Oh, the weather outside is frightful….but the warm layers in your closet are so delightful!
When the temperature drops, your clothing has the chance to step up. To build your best winter closet, start by looking at the foundation of all clothes—the fabrics. The materials you wear can make all the difference between discomfort and coziness, insulating your body heat and protecting you from chills and winds.
Ready to kickoff your winter wardrobe? Start with our all-inclusive guide on the best fabrics for cold weather and how to wear them.
Consider wool to be nature’s gift for cold climates. This natural material is often considered the best fabric for cold weather, offering high-grade insulation and coziness.
As a fabric category, wool covers any materials made from animal hair fibers. These hair fibers are made mostly of the protein keratin, which gives wool its durability, warming properties, and signature coarse texture.1 In clothing, wool offers an incredible range of benefits like:
- Insulation – Thanks to its keratin structure and light density, the coarse fibers of wool are excellent at trapping heat and moisture. That means your body heat won’t escape through your wool sweater when in the extreme cold. Even better, it also means that wool will keep you cool in the summer, blocking out hotter temperatures from the outside.
- Moisture absorption – Wool can also keep you dry during the cold or hot months, absorbing up to 30% of its weight in moisture.2 A wool coat can block snow from penetrating to your body, while also wicking away any sweat if you overheat.
- Durability – Even while light, wool is a very strong fabric material. A single wool fiber can withstand up to one ounce of weight before breaking.3 Water also seems to have little impact on the strength of wool, making it a wonderful option for snow or rain. Expect your wool clothing to have a long shelf life.
- Antibacterial properties – Almost all wool fibers have a natural waxy coating. This coating (plus the criss-cross pattern of wool fibers) prevents the growth of bacteria, mold, and dirt collection. As a result, many wool clothing pieces don’t need to be washed as much as non-wool clothing.
- Sustainable – Wool is a very sustainable fabric (a pro that we love at Karen Kane). In fact, wool is 100% renewable and biodegradable. For those who care about the environment, wool is one of your best fabric choices.
Most people think of wool as only from sheep, but these fibers can come from nearly any mammal with a protective coarse covering—goats, camels, yaks, and more. For cold winter weather in particular, these types of wool are excellent to find:3
Lambs wool – very smooth and soft, excellent for sweaters and hats
Merino wool – fine fibers with an incredibly soft touch, excellent for base layers and socks
Shetland wool – thick and coarse yet soft, best for cardigans and specific types of jackets for women or men
Mohair – hollow fibers with a unique fuzziness, ideal for sweaters and cardigans
Angora – the lightest and finest texture, best for accessories and thin layers
Camel hair – silky, light, and smooth, perfect for sweaters or jackets
- Qiviut – fine yet strong fibers with high warmth, cozy for blankets and coats
Some wool categories are so special that they need a category of their own, especially the luxury fabric cashmere.
Cashmere is a delicate wool made from the fibers of cashmere goats. While often notable for its high price point, cashmere is well worth its cost. This fabric provides incredible warmth and breathability even at thin layers, alongside an oh-so-soft texture and a chic appearance. However, cashmere is quite fine and delicate, making it more appropriate for lighter clothing pieces. Try to find cashmere options for light layers and pieces like:
- Thin sweaters or cardigans
- Knit pants
Love the feel and warmth of wool, but sticking to your fashion budget? Then turn to fleece, the excellent man-made fabric alternative to wool.
Technically, fleece is made entirely of polyester. However, don’t let that deter you. From its cozy texture to heat retention, this affordable synthetic fabric imitates wool’s qualities very well. Fleece is also commonly used when making shackets, and if you aren’t sure what a shacket is, then read our latest blog so you don’t miss out on this cozy trend. For most coats or winter jackets, fleece can provide:
- Lightweight insulation
- A cozy texture with zero itching
- Quick drying (a plus for winter storms)
- Hypoallergenic properties
Since fleece is man-made, it often has extra reinforcement in its fiber structure. This allows fleece clothing to feel lighter than wool while providing the same warmth. Even better, you can find sustainable sources of fleece—look for eco-friendly fleece tags that use recycled plastics.
Nothing says “wintertime” like a classic lumberjack flannel shirt. With a distinct thickness and semi-fuzzy texture, flannel has been a go-to cold weather fabric for decades.
While traditionally made from wool, flannel is now made from a variety of materials. Common flannel materials include:
- Ceylon (50% cotton, 50% wool)
Depending on the material, flannels may have somewhat different textures and feels. However, most flannels have a distinct softness, a result of the flannel brushing process. Brushing involves directly brushing fabric on one or both sides to raise the fibers, creating a softer feel.4 With its standard thickness, flannels work best for outer shirts, jackets, and pajamas.
