Wool is a textile fiber obtained from sheep and other animals. Universally adored for its naturally insulating and moisture-repelling properties, wool is the perfect material for an all-weather enduring and cozy sweater. Despite people’s long-lasting and unwavering love for wool, we surprisingly know so little about it – apart from its mere percentage on our sweaters’ labels. Case in point: “how does cashmere differ from Merino wool?” If your answer is “Merino who?”, read this 2 minute crash course on wool. You’ll finally have all the right tools to build the sweater collection of your dreams (!!) … now who’s the G.O.A.T?
Wool facts: In 2018, in the U.S. alone, three million sheep produced a whopping 24 million pounds of wool – averaging seven sweaters per sheep. Not only that, the U.S. was (and still is) home to over 47 breeds of sheep, which means 47 different types of wool (talk about variety!). But to keep things simple, sheep breeds can be classified into one of three wool categories: fine, medium, and long.
Fine sheep wool
- Wool profile: Soft yet dense, fine wool is ideal for the creation of ultra-soft, high-end clothing.
- Breed: The Merino sheep, a premium wool breed, offers a cool, airy and water-repellent textile tailored to its humid homeland: Australia.
- When to wear it: Merino keeps you comfy at all times, but thanks to its thin and light fibers, we recommend you wear it as a thermal under layer while exercising or hiking.
- Product pick: Rewoolution LUD Merino Jersey Sweatshirt, $170
Medium sheep wool
- Wool profile: Short and dense, medium wool is the perfect textile for fuzzy blankets, sweaters, and socks.
- Breed: According to the American Wool Council’s grading system (which classifies breeds based on their fibers’ average diameter in microns), Shetlands fit the bill for this category of wool. These small chunky sheep from Britain’s Shetland Islands mature into voluminous fluff balls. The silky and bulky wool that comes from these sheep comes in several shades including white, brown, grey and black.
- When to wear it: After snagging some furry socks, grab a ‘Fair Isle’ sweater and tweed set from Scotland’s Shetlands. Due to its chunkiness, this particular kind of wool is best worn on cold winter days, over a thin top.
- Product pick: United Colors of Benetton Shetland Crew Neck Sweater, $78
Long sheep wool
- Wool profile: Coarse and wavy, long wool is most commonly used to weave carpets and tapestries.
- Breed: The Border Leicester is the most dominant long-haired breed in England. Its glossy and thick hairs are extremely popular among hand spinners, and knitters, for their ease of manipulation.
- When to wear it: Because it’s coarser than a lot of other wool varieties, you might not necessarily love a full Leicester wool sweater, but the material does make for some warm winter accessories, like hats, gloves, and socks. The colder it gets, the more grateful you’ll feel to have the extra layers of insulating winter gear.
- Product pick: Strathtay Leicester Wool Cap, $100
Now that you finally know a little more about merino wool is and how to wear it, you’re probably feeling ready to shop until you drop! But before you get carried away, let’s spend a little time getting acquainted with some other wool varieties: lambswool, mohair, angora, alpaca and cashmere.
Wool fact: Surprisingly, the most luxurious animal textiles like cashmere and angora, aren’t actually wool. They’re fine, hand-picked hairs from an animal’s undercoat or neck. Wool is formally attributed to sheep hair only (but throughout time, it became mistakenly associated with any and all animals producing fur, wool, and hair.)
- Wool profile: At the young age of 7-months-old, the sheep’s fur is buzzed off for the very first time, producing the famously soft Lambswool. As with most animal hair, the first “shave” produces the softest, finest, and highest-quality strands. It can be used for both carpeting (if fibers are on the thicker side) and clothing (if fibers are thinner and a bit softer).
- Breed: Baby sheep or lamb
- When to wear it: Lambswool’s softness, warmth, and natural breathability make every sweater of its kind a perfect piece for the chilly fall months.
- Product pick: UNIQLO Lambswool Crew Neck Sweater, $40
- Wool profile: Mohair is a frizzy, soft, shiny fiber, with great hold, hugging the body perfectly and cozily when worn as a sweater. Mohair has a strong, resilient fiber, with a smooth surface, unlike its wool counterparts that are scaly and rough.
- Breed: Angora goat (from Asia)
- When to wear it: Due to its fluffy nature, Mohair is often used in animal-friendly items like outerwear vests. It’s also used for the creation of many a fluffy cardigan and sweater that are best sported during transitional seasons when the weather can quickly change from warm to chilly and vice versa.
- Product pick: Acne Studios Dramatic Mohair Sweater, $204
- Wool profile: Alpaca wool (not hair!) is very similar to a traditional sheep’s wool – just warmer and little less itchy. There are two breeds of Alpaca, both used in wool production. Huacaya wool is used for knits, and Suri wool, which is much silkier, is most commonly used for women’s woven garments.
- Breed: Alpaca
- When to wear it: Naturally available in multiple colors, you can up your sock game by getting different colored alpaca wool socks. We recommend knee-highs for even more warmth potential.
- Product pick: COS Wool Alpaca Knitted Sweater, $115
- Wool profile: Angora rabbits produce fine, lightweight, hallow fibers, obtained from their undercoat. Harvesting Angora hair is a costly process, as one rabbit can only produce up to 400 grams of hair each year. Due to both the fibers’ fragility and low yield, Angora is usually found in sweater accents (i.e. collars) or blended with other fibers to make it stronger.
- Breed: Angora rabbits include the English, French, giant, and satin rabbits.
- When to wear it: Angora is one the lightest and warmest fibers known to man. Grab an angora sweater for the winter and consider cold temperatures conquered for good.
- Product pick: ba&sh Barmy Twist-Back Angora Sweater, $256
- Wool profile: You’ve reached the epitome of textile luxury: cashmere. Unlike a sheep’s wool, cashmere is harvested from combing a goat’s undercoat and neck hairs, which is a tedious manual task, to say the least. The average goat yields 4-6 ounces of hair yearly, taking around four goats to make a single cashmere sweater. It comes as no surprise that, due to high demand, scarce resources, and labor intensive production, cashmere is treated a little bit like the gold standard of wool.
- Breed: Cashmere goat (from the region of Kashmir in India and Pakistan)
- When to wear it: Cashmere sweaters are luxuries you can wear at any given time; but we recommend preserving their quality by wearing them occasionally, for important work conferences, dinner dates, opera nights, or any other upscale events that make their way onto your social calendar.
- Product pick: AQUA Cashmere Turtleneck Sweater, $89