April 11, 2013

Why Wear Wool (and Other Natural Fibers)

Perched on the edge of a railing, a woman in a page boy's cap and long wool coat looks off camera. Her dress pattern of swirls like galaxies contrasts nicely

In an earlier post, I mentioned my desire to only buy and wear natural fabrics and promised a blog post of its own. Voila!

First a most basic overview:

Our clothing is made of fibers which can be divided into two categories: natural and man-made. Natural fibers (like wool, silk, cotton, linen, and hemp) are derived from animal or plant based products and are the fibers our ancestors have been spinning, weaving and wearing for centuries. Man-made products are a new invention- made within the last hundred and fifty years and are synthesized from petroleum by products and other chemically clever means (if anyone is interested in such a topic, I've probably learned enough Organic Chemistry to puzzle out the method.)

Now, there are some eco-friendly main made products synthesized from bamboo and other sustainable materials. As important as ecological consciousness is for a Neo-Aristocrat, fashion and budget are equally important. Most garments made from the trendy organic cotton or bamboo products are very minimalist and- in my opinion- aesthetically displeasing. Plus, you are unlikely to find them in a thrift store.

There are three reasons why I prefer natural fibers. The first comes from the benefits of wearing natural fibers. Due to various molecular and chemical formations, natural fibers last longer, are more breathable, contain some anti-microbial benefits and do not pill. May I repeat: they do not pill.

Most modern clothes are a mix of cotton and synthetic material designed to last maybe half a dozen times through the wash before ripping, tearing, falling apart, or creating those nasty little bundles of fiber that look and feel terrible to wear ie pills. At this point, the original wearer either tosses the shirt or, if moved by some desire to save the environment or help others, donates it to a thrift shop.  Quite frankly my dears, if you find the piece unwearable, your average thrift store shopper will too.

However, clothing of natural fibers is designed to hold up through many years of wearing and washing. Most of the clothing with a 100% natural fiber tag is still perfectly wearable by the time it reaches the thrift store. It looks and feels of a higher quality than most other items around it.

A beautiful, Victorian blouse featuring pintuck details, a high neck collar, and a lacy overshawl.

Which leads me to my second reason for loving natural fibers. They are more expensive to produce than man-made synthetics. Either plants must be cultivated or animals cared for- both which take much longer to grow than chemicals in a vat.

Generally, I've found that the more expensive the cloth the more innovative the design or, at least, the better quality the production. Higher end fabrics are marketed for higher end clothing- not discount or ridiculously cheap brands like what populate the modern malls of America. Higher end clothing tends to have the more interesting details and finishing that are absent from much of what I find in Forever 21. Better buttons, better seems, better zippers all result in a better product for you. (Of course, I realize that not all natural fiber pieces fit this stereotype, it is just the average of what I've found).

Finally, it is actually possible to find pieces like this. Due to trends in modern consumerism, much of the well made pieces are vintage or nearly so. At least, they don't fit exactly into the modern aesthetic. What? You don't care for a calf length wool skirt depicting an abstract french fishing village in muted blacks and greys? Well, by all means, it fits perfectly in my closet!

A Modern Red Riding Hood stands before the paparazzi in a beautiful red cape.

In short, yes, you do need to be a tad more discriminating. Yes, the pieces are harder to find. But it is worth it to have clothing that will be healthier for your body, last you longer, and be far more unique than what you can find in most modern stores. And with that: a new law of thrifting: buy for the fit and the aesthetic, not the fabric. Unless you are hungry for a new project.

I'll address maintenance concerns in a later post. Below are some links if you want to learn more about the health benefits of natural fibers- keep in mind the biases of most websites:

~ A lovely, basic overview of natural fibers

Everything you could possibly want to know about natural fibers and then some

A good graph to compare the relative strengths of different fibers

Why natural fibers are better in the landfill


  1. Any places come to mind that might be good for men looking for late 1800's style clothing?

  2. Hello! Thank you for writing about the benefits of wearing natural fabrics and inspiring so many of us! I have been using more natural fibers into my designs. Earlier this year, I launched AtelierPrelude.com ; an online boutique which specializes in all-natural organic cotton, silk, and cashmere clothing. We also now carry organic bath and beauty products. I would love if you could mention our name in your article and/or please stay in touch @atelierprelude via fb, instagram and pinterest! <3