For some of us—OK, me—wool is practically a religion. All winter long, I wear my wool long underwear with my wool socks and my wool sweater, enjoying the breathable, stink-proof warmth that can only come from cosplaying as a sheep. This summer, I set out to extend my addiction by testing a variety of warm-weather wool clothing, all of which purported to make wool’s properties (excluding that thermal power) available year-round. I wore the items for travel, camping (in and out of the rain), and farm work in hot and humid weather. Did they work? Hell, yes. Here are the pieces that rose to the top.
Trew Weightless Nuyarn Merino T ($65)
You know those tissue-thin shirts that look so good—you know, in theory—but are utterly impractical for anything other than sitting with tousled hair in the bed of a pickup truck while some boy plays guitar in the background and a friend with an iPhone lens kit snaps photos for Instagram? This is the shirt they’re trying to be. Nuyarn is merino thread with a nylon core that makes it extra durable while keeping all the best properties of wool, and the result is a super-soft, super-stretchy fabric with a beautiful drape that springs back into shape wear after wear. Trew’s Weightless Nuyarn Merino T is, frankly, an achievement. It’s the thinnest shirt I’ve ever worn that still looked opaque over a dark-colored bra. It feels breezy on the hottest days and cozy under a sweater at night. It’s machine-washable. Its wide neckline, curved hem, and slightly long short sleeves give it a classic, feminine fit without resorting to a skin-tight or trendy cut. Not that trendy cuts are bad, of course. But if you’re spending $65 on a single T-shirt, you want it to look good for the long haul.
Icebreaker Cool-Lite Mira Pants ($130) and Crewe ($110)
Sometimes in the summer, you want to cover your limbs. Maybe the mosquitos are out. Maybe you want modesty, or sun protection. Maybe you’re traveling, and heaven help anyone whose bare thighs touch an airplane seat. Fear not! Icebreaker’s Cool-Lite Mira Pants and Long-Sleeve Crewe are the perfect sweats for anyone who wants to look like she tried but feel like she didn’t.
In the interest of science, I wore these sweats for most of a week without washing them. The pieces run bigger than most outdoor gear (which is a good thing, as they’ll actually fit a semblance of diverse bodies): at five feet eight inches and a size 12, I found the large to be pleasantly slouchy. The fabric feels thin but dense—almost plasticky, but in a nice, breathable way, as if the spirit of a recycling bin were giving you a hug. In fact, the wool-Tencel blend is designed to bring out the best features of both materials: stink-shedding, eco-friendly, and resistant to stains and wrinkles. The pants have a comfy waistband and deep pockets. The Crewe’s shoulder seams are asymmetrical from front to back, which adds a nice dash of style to what seems, at first glance, to be a basic long-sleeved shirt. The pieces pack up small and are light enough to toss over a tank and shorts in an air-conditioned yoga class. I’ll be keeping them out all winter, too, for nights around the fire.
Postscript: After cutting myself with a hatchet while wearing it, I’m pleased to report that the Crewe sheds blood readily. It looked almost good as new after a dunk in cold water.
Duckworth Women’s Vapor Brief ($40)
I loved these undies, but not in the way I’d expected. Underwear was basically the last garment I hadn’t tried in wool because it just seemed too heavy. But the men’s Vapor Brief is Duckworth’s best-selling product, and the word vapor implies the kind of whisper-light, no-underwear-underwear that leggings and slinky dresses are made for, so naturally my hopes were up. The women’s version appears to draw from the same supportive design that made the men’s brief so successful—but most women don’t actually want that much support. My advice: if you’re used to form-fitting underwear, the Vapors are too much of a good thing. The fabric, a wool-poly-rayon blend, is breathable and odor-resistant, but the seams are bulky under clothing, and the material tends to bunch rather than glide over your skin. The thick elastic waist is intrusive if you’re used to daintier stuff. Even the tag is big. It’s a bit like wearing pants under your pants.
But hear me out, because there’s one way in which this underwear shines. Be honest with yourself: what’s the best thing about coming home after work in the summer, apart from seeing your dog? It’s taking your pants (and possibly bra) off. And these briefs were made—if unintentionally—for wearing around the house bare-legged. They’re a middle ground between panties and shorts, an ideal garment for the woman who wants to watch survival shows on the couch in her underwear without scandalizing her roommate. Duckworth’s designers have come up with a perfect product, if not quite for the reason they thought. The Vapor Brief, I would say if I were writing the tagline, is For when you don’t want to wear pants. You’re welcome.