If you’ve done any window shopping — or more likely, virtual shopping — of late, you’ve probably noticed something: Merino wool is everywhere. That might be putting it lightly because it seems that you can find menswear essentials made from merino wool across every category of clothing a stylish guy needs. From the best underwear and socks, T-shirts and sweaters, and even boots and base layers, there isn’t much today that doesn’t have an option in merino wool. There’s no question, merino is having a moment, but you can trace the origins of that moment back centuries.
What Is Merino Wool?
Whereas Australia gets all the credit, merino wool is derived from merino sheep and is originally native to Spain. In fact, Spain held a monopoly for centuries on the merino sheep due to its fine and profitable wool fiber, so we can practically trace modern-day merino wool back to one sheep in particular. According to the Royal Collection Trust, Don the Merino ram was a gift from George III to traveler, farmer and editor of the Annals of Agriculture Arthur Young in 1791.
By 1797, Don and descendants of Spain’s famed Royal Merino Flocks were introduced to Australia and New Zealand. Australia took to further selective breeding, yielding even more luxurious woolen fiber over the years. So it should not surprise anyone that Australia has the world’s most advanced wool industry, says The Woolmark Company, the global wool authority.
The fantastic eco-friendly fiber was prized — then and now — for its fine quality and resilient durability. When we think of wool, scratchy, stuffy sweaters and hats might be top of mind, but merino wool is much softer among its other prized qualities, and the fabric itself even feels modern. Merino wool shares many of the same benefits as other woolen fibers but with a more polished presentation:
- Merino wool is lightweight and breathable.
- Merino wool is moisture-wicking which makes it great for workout clothes.
- Merino wool has natural, anti-microbial properties and doesn’t hold onto odors.
- Merino wool provides excellent temperature regulation, so it’s a perfect four-season fabric.
- Merino wool is natural, sustainable, and biodegradable.
You can see why merino wool is found in everything from scarves to footwear to basics. Some of the world’s biggest brands (including Bombas, Patagonia, and Canada Goose) now trust the material. Even President Obama gets spotted regularly wearing his favorite pair of merino wool sneakers from Allbirds, stylishly cementing the merino wool movement.
Let’s dive in even deeper.
What Makes Merino Wool So Essential?
Merino has developed into such a popular fabric because it really is a wondrous natural fiber. That’s not hyperbole: Merino wool naturally wicks away moisture and promotes temperature regulation, and it’s also imbued with natural anti-microbial properties. Plus, because it’s a lighter fiber than other wool varieties, it’s got more stretch and ease of movement seemingly built right in.
It wasn’t always such a popular style, however. It was once more commonly associated with pure athletic gear rather than lifestyle products. You might also say that consumers were used to buying more standard items (like a cotton tee) than ones made from merino wool. Add to that, there certainly weren’t as many items featuring this standout fabric, either.
Designers and brands have been beefing up merino wool even further by blending materials like nylon and polyester for added durability and comfort. Yet, merino wool alone is downright useful if you want an authentic multi-season fabric. You can wear a short-sleeve merino T-shirt in the spring and summer with ease, thanks to its moisture-wicking properties, but you can also rock a merino henley as a base layer in the fall and winter to regulate your temperature and help keep you warm.
The Rise of Merino Wool
Why have designers been using merino wool more and more throughout recent years? There’s no one easy answer, but it might come down to a mix of utility, modern performance, and sustainability. Companies and consumers are looking for durable fabrics that can withstand repeated washes or require much less washing and replacing than the fast fashion we are now seeing for what it really is: wasteful.
Merino wool doesn’t tear or rip easily, and the colors don’t fade as readily as fabrics like cotton. Beyond that, designers can craft it in an astounding variety of styles and silhouettes. Plus, merino wool is a technical fabric that doesn’t look overly technical — or even technical at all. You can also find it in sneakers like the ever-popular Allbirds and boots like an impressively cool new pair from Rothy’s.
Lest this all sound too good to be true, companies such as Icebreaker and Ibex specialize in merino wool pieces, and somewhat incredibly, the team at Huckberry put the Proof 72-Hour Merino Tee to the test wearing it for three days of adventure and exploration. The T-shirt performed as expected, with moisture-wicking, anti-microbial properties (not to mention versatile colors and various sizes) leading the way.
