What is a down jacket?
The explorer's favourite looks just as good off mountains, too
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Winterising your wardrobe is not as simple as adding a coat to the clothes you wore in summer. Warm-weather pieces are crafted from fabrics designed to do one job – keep you cool. Cold-weather dressing, on the other hand, demands much more. What you wear should trap heat, deflect wind, and repel rain – all without cooking you or turning you into the Michelin man. Dressing both warmly and well in winter is all about preparation, and knowing which fabrics do the job best. This is our guide to the best wintry fabrics, from wool to waxed cotton.
What is it? A wool made from the hair of the eponymous goat. The fibres are incredibly fine – just a fifth as wide as a human hair – which makes it softer and around three times warmer than sheep's wool.
How to wear it: Because it’s so tactile, cashmere is best for items that sit against your skin. Cashmere knitwear is ideal because you won’t have to wear a t-shirt underneath. It’s warm but not bulky, making it a perfect choice for scarves, and can be easily stowed in a bag once you’re back indoors. Give your cashmere some TLC and hand wash it, and it’ll last you years.
What is it? A heavy, woven fabric usually made from cotton or cotton-blend, characterised by ribbed cords or ‘wales’ of twisted fibres.
How to wear it: The sky's the limit with corduroy! Warm, hard-wearing, comfortable, and impervious to spills and stains, its appeal is endless. Corduroy trousers and shirts offer easy, everyday cool that keeps you warm, while a full-on corduroy suit is a fantastic option for winter formalwear. Thicker wales make for heavier corduroy, which is ideal for outerwear.
What is it? More a garment filler than a fabric, down is the layer of soft feathers found closest to a bird’s skin. It’s used as padding in jackets because it traps enormous amounts of heat.
How to wear it: It’s incredibly warm and also light, so it’s best in coats. Down jackets tend to be quite technical rather than formal, so don’t go so well with a suit. A down gilet, however, can look smart with tailoring because it’s a bit less bulky. For an ethical alternative, brands like Ecoalf and Knowledge Cotton use sustainably sourced or synthetic down, which offers the same warm and toasty feel.
What is it? Wool that has been brushed on one side to lift the fibres. This means it traps in more heat and feels softer.
How to wear it: It’s ideal for winter shirts because it’s cosy and warm. For more formal pieces, flannel trousers can be really smart and look great with a blazer. Because the fabric has lots of texture, it’s versatile enough to wear with a jacket of a different colour.
What is it? Made famous by outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, fleece is a durable, moisture-resistant synthetic fabric that traps body heat to keep warmth in. It’s often favoured over wool because it’s more affordable, not itchy and is super lightweight.
How to wear it: Due to its inherently sporty look, fleece is an ideal choice for outdoor adventures. A fleece pullover can make all the difference in the cold, as it keeps all the warmth in under your jacket. You can even wear fleece as outerwear for teddy bear-level comfort.
What is it? The ultimate in weather protection, GORE-TEX is a synthetic fabric membrane that boasts a microporous structure that doesn’t allow water droplets in, but allows water vapour (from your sweat) out.
How to wear it: Outdoors – in footwear and jackets. Quite simply, if you’re looking to stay dry during downpours and not be sticky and sweaty when you take off your shoes or layers, GORE-TEX is the cream of the crop. Say goodbye to soggy socks.
What is it? Leather is the result of tanning the raw hide of an animal, most commonly cattle – a process that has been around since the dawn of civilisation.
How to wear it: During winter, leather is best worn as footwear and gloves. Working as a second skin, leather will protect your feet and hands from the cold with ease. But only if you treat it well in return. Protect your leather with spray, condition and polish it, and let it dry naturally when it gets wet. If you’re thinking of investing in leather boots for winter, choose a pair with a rubber sole for extra warmth and longevity.
What is it? A natural wool originating from the Merino sheep. It’s incredibly soft against the skin, exceptionally warm, and breathable enough to regulate your body temperature. Because it’s a natural fibre, it resists bacteria and odour retention, too.
How to wear it: Merino wool knitwear is so worth investing in. Scarves, roll neck jumpers, hats, gloves, and even socks made from Merino are marginally more expensive than standard wool, but cheaper than cashmere, offering a happy medium that delivers uncompromising quality.
What is it? Coming from the angora goat, luxurious mohair is known as ‘the diamond fibre’ for its softness, sheen, and lustrous finish.
How to wear it: Wonderfully fluffy and warm, mohair offers a distinctive texture and finish when blended into knitwear. It’s also a desirable fabric in suiting for its breathable nature and durability.
What is it? The skin of a sheep with wool left on, so one side is fluffy, and the other leathery. Because there’s no synthetic join between them, there’s nowhere for the cold to get in.
How to wear it: It’s best on outerwear because of its serious toastiness. Pilots first wore it because it kept them warm in uncovered cockpits and it’s still a feature of modern aviator jackets worn at ground level. But if you aren’t facing subzero temperatures, or you’ve got ethical concerns, then fake versions can be virtually indistinguishable and more affordable, too. Shearling has a ruggedness that works best on casual styles, especially when it’s a bit beaten up and lived in.
What is it? Born in the Scottish highlands in the 19th century, tweed is a rough, unfinished wool fabric synonymous with outdoor leisure and made popular by the Edwardian elite.
How to wear it: A tweed blazer smartens up winter garb like nobody's business. A solid investment piece that oozes gentlemanly charm, a tweed blazer will keep you warm and smart simultaneously. If you’ve got a formal event in the diary, why not try a tweed suit? Not only will you be protected from the chill, you’ll also look unforgivingly dapper.
What is it? Cotton treated with a waterproof wax, which is applied either to the individual fibres or to the fabric as a whole.
How to wear it: Waxed cotton outerwear is ideal for when you’re outdoors all day. Originally worn by farmers and soldiers in the trenches, waxed cotton is impervious to rain but also doesn’t breathe, so it can get a bit sweaty on warmer wet days. It gets better with age, so get yours re-waxed every few years to keep it looking great.
What is it? Nature’s gift to combat the cold, classic sheep’s wool is water resistant, long lasting, and provides insulation.
How to wear it: From jumpers to scarves, wool is in so many winter items, it’s hard to keep track. Our main tip is to bear in mind that wool can occasionally be a little itchy despite its undeniable warmth, so it’s wise to layer it atop another fabric like cotton to avoid irritating your skin.
Words: Ashiana Pradhan
Photography: Mark Sanders
Styling: Millie Rich
Styling assistant: Alexander McCalla