Focus on Shearling

Millennia after humans first sought its cosy solace, and just decades after war-time airmen took it to the skies, shearling is flying higher than ever before.

Bob Dylan in New York, 1971 (Photo by David Gahr/Getty Images)

As long as it’s cold outside and you don’t pair them with Aviators – which is as grave an over-egging of the thematic pudding as wearing chukka boots with a polo shirt – there are no disadvantages to wearing it. As well as being entrenched in popular culture, it’s a material that offers the warmth of a puffer coat with the suave, virile authority of a trench. We’re talking, of course, about shearling: a material which invariably qualifies collars and lapels for the adjectival use of the phrase “fuck off”, and makes for linings as warm, as tactile, as any material on the planet.

The technical difference between sheepskin and shearling depends on who you ask – some hold that it can only be the latter if the sheep from which it has been sourced was recently shorn, while others insist it depends on the age of the animal. What we can be sure of, though, is that man’s relationship with ovine pelts goes back a long, long way.


Military aviators weren’t the first to realise the element-cheating properties of sheepskin – that would be Stone Age types who relished its soft snugness just as we modern homo sapiens do. As long ago as the Iron Age, the quality of sheepskin was a signifier of social status, while the post-Medieval Little Ice Age saw denizens of Northern Europe reach for their skinning knives, sparking a renaissance which would be further boosted in Britain by Tudor-era men (at least, those with the means to splatter them with venison fat of an evening) opting for fur-lined front-opening over-gowns.


    January 2022


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