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All About Shearling – Wool and Leather, Together Forever

As terms like “plant-based,” “vegan,” and cruelty-free” have become mainstream, it’s clear that an increasing percentage of people are not OK using or wearing animal products. (I’ve always figured, “Fine, more suede boots and bacon cheeseburgers for me!”).

Should you agree, especially with wearing animal products, then you should seriously consider getting yourself some shearling. In order to wear any more of an animal, you’d have to strap on an actual sheep.

What is Shearling Leather?

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Shearling, or sheep skin to put a super fine point on it, solves the problem of whether to wear a leather or wool jacket by allowing you to do both…at the same time (try not to think about the fact that truly soft shearling comes from lambs/baby sheep…try!). Tanning and “dressing” a sheep hide with the wool still attached is a long way to go for style’s sake, but the origins of the technique were firmly rooted in practicality (you know, not freezing to death).

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From the Stone through Middle Ages, wearing shearling was common sense protection against the elements.

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It was the Victorians that elevated the fashion status of the shearling, as the idea of a winter coat became “all the rage” (and pneumonia became so five minutes ago).

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The image of the shearling garment you likely have in your mind’s eye is that of the hefty bomber jacket. That’s because as standard issue gear for WWII pilots, it achieved a permanent place in our pop consciousness as a rugged, heroic piece, instantly adding style points to whomever would wear one.

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Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954).

Marlon Brando lent a hand in the 1950s, keeping the jacket a contender in On The Waterfront, Rocky did his part in the 1980s by appearing in a training montage (set to John Cafferty’s “Hearts On Fire!”) wearing one, and then a class of men very easy to hate in the 1990s proved that shearling could be the essence of uncool by wearing Uggs (I say spell them Ughs!). But that ugliness is behind us, and today Shearling is as vital and on-trend as ever (as it is almost every fall/winter), with both old and new takes on the classic look just waiting to keep out the chill while simultaneously insuring you keep cool.

Before you decide which style of shearling is right for you, there are a few key things to keep in mind. For starters, you should be aware that you’re undeniably wearing a “fur” coat, and calling it a shearling doesn’t change that fact (the soft outside fluff of an animal = fur). So if you’re OK with leather, but fur is a bridge too far, you could consider a synthetic shearling, or then again, just don’t ever do that (instead wear a leather jacket alone or move to a warmer climate).

If you are OK with fur, next be prepared to shell out some big bucks–the sheep stuff ain’t cheap stuff–as the tanning process for achieving supple leather and soft wool together is wildly labor intensive and, as is the way with all nice things, pricey. Also be prepared for the fact that it is warm, very warm (remember, this is all that sheep wear to stay alive and they live outdoors, often in the snow…or somewhere even colder like Buffalo). It has been my experience that it’s often too warm, that is unless you’re dropping bombs out of a B-29 at 30,000 feet or training in the Russian tundra to fight Ivan Drago.

Shearling Products

The Real McCoy’s B-3 Flight Jacket

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Leave it to our friends at The Real McCoy’s to make perhaps the finest version of the classic WWII bomber jacket, available for a mere–brace yourself–$2693.78 (the price in yen looks even higher).

Available at Rakuten.

Nine Lives El Rodeo Jacket

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Of course, you might be saying, “Three grand…that’s it? Ain’t you got nothin’ with a little bit a luxury?” To you I’d say, “stop flaunting your wealth, you’re better than that,” and then direct you to the ultimate in 1% cold weather gear, the Nine Lives “El Rodeo” Cashmere Shearling, for $6,500 (though the midnight blue does look pretty swank).

Available at Nine Lives.

Chippewa 1935 Hunting Boots

 

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Lest you think shearling can only be worn above the knee, there’s always shearling footwear to consider (again, best worn exclusively outdoors, as 10 minutes lounging in a coffee shop will have your socks filled with more sweat than your Venti cup be with latte. Chippewa’s 8″ 1935 Hunting Boot is an exceptional example at a slightly less ridiculous price.

Available for 195 EUR at Cultizm.

L.L. Bean Wicked Good Mocassins

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And there’s always the perennial favorite, a welcome site under holiday trees everywhere is L.L. Bean’s shearling slippers, an affordable way to keep your tootsies toasty all winter long.

Available for $78 at L.L. Bean.

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These are but a few examples–there’s plenty out there, and with a its arguably unmatched combination of fashion and function, no one would discourage you from finding the shearling piece that’s perfect for you. (OK, no one except maybe a lamb, or maybe the lamb’s parents, but probably no one else.)