The point is, merino wool is a desirable modern fabric with plenty of different uses, from the ability to keep you cool to its performance-packed features as an undershirt or a stylish standalone tee. Here are some of the best merino products to buy now since merino wool really is everywhere.
1. Rothy’s Merino Chelsea Boots
MOST INNOVATIVE MERINO WOOL PRODUCT
We like to think we’re not easily surprised in the world of gear and menswear, so when much-loved celebrity-approved footwear brand Rothy’s introduced a pair of Chelsea boots made of merino last year, we were pleasantly surprised about it. If ever you had any qualms about the utility of merino wool, take a look at these durable, super-comfortable Chelsea boots made from the brand’s signature sustainable thread and premium Merino wool. The Bourbon color is an excellent style move, the subtle detailing on the elastic side gore panels is a cool touch, and the fact that these are machine-washable is remarkable in the world of footwear. Best of all, you can wear them in at least three seasons.
2. Proof 72-Hour Merino Tee
BEST MERINO WOOL T-SHIRT
We told you that Huckberry put this tee through the wringer, and it performed so well that they decided to ramp up production of the company’s in-house brand to get a variety of merino wool styles to market. Proof bolsters this tee by using nylon for added durability and stretch, and a range of colors will suit every palette. And although this tee is pricier than average at $72, it’s so practical that you’ll undoubtedly want to buy more than one.
3. Icebreaker Merino Wool ZoneKnit Zip Hoodie
BEST MERINO WOOL HOODIE
We weren’t lying when we told you that merino comes in all shapes, sizes, and layers you might not expect. Take a look at this zip hoodie that’s more like a lightweight jacket than your basic hooded sweatshirt. Because it’s beefed up in more ways than one (note the quilted design), it’s pricier than average but worth the money. This is a very good thing, indeed. It’s lightweight and warm enough to wear on its own, yet you can also use it as a base layer beneath a field jacket, especially on chilly days or nights on or off the trail.
4. Taylor Stitch Merino Socks
BEST MERINO WOOL SOCKS
Yes, you can even craft comfortable socks from merino wool, and not just your best wool hiking socks you save for wilderness weekends. In this case, Taylor Stitch uses a substantial-yet-stretchy blend of merino wool, which helps your feet breathe easily. You can wear these socks in the spring and summer with suede chukka boots or rock them with white leather sneakers. Let us repeat it: Your feet will actually stay cool, not sweaty, in hot temperatures thanks to merino wool. Get at least one pair now.
5. Ibex Tech Wool “Woolies” Boxer Briefs
BEST MERINO WOOL UNDERWEAR
Much like socks or an insulating yet breathable base layer, underwear is an ideal category to swap in some fine merino wool. Ibex has hung its hat on using sustainable, comfortable merino wool across everything from henleys to boxer briefs like this pair. The anti-microbial fiber is an outstanding touch, and the use of no-ride elastic in the waist ensures these are comfortable in more ways than one.
6. Allbirds Wool Runners
BEST MEN’S MERINO WOOL SHOES
Many merino products have gained considerable notoriety in the past few years, but perhaps none more well-known than Allbirds sneakers. They’re a favorite of both commuters and President Obama, with an agreeable price tag just above $100, plenty of easygoing business casual styling potential, and that cozy, machine-washable merino wool upper. When you want to slide into breathable sneakers instead of sandals this spring and summer (and fall and winter), reach for Allbirds.
7. Nobis Mira Purl Knit Hat
BEST MERINO WOOL HAT
Merino makes perfect sense in many different silhouettes, including when it comes to your rotation of hats for chilly weather. Sure, a beanie is a must-have through winter, but it’s also a wise option on brisk spring mornings or when coastal weather turns colder than usual. For every season, merino wool works completely, especially in a sturdy, thick-knit (but not too thick) hat like this one. The gray color is neutral enough to pair with the rest of your wardrobe, no matter the season too.
8. Smartwool Merino Base Layer
BEST MERINO WOOL BASE LAYER
Merino wool has perhaps been most commonly found on your top half these days in terms of brands making category-defining henleys, hats and T-shirts. Yet, we’d also urge you to consider it a base layer beneath running shorts or hiking or work pants since all of its best qualities can help you power through many outdoor pursuits without adding bulk. It’s not merino wool long underwear, but it’ll keep you warm without overdoing it, yet it’s also easy to move around while it wicks away sweat. If you’re an avid runner or hiker, consider merino wool on your legs when you step outside.