Wool is one of the most versatile fabrics around.
Available in different weights, weaves, textures and from different breeds of sheep, the wool in our clothing can be found in both dress and casual forms.
A key thing to know about wool is that you can seek out different types for different desired properties. For example, you might use different wool blends for warmth and to stay cool.
Here’s what you should know about wool in men’s clothing:
Benefits of wool
Wool has many useful properties that produce excellent benefits for clothing. Here are just a few:
- Wool is very breathable. The breathable qualities of wool make it a great choice for outerwear and base layers in all types of weather. The crimped wool fibers help to create insulating air spaces that retain heat in cold conditions. At the same time, if temperatures warm up the breathability helps to keep people cool.
- Wool wicks moisture. This is especially important in weather where you need to stay warm. For example, cotton will absorb moisture and tend to stay wet, making you feel cold, but as wool wicks the moisture away from the body, it allows perspiration to evaporate more quickly, keeping you warmer.
- Wool is water-resistant. Wool fibers are hollow and have a flexible, water repellent exterior. It can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water vapor without becoming damp. You don’t want to stand in a downpour, but it will protect you in mildly damp conditions.
- Wool is durable. It is naturally resistant to wrinkling and static and can be a hardy choice of fabric. Wool retains its shape when stretched and will not melt if exposed to harsh heat. It also has much less tendency to retain any odor than fabrics such as cotton or polyester.
Grades of wool
The first thing to know is that there are different grades of wool used for different types of clothing. A luxury suit, for example, will be made from fine-quality wool, with a finish that is softer to the touch. Medium-quality wool may be used for garments such as heavier sport coats or sweaters – it won’t be as smooth to touch. Course-quality wool may be used for boot liners, top coats or heavy blankets.
Wool is selected not just in terms of course-to-fine quality, but in grades as well. Virgin wool (or lambswool) is taken from the young sheep at its first shearing, at around seven months old. This type of wool is very soft, smooth and elastic. It spins easily and has a silky quality that is comfortable against the skin. Lambswool is hypoallergenic and resistant to dust mites, making it a good choice for fabrics used in bedding. (Note: sometimes unprocessed wool from an adult sheep is referred to as “virgin wool” too).
Super wool classifications
There are different classifications of “super wool” depending on the micron count of the fabric. More fibers per square inch mean a higher micron count and a finer, softer cloth. Super wool classifications go from Super 80s to Super 250s. The higher the number, the finer the wool – but higher can also mean less durable.
Shearling is sheepskin or lambskin that has been tanned with the wool still on the hide. It is warm and soft and a popular choice for sheepskin boots, among other garments.
You can see an example from our women’s collection below – the Gimo’s Pony Hair Shearling coat:
Worsted wool refers to a technique that has been used in Worstead, England since the eighteenth century. It involves spinning the fibers into a very compact, smoothly twisted yarn. The wool goes through a second combing process to remove any unwanted short fibers.
This process leaves long-staple fibers that are ideal for suiting and dress trousers. The fibers lay flat and resist wrinkling or creasing.
Tropical weight wool
Tropical weight wool is a light version of worsted wool, ideal for warmer weather clothing. It is two-ply, lightweight and breathable.
An example from our own collection is the Canali tropical wool trouser. These are an ideal weight for warmer weather, are very breathable and resistant to wrinkling. The wool construction also makes these a durable trouser, more so than cotton-based dress trousers.
This is created by putting sheep’s wool through a washing process that turns it into a dense, water-resistant fabric. The texture of the fabric is similar to felt and it has good shape retention, like a woven fabric. You’ll find boiled wool used to make slippers, hats, scarves and other outerwear.
Types of wool
You will find different types of wool used in clothing, whether from different breeds of sheep or different animals altogether. Here are a few common examples:
- Merino wool – This comes from the Merino sheep, usually found in New Zealand or Australia. Merino wool is known for its shine, softness, breathability and excellent warmth to weight ratio. Merino fibers are very fine and smooth to wear. You’ll find merino used in a range of clothing, from underwear to luxury suits.
Merino is measured in microns in terms of fineness too. The smaller the number, the softer and more expensive the wool. Regular merino is around 23 microns, while fine is at 18 microns. You can then get super-fine at 16 microns and ultra-fine at less than 15.5 microns.
- Shetland wool – This is produced in the Shetland Islands off the northern coast of Scotland and is known for its warmth and softness. It tends to be used for high-end knitwear and sport coats.
- Melton wool – This is thick and smooth, producing very solid cloth due to the finishing processes used. Melton wool is known for being wind and water-resistant and is a popular choice for heavy outerwear, although thinner weights may be used for sweaters or socks. Some outerwear may be treated to be extra water-repellant.
- Mohair wool – This comes from the Angora goat (not to be confused with “Angora wool” which comes from a rabbit). Mohair is known for being silky, strong, breathable and lightweight. It is often used in high-quality suiting.
- Alpaca wool – This is soft and durable, known for warm, silky and lightweight garments. You may find alpaca wool used for luxury suiting, too.
- Cashmere wool – This luxury wool comes from the Kashmir goat and is known for its very soft fiber. Clothing is warm and lightweight, although less durable than sheep’s wool. The wool naturally adjusts to humidity, making it adaptable for different climates.
An example from our collection is shown below; the Patrick Assaraf 100% Cashmere sweater:
Our wool tips
We love wool as a mid-layer for warmth, comfort and freedom of movement. A cashmere or merino sweater can be a fashionable complement to wool flannel or wool twill trousers and a wool sport coat.
You’ll often find wool blended with other fibers (sometimes to create a cheaper version of a sweater, for example). However, nothing is as durable, warm and comfortable on a cold day as a pure wool trouser, sweater or jacket. By investing in the higher quality wool garments, you’ll usually find that your clothing lasts longer and works out to be a better value than a cheaper blend.
Lastly, take care of your wool garments by following the instructions provided by the maker! Not all wool is “handwash only” these days, but you still have to be careful about water temperature and drying instructions. You can expect that if you buy good quality wool and care for it according to the label, it should last you a long time to come.