The truth about your winter woolies

By Lucy Slight

With the weather cooling down it's a great chance to invest in some warm winter clothes. Photo / Thinkstock
With the weather cooling down it's a great chance to invest in some warm winter clothes. Photo / Thinkstock

How often have you picked up a beautiful chunky knit at the start of winter, only to put it on when the chill really sets in and find it does nothing to keep out the cold? When it comes to rugging up, there are some textiles that will always beat the rest. Whether you're ready to splurge or keen to be a bit thrifty, it's important to know the ins and outs of the most common fibres woven within that cosy cardigan.

Wool

If you're looking for a comfortable, wearable and breathable fabric for winter, you can't go past wool. While you may take pity on all the poor sheep battling the elements as you drive through the country, it turns out they're actually quite cosy up on those hills. Thanks to lanolin, the water-repelling grease found in their wool, moisture is easily whisked away - keeping the sheep warm and dry. Plus, the crimped texture of the wool helps to insulate in the cold. The same goes for us when we throw on a big wool coat or thin merino long-sleeved tee. Perspiration is absorbed without leaving the odour caused by some synthetic fibres, making it a great winter workout option too as sweat is naturally evaporated into the air.

Gone are the days of the rough, irritating wool of school uniforms past, with many companies now using processes to construct itch-free garments. Be it a merino tank, a pair of thick socks, a chunky scarf or a knitted beanie, wool is certainly a guaranteed way of staying snuggly this winter - and it's affordable too.

Our pick: Nineteen46 No Nonsense Vee Sweater in Blush, $169

Cashmere

One of the most iconic and luxurious fibres around, cashmere has come to symbolise wealth and extravagance. Made from the soft underdown of cashmere goats, this fibre is similar to wool in its ability to naturally protect against the elements, while keeping the wearer odour-free.

While cashmere is considered a luxury purchase, you'll find you'll get a lifetime of wear out of your garment thanks to the durable nature of the fibre. However, unlike merino wool, which can be thrown in the washing machine without fear of becoming misshapen, cashmere does require a lot more care. We're talking handwashing with baby shampoo here, and it's recommended you avoid dry cleaning due to the harsh chemicals. To save a bit of coin, take a look at cotton/cashmere garments. They are less expensive, a little more lightweight and cool and actually retain their softness better than 100 per cent cashmere.

Our pick: Trenery Cashmere Knit, $349

Cotton

Cotton has been spun into yarn since prehistoric times and is another example of a natural, breathable fibre, which is also naturally hypoallergenic - so it won't irritate your skin or cause allergies. As cotton is 30 per cent stronger when wet, it's highly durable and can withstand repeated washing even in hot water cycles. As with wool and cashmere, wearing cotton garments in winter will keep you warm and allow your body to breathe naturally.

Although cotton is derived naturally from cotton plants, its production requires heavy use of insecticides and as a result, we are seeing a number of companies choosing to use organic processes in an attempt to minimise the negative effects on humans and wildlife as well as the environment.

According to the Organic Trade Association, cotton crops cover 2.5 per cent of the world's cultivated land yet use 16 per cent of the world's insecticides: more than any other single major crop. A number of the insecticides used have been proven by the World Health Organisation to be acutely poisonous to humans. When cotton is produced organically, natural fertilisers such as compost and animal manure are used and the toxic waste that occurs during regular production is decreased. As a benefit to the consumer, organic cotton is often softer and more comfortable. Additionally, an increased demand for organic has helped many companies to keep their retail prices down.

Our pick: Country Road Raglan No 74 Knit, $79.90

Acrylic

As an entirely man-made fabric produced from petroleum, acrylic has the benefit of being durable, soft and - most importantly for fast fashion - cheap. But while you may be wooed by the low price tag and its snuggly appearance, in winter acrylic is no match for its naturally derived competitors when it comes to warmth.

When wet, acrylic loses its ability to provide insulation and, on the flip side, when the wearer gets too hot, the lack of breathability can be very uncomfortable. It's also important to note that acrylic is a highly flammable textile, so be careful to keep your distance from heaters and open fires as the fabric melts very easily and can cause severe burns. But if it's a quick wardrobe fix you're after, or you're just in need of something that can withstand a bit of wash and wear, then acrylic will certainly satisfy your needs. Just be prepared to pile on a few layers before you head out into the cold.

Our pick: Ruby Riot Beanie, $29

- www.nzherald.co.nz

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