Au Naturel

Every fall, as the days grow shorter and the temperatures sink, I start looking for a new sweater to add to my collection. This can be a challenge. While there are plenty of warm-looking sweaters on store racks, especially as the holiday shopping season fast approaches, you have to be a fiber detective to be certain they’re really worth buying.

The less expensive the sweater, the more likely it’s made of synthetic materials, such as nylon or acrylic. Pretty as that pullover or cardigan may appear in the store, and attractive as the price tag may seem, it’s usually not worth the purchase. Not only do synthetics wear out faster with repeated washings—they really don’t keep you warm.

I’ve learned from many buying mistakes that polyesters and their man-made fiber cousins trap perspiration, which only exacerbates my Raynaud’s—chilling my body and numbing my hands.

So I always read labels inside the garment before buying a sweater. My latest find was a wool/alpaca blend, three-quarter-length taupe sweater by Ellen Tracy for $49 at TJ Maxx. I wore it for several long days over the past weekend and stayed comfortable through hot/cold cycling of heating systems in private homes and board rooms. Definitely a worthwhile purchase.

A good wool sweater, with proper care, will last for decades. I have three long-sleeve cashmere sweaters that I bought at Bloomingdales about 20 years ago that are only now wearing through at the elbows. They were investment buys back then, but I certainly got my money’s worth of wear.

Best fibers for sweaters, in my book, are wool and cotton. Rayon, which is man-made but derived from wood pulp, and silk, are favorites for blouses. Linen is also worth considering as long as you don’t mind wrinkles. All natural fibers have the wondrous ability to wick away sweat and allow your body to breathe—essential for moderating body temperature and avoiding chills.

Layering, of course, is the other key to staying comfortably warm in winter. But layering synthetics with natural fiber garments essentially traps air and cancels out any advantage of the breathable fabric.

So here’s to all those wonderful, warm clothes derived from nature’s bounty. Thank you, sheep, for your wool that keeps my body from going numb this winter season—and many winters to come!

Photo Credit: kygp via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at


  1. Pat Bizzell says:

    In re. the best sweater material, you are exactly right, and may I put in an additional good word for alpace. With the cold snap we’ve had over the week-end, I’ve been living in a beautiful blue alpaca cardigan that David gave me for Chanukah a couple of years ago. It is very soft and light-weight, and at the same time, very warm. Thank you, alpacas!

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