5 great merino wool dress shirts for staying comfy and wrinkle-free

13 Flares 13 Flares ×

I have a pathological distaste for cotton. It has been my lifelong textile arch-nemesis, and I am slowly, but surely, winning the battle of banning it from my existence. More or less, anyway.

Cotton may have been the world’s most spectacular fiber for hundreds of years; it’s soft, strong, absorbent, and versatile enough for cozy pajamas, or super-tough denim; but, on the downside, it wrinkles like crazy, and holds onto water like a terrified toddler holds onto mommy: Annoyingly.

And, much like the horse-drawn carriage, all good things must come to an end, when supplanted by utterly superior alternatives. And of all clothing categories in which cotton is losing its luster, button-up dress shirts make for quite a welcome change. I mean seriously, how has the entire globe settled on the prerequisite of passing a slab of hot metal over the fabric every time you wear the damn thing? Why must we deal with such nonsense?!??!

The good news is: We don’t. There’s an escape route. A non-wrinkly, super soft, long-lasting, self-cleaning, all-natural miracle fabric that will have you feeling a little…ahem…sheepish that you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes for so long.

Icebreaker Departure Merino Shirt
I would show you the older shirt this new one replaced, but I already threw it out. Joyously.

…I have more puns, but I think you get the idea.

Why merino wool dress shirts are your new best friend

Merino wool has long been a mainstay of hikers and scruffy backpackers alike, prized for its ability to regulate body temperature, handle immense perspiration, remain utterly immune to wrinkles, and entirely impervious to body odors of any kind. Mountaineers have pushed its legendary anti-odor ability to the limits, wearing merino wool clothing for several months at a time without washing at all; it’ll still look (and smell) brand new.

And, in recent years, these spectacular performance advantages have arrived in formal attire, as merino wool dress shirts have become a reality. There are all sorts of perks that arise from this, but my favorite part is: They don’t wrinkle. They literally cannot wrinkle.

Here, I’ll show you:

Cotton vs wool wrinkle test
I had trouble figuring out which was the before or after photo for the wool. I had to check the time stamp.

I cannot get wrinkles in there, even if I try. Check out a close up:

Cotton vs wool closeup
Apparently my camera doesn’t do such a great job with skin tones.

This is a shirt you can stuff into a backpack and yank out looking great, and why would you ever want anything else!??!

And this certainly isn’t the only advantage merino has over cotton; merino wool is softer, more breathable, more temperature regulating, and, most famously of all, it’s immune to body odor. But my favorite thing of all is that it won’t require dragging a hot slab of steel over the fabric over and over again just to keep it from looking like garbage. Argh! Ironing is so damn stupid. I’m going to throw out all of my cotton shirts someday, and I will never look back. Never I say!

One thing that was interesting was that they probably won’t dry faster than cotton after a sink wash. If you’re comparing t-shirts, merino wool generally dries faster than cotton, but when it comes to button-ups, most cotton dress shirts are paper-thin, whereas some of the merino dress shirts I’ve seen are a little thicker, for added durability, and will thus take a little longer to dry. Not a huge deal, since you don’t have to wash them that often, but something to be aware of.

Okay! Lecture over. Let’s take a look at the options. Some are made of pure merino wool, and some are blended with cotton to give it a crisp, dressy look, although 100% merino shirts look great too. They have a bit of a looser drape, but I don’t mind. Here we go:

100% merino wool buttoned shirts:

1) Icebreaker Departure Plaid

Icebreaker Departure Shirt
The Icebreaker Departure.

This was my first foray into merino wool button downs (it’s the one pictured above), and it was a good one. This is the only one I know of that has a casual look, with some modern flair with the unique chest pocket, and it just looks great.

It also happens to be the lightest, and is available either in short or long sleeves, making it a great option for staying comfy in the sweltering temperatures of Southeast Asian steam bath nations.

It’s plain and simple, with just a single chest pocket, and no other features, though it makes use of diagonal plaid along the button placket and side panels. I’ve seen it available in solid colors as well, but I think it looks great in plaid. I managed to find mine on sale for half off, and it shouldn’t be too hard for you to do the same, given Icebreaker’s product proliferation.

  • Price: $150 (easy to find on sale)
  • Fabric: 100% merino wool
  • Fabric weight: 150 g/sq. m

Get it here.

2) Wool & Prince Better Button Down

Wool and Prince Better Button Down
The Wool and Prince Better Button Down.

This shirt launched on Kickstarter by managing to raise over 1,000% of its funding goal, spurred on by the viral anecdote of the founder wearing a single shirt for 100 straight days. He never washed it… and it never wrinkled, and never smelled. Shouldn’t everything work that way?

