on shift, on the first day, the button that was securing my mic keeper decided to retire from duty. I’m not sure what the company’s standard is when pertaining to the number of threads per button or what the standard is when pertaining to the type of thread, but it goes without saying that is wasn’t enough. A quick trip to a store during break solved the problem but having to pick up thread, a needle and take the time to re-sew the button was inconvenient. The rest of the shift proved to be uneventful, so that’s a plus.
Fast forward through a few days of wearing the Image First shirt, I began to see wear on the inside of the shirt from the body armor. I also noticed that the term “soil release” is a very loose term that shouldn’t really be applied to these shirts. The fabric started pilling in the areas where the hook and loop (Velcro is a trade name) of my vest are constantly rubbing. The fact that it is pilling is not surprising, but the speed in which it started pilling is. Speaking of hook and loop, the squares on the pocket flaps designed to keep them closed is losing their ‘stick’ relatively fast which leads me to believe that they use the cheap Chinese knockoff of Velcro. A few weeks into standard duty and the stitching on the right pocket started to pull away, the exact area where I keep my spare Zak Tool handcuff key.
Finally, I understand that Tan is not a color that is naturally resistant to discoloring from dirt and grime, but you would hope that your uniform shirt is not a magnet for grunge. Discoloring from sweat is obvious around the collar and at points under the arms. The back sides of the forearm and the elbows are also holding more grunge than I would expect over a ‘short’ amount of time. For the company to use the term “soil release” as a selling point, you really want the shirt to continue to look as good and as uniform as possible. Afterall, a uniform shirt should look good and look professional.
All in all, in my personal opinion, Image First shirts should be reserved to those that sit at a golf course or a ball field and not an officer (law enforcement or security) that constantly moving or needing to make contact with combatants. The shirts are cheap, both in price and in construction; for one of the shirts to be a failure of quality without wearing it, it doesn’t bode well for the reputation of the company. Moreover, the actual cut of the shirt seems to be rather big when compared to some of the other shirts that I’ve worn. Even though the ‘size’ is correct, you still swim in the shirt a bit in areas. Basically, Image First shirts (at least the ones that I have) are 100% soup sandwich. They don’t hold up to wear like other shirts and they stain way too easy.
If my experiences with their shirts ring true, you would probably have to buy three or four of their shirts in order to last as long an Elbeco or Flying Cross.