Gentlemen’s Fabrics 101 – Wool

Wool is the earliest fabric Europeans clothed themselves with. It is a natural fibre that is collected from domesticated sheep and goats, as well as other animals. For our purposes here, wool includes the hairs sheared, plucked or gathered from various animals.

Swiss Cashmere Goats

Swiss Cashmere Goats

A short survey of the animals that supply wool and the names given each type are listed:

While some of these wool fibres are quite exotic, and hence very expensive, others are in common use in the production of gentlemenswear. The wool from sheep is the primary source of the wool  used to make suits, blazers and trousers. Some of the more expensive wool is used to make accessories likes scarves, gloves and hats, although the cashmere blazer is a fantastic addition to any gentleman’s wardrobe!

Thom Browne Striped Merino Blazer

Thom Browne Striped Merino Blazer

The process of turning raw animal fibres into usable wool threads is fairly standard across the many animals the produce usable hair fibres. The first step is to gather the hair through either shearing, combing or plucking. After the hair is gathered, and depending on the source animal, it needs to be cleaned in a process called scouring. The steps in the scouring range from simple hot water to detergent and other chemicals depending on the source animal and the intended use of the wool. Many types of wool have high levels of oils, sometimes called wool wax, which has to be removed, and hopefully recovered, as it is a valuable resource of its own, producing lanolin.

Vicuña Mens Scarf

Vicuña Mens Scarf

The scoured wool is then carded and then sometimes combed. The final product is then either spun into yarn or made into felt. For our purposes, the yarn  is used to make garments and the felt is used for hats. Virgin wool is wool created from the first spinning of the fibres. If the wool was also combed, the fibres have been straightened to the point of making the yarn quite strong and smooth.

The different kinds of wool fabric created from the different breeds and species are wide ranging in weight, texture and tactility. These fabrics form the foundation of gentlemen’s fashion, from elegant suits and tuxedos to coats, scarves and fedoras. But more on that later…

Article first published as Fabrics For Gentlemen 101 – Wool on Technorati.