The History of Wool Sweaters: There’s More to the Story Than You May Think

Cable Knit Wool Sweater
Cable Knit Wool Sweater
Photo via orvis.com

The use of wool in textiles dates back as far as 3000 B.C., having been used for garments in some of the earliest civilizations. Naturally insulating, water-repellent, durable, and often anti-microbial, wool has long served as a go-to textile for garments. That history is what makes the wool sweater such a classic style for men. From fishermen in Ireland’s northern villages to shepherds in the highlands of the Middle East, the wool sweater has stood the test of time and should guarantee itself a place in your wardrobe for decades to come.

From a casual cardigan over a V-neck to the classic style of a mock neck quarter-zip or crewneck over a sport shirt, wool sweaters deliver more than just warmth to your everyday outfits—they can build a versatile wardrobe from a few simple layering pieces. When choosing a wool sweater, you’ll have your choice of style (pullover, quarter-zip, cardigan, crewneck, etc.), weave or knit (such as felted or woven, rib, or cable) and fabric. Even in the category of wool sweaters, there are many choices of fabric including lambswool, merino, cashmere, and fabric blends with cotton and silk for lighter weight or added softness.

Cashmere V-Neck Pullover Sweater
Cashmere V-Neck Pullover
Photo via orvis.com

Merino Wool Sweaters

Merino is one of the most versatile wool fibers. The merino sheep dates back to the 12th century, and the use of its wool has grown ever popular as it is often regarded as the softest wool fiber. One square inch of merino fleece produces nearly four times as many wool fibers as other breeds of sheep. Its natural wicking property, and next-to-skin comfort, make merino the favorite fiber for athletes, including runners, cyclists, and skiers. But the same comfort merino provides to athletes gives luxurious comfort to a casual wool sweater or men’s sweater vest. Remember, wool doesn’t make you sweat, your body overheating because of activity or clothing that’s too insulating makes you sweat. So a light merino sweater, which breaths well, isn’t too warm, and naturally wicks perspiration away (leaving you feeling dry) will prevent you from feeling sweaty while wearing wool.

If you’re looking for pure warmth and comfort, look to a 100% merino sweater for that special wardrobe piece. For shoulder seasons and summer, a merino and cotton blend sweater delivers handsome style with less warmth, making for a versatile layering piece, no matter the weather. From backyard summer barbecues to snowy mid-winter walks, a merino wool sweater can give your wardrobe agility in style.

The Benefits of Merino Wool Sweaters:

  • Softer and less itchy than lambswool
  • Warm, even when wet
  • Wicks perspiration away from the skin to keep you dry and comfortable
  • Quick-drying, compared to other fabrics
  • Woven thinner and lighter weight than other wools, allowing for less bunching and more range of motion
  • It’s naturally anti-microbial which prevents it from smelling after repeated wears or wearing while sweating
  • UPF 20+ protection
  • Biodegradable
  • Fire-resistant

Lambswool Sweaters

Like merino, lambswool sweaters deliver natural warmth and softness. Lambswool is defined by the length of its fiber, which should be 50 mm or shorter and comes from the first shearing of the sheep at around seven months of age. Lambswool is a common fiber for cable knit wool sweaters because of its luxuriously soft finish. 

Cashmere Sweaters

Around the world, cashmere is synonymous with luxury. When you really want to dress up a sport shirt or an oxford shirt, a cashmere sweater or sweater vest can go a long way in the style department. A cashmere sweater is one of the few wardrobe items that are truly a pleasure to wear; once you own one, you’ll find yourself continuously shopping for more.

Whatever wool fiber you choose, a wool sweater is a must in any man’s wardrobe. Truly a staple (pun intended) of timeless style, a proper wool sweater will last a lifetime and always deliver a familiar comfort when you wear it.

2 thoughts on “The History of Wool Sweaters: There’s More to the Story Than You May Think”

  1. I would like to know, before I make a purchase, what involvement Orvis has in making sure that the animals whose wool you in producing the wool including lambs wool and cashmere are not harmed in the shearing process. I am sure you are aware of the cruelty inflected on many of the animals during shearing. If not I direct you to the PETA website that has graphic videos of sheep and goats being cut, kicked, dropped, punched and beaten during this process.

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