Wool is a classic. A peek into any closet, from your stoic father to your workout buddy, will reveal at least one wool garment. Those that look for quality, not trends, are the die-hard fans of wool.
However, when Merino wool popped up in the early 12th century, wool transitioned from being a garment of necessity to a garment of comfort. Actually, it’s still a little bit of both.
Read on as we discuss everything about merino wool and why this fabric is truly in a class of its own.
Wool first appears in human history in Asia, around 10,000 BC. Wool served as both clothing and shelter. The ability to move with herdable livestock like sheep meant that nomadic groups could thrive. This led to civilizations expanding without needing to settle in one area permanently. This was a stark contrast from those who harvested plant-based natural fibers.
Over the next several thousand years, wool use spread to other cultures, and selective breeding helped to diversify and improve the quality of wool available. The Romans helped to spread wool production across Europe and northern Africa. By 50 BC, the first formal wool plantations cropped up in the British Isles.
Wool comes from the shorn coat of sheep and similar livestock such as goats, alpacas, and camels. The quality and type of wool depends on both the breed of sheep and the climate where they live. A sheep’s coat serves two purposes: The outer layer is used to protect against the elements, and the inner layer is used for regulating body temperature.
While each type of wool is unique in feel, appearance, and quality, there are some traits shared by all types of wool. Generally speaking, wool products are hydrophobic, meaning that they repel water and can absorb an incredible amount of moisture before feeling wet (compared with cotton and other natural fibers).
The way wool absorbs water also makes it self-cleaning. Wool fibers, when linked, swell to different extents under exposure to moisture, keeping them in motion and repelling dirt particles. This physical structure, combined with the chemical structure of wool, also creates a high degree of resistance to chemicals of any variety. This leads to increased durability in the material, as well as odor resistance.
Depending on the thickness, resilience, and other properties of a specific type of wool, it may be used for clothing, furniture, or rugs. Wool fibers are measured in microns. Generally, smaller microns mean a finer wool, whereas thick fibers are more likely to be coarse and cause itching if made into garments. As far as safety features go, wool is also flame retardant, as it requires an immensely powerful flame source to ignite the material.
Though this feature is more aesthetic than practical, wool takes dye very well. This makes it easy to find wool products in a variety of vibrant colors. Despite taking on dye easily, wool is highly stain resistant, although each type of stain requires its own particular treatment method to avoid setting.
Another feature of wool is lanolin, also known as “wool yolk” or “wool wax.” It is produced by the sebaceous glands of the sheep in order to prevent water from getting onto the skin. While lanolin is usually removed from wool during the production process, it is sometimes extracted from wool on its own for medicine and cosmetics.
Types of Wool
There are as many different types of wool as there are animals that produce wool, of which Merino stands out as an especially excellent offering.
Other types of wool include:
Cashmere is highly fine wool whose quality is offset by an exorbitant price caused by the low yield of the material.
Mohair is frizzy wool that has a high micron count and strong fibers. This makes it potentially uncomfortable when worn on the skin but is effective for hard-wearing outer layers.
Camel hair makes for an excellent insulator. However, it has lower resilience than other products, which makes it better for seasonal items such as coats rather than year-long clothing items.
Origins of Merino Wool
Merino wool comes from the sheep of the same breed, which originally hails from Spain. For centuries, Merino sheep were heavily guarded, with attempted exportation being punishable by death. In 1786 King Louis XVI imported 386 Merino sheep to France for the purpose of crossbreeding. After this point, the wool exclusive to the ruling class became more widely available. Though the sheep originated from Spain, around 80% of Merino wool today is produced in Australia.
Merino Wool Properties
Merino was considered fit only for the highest-ranking people of society. Merino wool clothing today maintains the same quality but is widely accessible.
The specific nature of Merino wool makes it ideal in any layer of clothing. Merino maintains the same moisture-wicking, odor, and chemical resistant nature of other wool products. A low micron count makes it one of the softest and finest wools available. It is ideal for direct contact on skin: for athletic gear, luxury apparel, and the clothing that mixes the two.
Merino wool also offers an essential feature: Thermoregulation. Merino wool is made from the inner hair of sheep and will help keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
This unique property comes from the way these wool fibers are formed: Small air pockets throughout the material which are created through the assembly process assist in cooling, while tightly packed fibers ensure that warmth is sustained as needed.
Merino Vs Other Fabrics
There we have it: Merino is a highly gorgeous, highly comfortable, high-performance wool. It’s just one of many fabrics used by Olivers, but it still manages to have a powerful pedigree even among those hand-selected designs. The question remains, then: how does it match up to other fabrics?
When it comes to moisture, Merino has a far higher saturation point than cotton but may be less hydrophobic than some synthetic materials. It still has overall chemical resistances, which rival many other materials and odor-resistance to help keep it fresh for longer than its natural and synthetic competitors.
Though Merino wool is high-quality, that quality can come at a cost: Merino tends to be costly, though not prohibitively so, compared to synthetic materials. The chemical processing of synthetic materials makes them cheaper to produce in large quantities, though they are not always sustainable to produce. Wool, however, is a highly biodegradable material that is sustainable and, should the sheep be treated properly during the shearing process, cruelty-free as well.
We mentioned wool as a flame retardant material. It has a higher ignition temperature than many natural materials but a similar or lesser burn point compared to synthetic materials. The advantage here is that many synthetic materials don’t exactly “burn,” they melt. Whereas wool will have a hole burned at extreme exposure, synthetic materials will melt onto the body and potentially cause powerful burns.
We can’t exactly talk about how great Merino wool is for clothing without showing an example of the gear in action. Olivers offers a Merino Active Jersey fabric woven in four different styles and a wide variety of colors. An exceptionally fine 18.5 Micron Merino goes into the production of the fabric, offering supreme comfort, while the crimp of the fabric offers high-performance through thermoregulation in any context.
The Convoy Tee and Convoy Long Sleeve Tee make for a luxurious upgrade to your basic tee shirt. For a look that mixes the appeal of athletic and casual wear, consider the Convoy Short Sleeve Henly and the Convoy Long Sleeve Henly.
All four offerings include odor-resistant, anti-microbial properties, as well as moisture-wicking design features. Taken with the thermoregulation that Merino uniquely provides, you’ll be able to wear wool in any season to maximize your exercise routine and day-to-day style.
For top to bottom quality, Olivers makes Merino Crew Socks in a blend featuring small quantities of elastic, nylon, and lycra material to employ comfort, function, and stretch in an all-purpose sock.
Merino in the Final Analysis
Merino wool offers essential qualities which other wools fail to meet, natural fibers fail to match, and synthetic fibers fail to replicate. No wonder, then, that those who historically lacked it wanted it, and those who had it wanted to protect it and keep it exclusive.
Now we’re in the 21st century: sustainability and accessibility are both key factors in helping anyone perfect their self-expression and bring luxury to functionality. Whether it’s keeping you cool in the heat of summer or keeping you warm through a harsh winter, Merino wool is a truly one-of-a-kind material for those who seek the best.