Woolen Undies


I need new long underwear. I’ve been told wool is warmer and more environmentally correct than synthetic fabrics. But I’ve also heard about Patagonia’s recycling program for synthetic garments. I’d like to maximize warmth, minimize odor and stretch my dollars without harming the planet. What should I buy?

—Confused Consumer

Dear Confused,

Based purely on experience in the field, Jock’s wool garments seem slightly warmer and are definitely less stinky. Merino wool feels especially nice and is fire resistant. If price were no object, Jock would choose wool. I agree that every purchase should be viewed through a green lens. Synthetic fabrics are created by melting, extruding and spinning a petrochemical base.

In other words, all synthetic garments are made of oil. As a natural fabric, wool seems more earth friendly, especially if the sheep are raised sustainably. But even the most eco-conscious rancher consumes petroleum in the process of raising a flock. Adding to the confusion, Patagonia does indeed recycle their used synthetic fabrics. After being returned by mail (another petroleum sink), tattered Patagonia garments are sent to Japan on containerships and recycled at an energy savings of 76 percent, compared to spinning virgin polyester. Patagonia says recycling also reduces CO2 emissions by 70 percent.

I have no idea how to determine what fabric is truly more earth friendly. Normally, I’d tell you to shop the Free Box, but underwear is personal. Perhaps your best bet is to purchase a wool top and a synthetic bottom. Then you can call it a wash.