When people think of cotton, they usually imagine a breezy sundress or light t-shirt. However, don’t toss your cotton clothing into the attic just yet! This natural fabric can give you breathable, layered warmth all winter long and is also a great fabric for transitional fall outfits.
During wintertime, you’ll need more than one heavy winter coat to face the cold air. Layered outfits let you adjust your warmth level, keeping you comfortable throughout the day. With its thinner and breathable texture, cotton makes for an excellent clothing layer. Add a cotton shirt underneath your winter sweater for these benefits:5
- Absorbency – Cotton has a lot of space naturally between its fibers. This makes it highly absorbent, wicking away any moisture that might pop up.
- Breathability – Perfect for layering, cotton’s light and breezy feel gives you adjustable warmth that’s never cloying.
- Durability – While not as strong as wool, cotton is still pretty tough. The cotton plant’s structure has a criss-cross design, making it durable against tears.
- Zero static cling – Cotton has zero electrical conduct, meaning you’ll never feel a “zap” when wearing it.
Eco-friendly, durable, and hypoallergenic—what’s not to love about hemp?
Derived from the hemp plant, hemp fabric is a natural material on the rise. Similar to cotton, this versatile textile works well as a base layer for cute cold weather outfits. Add a hemp shirt to your look for excellent properties like:6
- UV light protection
- A lightweight feel
- Durability (three times the strength of cotton)
The word “corduroy” might give you flashbacks to ill-fitting overalls in grade school. However, this distinct fabric has a spot in every fashionista’s closet, especially during the winter.
With its distinct ribbed texture and velvety feel, corduroy built for warm weather protection. Most corduroy is made from cotton fibers, but modern clothing also uses polyester and rayon in corduroy blends. As a thicker fabric, corduroy has usually been used for outerwear (think a corduroy jacket or overshirt). However, corduroy pants are also a chic way to bring this fabric into wintertime.
It’s not just for your cute fall jacket or work shoes. Leather is also a very useful and stylish cold weather fabric (just be sure to keep it dry so you can enjoy it for many more chilly seasons).
Made from the hides of animals, leather clothing is insulating, durable, and very fashionable. It’s distinctly firm texture makes it best for outerwear and shoes, although you can find leather bottoms and tops. If you have an aversion to animal fabrics, pleather (or faux leather) is also a stunning option.
Want a more wintery version of leather? Go for suede. This leather variety comes from softer-skinned animals like lambs, goats, pigs, and deer. Suede has a velvety and matte texture, matching well with other wintertime fabrics. While not waterproof or flexible, suede has excellent heat retention and durability, making it lovely for:
- Jackets or coats
Technically, down isn’t a fabric. However, this natural material is a mainstay in winter clothing for a reason—it’s unbeatable warmth.
Down is the soft underbelly plumes of any fowl, including geese, ducks, and swans. Often used in bedding, down is the warmest clothing material on the market (after all, it’s the insulating material for the birds). Down feathers are also known for their incredibly lightweight. However, down is usually reserved for coats only—you won’t find many everyday clothing pieces made with down.
When shopping for down coats, you’ll often see a number between 500 to 950 on the label. This number refers to the coat’s fill power—or the amount of cubic inches holding a 30-gram cluster of down plumes. The higher the fill power, the warmer the coat typically. If you live in a very cold environment, go for coats with higher fill power.
Stay Cozy with Karen Kane
“Bundle up” is only half of the winter wardrobe equation. By investing in high-quality fabrics, you’ll make the most style out of less clothing waste—and that’s a real fashion win.
If you’re ready to upgrade your winter closet, we’re here to help. At Karen Kane, our collection includes classy women’s clothing for all year round. Even better? We have a selection of sustainably sourced fabrics in our collection, creating responsible and stylish looks. Explore today and grab your favorite trendy knit sweaters, evening dresses, and chic outerwear.
- Britannica. Wool. https://www.britannica.com/topic/wool
- Science Learn. Wool fibre properties. https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/875-wool-fibre-properties
- Gear Patrol. The 10 (Yes, 10) Types of Wool You Need to Know. https://www.gearpatrol.com/style/a38567954/types-of-wool/
- Masterclass. Guide to Flannel: Explore the Look, Feel, and History of Flannel. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/guide-to-flannel
- Masterclass. What Is Cotton? A Complete Guide to the History, Characteristics, and Uses of Cotton. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-cotton
- Eartheasy. Hemp Clothing. https://learn.eartheasy.com/guides/hemp-clothing/