This is perhaps the dressiest of the styles I’ve seen, and will likely end up replacing your existing dress shirts, because wrinkles are stupid.

The Better Button Down comes in several colors, with classic styling, a button down collar, and a substantial fabric that’s stronger than cotton, and will hold up to years of use.

I’m under the impression that it’s dry clean only, though as mentioned, merino wool rarely needs cleaning of any kind (though I’ve also heard it can be washed on a delicate cycle every once in a while and it’ll come out just fine).

Minor update: I received a sample shirt to test out, and the fit is GREAT. Slim in the body, but with a little extra room in the shoulders and sleeves, so that it’s actually less restrictive than certain stretchy shirts of mine, even though this is a non-stretch fabric. Ideal for slim or athletic guys, and easily the best-fitting shirt I currently own.

  • Price: $128
  • Fabric: 100% merino wool
  • Fabric weight: 130 g/sq. m (previously mislabeled as 210)

Get it here.

Merino/cotton blend buttoned shirts:

3) Outlier Merino/Co Pivot

Outlier Merino Co Pivot
The Outlier Merino/Co Pivot.

Outlier has informed me that this is the shirt they’re most proud of. They literally went around the world looking for something suitable (Get it? Get it!?!?) and built a merino/cotton button-up that combines the wrinkle resistance and the temperature and moisture regulation of merino wool with the crisp, structured appearance of cotton. They call it “the one to travel the world with.”

It has a mostly-classic appearance, though with a unique chest pocket (the flap actually goes down, so you can do a handstand and nothing will fall out), and a hidden button-down collar. It also has Outlier’s Pivot Sleeve, which allows stretchy arm movements, even with mostly non-stretchy fabric.

  • Price: $175
  • Fabric: 59% merino wool, 41% cotton
  • Fabric weight: 200 g/sq. m

Get it here.

4) Ninox Aspen

Ninox Aspen
The Ninox Aspen.

Minor caveat: This is still in Kickstarter mode right now, but I think they’re also selling it through their site simultaneously. I’m hoping people will still be able to get it even if the Kickstarter fails, but it looks like it’s on track to succeed. The world needs fewer wrinkles!!!

Featuring a blend of merino wool and cotton (looks like 50/50, though I don’t see exact percentages), this will provide the performance advantages of merino, with the familiarity of cotton. It also has a classic appearance that’ll be equally at home in the office, or wherever, with a hidden button-down collar for incognito immobilization.

  • Price: $149
  • Fabric: 54% cotton, 46% merino wool
  • Fabric weight: Unpublished

Get it here.

5) LL Bean cotton/merino sport shirt

LL Bean Cotton Merino Sport Shirt
The LL Bean Cotton Merino Sport Shirt.

This one juuuust barely sneaks by, because it’s mostly cotton (85%), with just a little merino (15%), but it’s also the cheapest. You might also prefer the somewhat more relaxed fit, and the workmanlike aesthetic, which I’m going to call “lumberjack plaid.”

LL Bean’s guarantee is also rock-solid, so everything you get from them is just automatically worry-free, which is my second-favorite type of free.

It has a button-down collar, a single, buttoned chest pocket, and is also available in tall sizes.

  • Price: $79
  • Fabric: 85% cotton, 15% merino wool
  • Fabric weight: Unpublished

Get it here.

Is there a poor man’s alternative?

Yup! Merino is pricey, and there’s just no way around it. Those adorable little sheep need to eat, you know. But a cheap alternative is a cotton/polyester blend button-up shirt. Even just a little polyester will practically eliminate all the wrinkles, and it’ll help a shirt dry fast enough that you can wash it in the evening, and it’ll be ready to go by morning.

Cotton/polyester blends probably won’t be as good as merino wool (partly because most of them include polyester because it’s cheap, which means they’re looking to cut corners, and might cut several), but if cash is a concern, this is a decent option. I’ve got a 60/40 cotton/polyester plaid button-up from Volcom that looks great, gets compliments, and cost me $40. Not as good as merino (particularly in terms of odor resistance), but not bad. Tencel is another promising fabric alternative, but nobody’s using it at the moment.

But, whichever way you go, you’ll be set for low-maintenance adventurousness all over the world, looking snappy and presentable even if you are scruffy and uncultured. Or, alternatively, it’ll enhance your ability to be incredibly lazy at home, because merino wool dress shirts will convince you to never pick up an iron ever again.

Either way, win-win.

Follow even more rantings on Twitter!

Get the newsletter!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

13 Flares Facebook 9 Twitter 2 Google+ 2 Pin It Share 0 StumbleUpon 0 Reddit 0 Buffer 0 13 Flares ×