As with most things I make Garment Stories posts about, there is a bit more to these three pieces you can see in the photo above (but not yet #100wears)… So let’s go step by step to disentangle how this wannabe vegan got a full set of wool underwear:
(a) I came across SmartWool when looking for a sports bra back in 2018. I couldn’t buy anything because their distribution in Europe was very poor but spending hours on their website convinced me that wool was the real deal for performance garments. My own experience with smelly and plastic synthetic performance fabrics and sweaty cotton undershirts that then stay cold and wet forever fueled my wish to believe that there is a better functioning solution…
(b) I also read Second Skin: Choosing and Caring for Textiles and Clothing around then. While that book contains numerous impressions, it is a love letter to wool and some of that rubs off while you are reading.
(c) I have found myself engaging with wool and appreciating the very different nature of these fibers: the heating properties beyond anything else, the slow but excellent water absorption (and apparently flame retardance as well), the versatility as it can be very fine or very thick for different uses, the felting quality that is both a gift and a curse, the magic of shrinking, the fact that one needs a special set of skills to care for this material, the different hands it can have, from the softest touch to the famous itch, the breathability, the smell resistance. And they last forever, and the can be mended, and no microplastics… and I have never really thought that wool avoidance has to be the priority in animal cruelty prevention while aware that there are pockets of true horror in the wool industry.
(d) I had wanted to introduce some basic black base layers in my colorful wardrobe for a while, especially thinking about ways to accommodate trickier garments, such as the WAG top or the floral bolero (see the spreadsheet posts for those woes). Yes, this is not the best practice. In many cases wanting a major refashion of a thing or a special garment to go with the failing one is just a sign that it must be the time to let go… but a basic black 3/4 sleeve top still seemed like a good idea…
some wardrobe inspiration a confirmation of my wardrobe needs in my own ideal wardrobe workshop in Salamanca, I – remembering the SmartWool distribution fail – googled ‘merino base layers made in EU’ in November 2019. And the gods of Google responded with an Amazon UK link to Utenos Trikotažas wares. Ha!
That’s a Lithuanian company – the name means ‘Utena’s jersey’, a typical Soviet way of naming a plant, a combination of the city + the type of product – in business since 1967 and now reinventing themselves under the flag of sustainability (read more here). At least on the surface it looks like a company who is doing a good job jumping on the ‘we are a nicely certified made-in-EU provider’. Good for them!
The even more fun bit is that I’ve had quite a lot of their garments, especially around the time I was 14-15. And some of them lasted a long time. These floral skirt, black skirt, and the little ‘home girls’ sweater were the last UT garments I wore a lot, 2003-2015, more or less:
recent years the previous decade I had made only one UT purchase: an overeager attempt at a bodysuit in the summer of 2012, choosing one that was way too tight and never really getting into wearing it. But even then the brand recognition did the trick. I just marched in the brand shop in Kaunas convinced that these people know their stretchy garments. And the garment was good, the problem was that I had insisted of taking the smallest size I could fit into, and that wasn’t comfortable once the buyer’s rush of ‘look, I can be size S after all’ was gone. The photographic evidence remains only of the sleeves and the neckline, though, not the tight parts:
So I got excited about the UT ‘merino’ collection, browsed their Lithuanian web, and selected potential candidates: a long-sleeve t-shirt, a tank top, and knickers. But I couldn’t help but doubt the quality, in some of the photos the garments look really flimsy. My cunning plan was to use the fact that my mom goes to Lithuania often – there are no UT shops in Latvia – and use her as my buyer.
That worked splendidly, and, when I came home for Christmas, three new garments were waiting for me. Also, it ended up being a Christmas gift from my mom, so we were both happy. These are the labels for – left to right – the tank top, the long-sleeve top, and the knickers. You can see both the price range and the size range, hah:
After a month in use, I can tell that they are wearing reasonably well. Here are my list of + and – :
+ Warmth: Oh, glorious wool…
+ Very comfy: All three are really pleasant in contact with skin and among those heavenly garments that you just put on and forget about. Oh, they are light and add 0! But that is an issue sometimes, see below at ‘thinness’…
+ Washes well: After a short 30º cycle and line-drying these come out looking great.
– Shape holding: They lose their shape after extended wear, especially the long-sleeve top. It could feel that way because it is bigger and not as snug fit as the tank top… but I think that S would have been too small for me (see the bodysuit problem above).
– Attracts dust: This is a very *attractive* material and random stuff just glues itself to it. It just brushes off, of course, but might not be for the neat freaks (or people with furry friends).
– Pilling: Yep, these are not the longest fibers. It is specially notable at the neck for both tops.
– Thinness: They are semi-transparent in certain light, which might or might not be the effect you were going for. And quite fragile, you can easily cut them with a fabric shaver (when trying to deal with that pilling) or just snag it. I have already had to mend one of the tops after a mysterious rip in the back.
If you have ever thought about merino underwear and base layers, these are my conclusions so far: great material but you want to touch it and try it on before buying to avoid disappointments. As for me and this current UT batch, (a) the knickers are great and I want more of these, (b) the tank top has been a great undershirt so far and has to live through warmer times to check its versatility, and (c) the long-sleeve top is mostly worn as the comfiest loungewear to spend my ‘working from home’ days in comfort… nothing beats a base layer of merino + a wool sweater for the ultimate warmth in Barcelona winter!
Do you have any experiences with wool underwear or active wear? Yea or nay? What is your general relationship with wool? Let me know below in the comments ♥