History of Comfort: Unpack Those Wool Sweaters, Fall is Here

“I bought this sweater for our December trip through Paris, Alsace, and Frankfurt. Layered over a shirt and under a wool duffle coat, it was a perfect fit. I’m tempted to buy two more so I never run out of them. I fully plan on wearing mine out.” – TonyZ

As summer turns to fall, most of us will be packing away our lightweight clothes and unpacking our wool sweaters and corduroys. And if you’re like me, that transition brings with it a wealth of joy. Although I’m saddened to give up the easy wading of summer, I’m excited for the sound of dried grasses crunching beneath my boots as I eye the surroundings for a flushed pheasant, enjoying the outdoors or even a cold, rainy Saturday inside. Being wrapped in fall clothing is a feeling that seems too fleeting, before winter’s biting chill sets in. And one of my favorite pieces of clothing to bring out for fall (and winter) is certainly the wool sweater – in all of its varieties.

I can’t be the first guy to find joy in the comfort of natural fibers that will keep you warm even when wet, so I decided to read up on some wool-sweater history.

Sure, we can all picture 19th century Americans and Brits, cozying up to a fire with a packed pipe and their one good sweater (or jumper), but the wool sweater dates much further back than that. In fact, Discover News reported last year that a 1,700-year-old wool sweater had been discovered in a glacier in Norway. No, the classic Nordic weave had not yet been developed. Scientists found the tunic on the Lendbreen at 6,560 feet and estimate that the wool sweater was made between 230 and 390 A.D., according to radiocarbon dating.

“It is a very rare item. Complete garments from early first millennium A.D. Europe can be counted on the fingers of one hand,” Bender Jørgensen told Discovery News.

That’s right, the wool sweater has joined the few preserved garments of the time, marking its historical importance and underlining its basic, but timeless design. I’m guessing that a 3rd century Norwegian loved wearing that sweater, and was probably crushed when he lost it. Especially since this was no ratty garment – it was made from a combination of lambswool and adult sheep wool and was “deliberately and evenly mottled” with the two differently colored wool threads alternating throughout the garments. The researchers also report that it was knitted in the form of a boatneck pullover and would fit a slender 5-foot 9-inch man (so a medium?). That’s 1,700 year-old fashion at its finest.

As the nights grow colder here in Vermont (we had our first frost this week), I’ll be enjoying the comfort of my own wool sweaters and thinking about that Norwegian high in alpine country, tending to his flock or hunting reindeer in the comfort of his own wool blend garment. Thank you, young hunter (and your ancestors), for this timeless design!

4 thoughts on “History of Comfort: Unpack Those Wool Sweaters, Fall is Here”

  1. Pingback: Cashmere is from Kashmir and the Scoop on Sweaters | Orvis News

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