Why you should be dressed head to toe in merino
By Aidan Mouellic, Staff Writer
When most people think of wool, they think of the itchy and heavy fabric that their childhood Christmas sweaters were made of. Traditional wool is heavy and itchy, but there is another way and it’s called merino.
Merino wool is derived from the merino breed of sheep. Merino sheep are bred for their wool because their woolen coats feature softer, finer strands as opposed to the coarse and thick fibres of traditional sheep breeds. The fineness of merino wool allows it to be worn next to the skin without causing any itchiness. But that’s only one small benefit of my new favourite fabric.
Part of what makes merino wool one of the greatest clothing materials available on the market today is the lack of compromise needed: with many fabrics, we have to make performance trade-offs. With cotton we get a soft fabric that is cheaply available in many styles, but it can get stinky and wrinkly pretty fast. Polyester, derived from petroleum, can be made into a material that wicks moisture well and is lightweight, but polyester fabrics aren’t breathable so they attract bacteria and develop odour quickly.
Merino wool has none of these problems. Garments made from this fabric wick moisture, are lightweight, strong, wrinkle-resistant, and best of all, the lanolin makes it anti-bacterial, which helps prevent odour build-up. Unlike cotton, when wool is wet it still provides warmth and insulation to the wearer.
However, the miracle fabric is not without its downsides, the largest one being its cost, as the price of raw merino is on the rise. Also, the majority of merino fabrics are best suited to a casual garment. Tight merino weaves (think cotton dress shirts and other business-casual attire) are rare.
Wool shouldn’t just be relegated to winter-wear and knitted crafts; it can also replace your favourite articles of clothing, such as T-shirts. I took a trip down to Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) in Vancouver to see what merino really had to offer. I purchased both a short sleeve and a long sleeve T-shirt made of 100 per cent New Zealand merino wool and sewn in Canada. The price tag was hard to swallow at first—I paid about $60 per item.
The cost was worth it. The short sleeve T-shirt looks no different than the typical cotton version, but I was able to wear it several times in the hot summer weather without washing it. It was comfortable on sweaty days thanks to its moisture-wicking qualities. Some merino clothing manufacturers have even done tests on their garments, wearing them for as long as possible without washing—Wool & Prince’s shirt was worn for over 100 days with no ill effect from sweat, which makes the wool an especially good material for socks.
This material is as low-tech as it gets (it comes off of the back of an animal), but it outperforms anything a human has created in a lab so far. Do yourself a favour and deck yourself head to toe in merino. It’s an expensive investment, but one worth making. The benefits of this miracle fabric are too good to pass up.