Nine months of testing for this review. Who wants to be my midwife?
Wool & Prince and this blog have been dovetailing nicely – I’ve been talking to them since the early days, and this is my third review of some of their stuff.
I’m as anti-corporate as the next liberal youth, but I ran into Mac, one of the owners of the Kickstarter-birthed clothing company Wool & Prince, on a forum for ultralight backpacking. Mac wanted to test formal button-up shirts in the autoclave of long-distance, endurance, off-the-grid backpacking and bike touring; he’s filling a niche in the men’s clothing market that, honestly, nobody else has come close to.
The ultimate travel shirt. The ultimate do-anything shirt. On par with the quality in $300+ designer dress shirts, at a price accessible to people on internship salaries. Cut for someone who weighs less than 200lbs, which is tough to find in the generic formalwear section of a department store.
I wore my original dress shirt, the Better Button Down, for three months straight with nothing more than an occasional rinse and air-dry, from January to April of this year. I’ve been testing the original shirt and a few others continuously since then, for 9+ total months of total testing.
Wait, let me back up— yes, I wore a dress shirt for 3 months without washing it. I was as skeptical as you, reader, scrunching your brow in disgust. I tested it relentlessly to check the claim. Kelley has a superhuman sense of smell, and kept me informed through the whole process (reluctantly).
Here’s what I put the shirt through:
- Cycling. Of course. It wasn’t an ideal cycling shirt (surprise surprise) but it was a neat companion on overnight bikepacking trips and a few short tours around Massachusetts.
- Hiking. This was my go-to backpacking shirt for several multi-day camping trips. I wore it in frigid cold and 90+ degree heat.
- Travel. I wore one of these for a 10-day trip through New York City and Las Vegas, and I wore these up and down the East Coast on several different jaunts.
- Formal Wear. Two job conferences, one wedding, five or ten dates, and a graduation.
- Informal Wear. Three rock concerts, one Adult Prom, countless late night bar crawls, dance nights, two Reggae shows, birthday parties, and one bomb threat evacuation.
Here’s how the oldest of the three looks. I don’t think I’ve used soap on it once since I got it:
The secret in Wool & Prince’s magic shirt is Merino Wool, that fiber I’ve mentioned almost once per post for the last year. Merino wool comes from merino sheep, warm mammals like you and I, rather than the cotton plant which, honestly, couldn’t care less about things like perspiration. Wool works better than everything else because it evolved over a few million years to handle bad weather and hygiene. The fibers have anti-bacterial properties, inhibiting the growth of the bacteria that cause odors in the first place. No bacteria growth means no odor, and nothing unclean about an unwashed shirt. An occasional rinse takes care of the fabric perfectly, and there’s no evidence at all that you’re not blasting it with bleach and detergent after every use like the rest of the plebeians wearing plant fibers.
Here’s a close-up of one shirt after five consecutive uses:
I wore these shirts a lot. I’m wearing one right now. Putting a shirt through near-daily use, at least 2-4 days a week, puts a lot of wear and tear on cuffs, collars, and buttons. Stains are inevitable.
For what it’s worth, these shirts impressed.
I never managed to pop a button or seam, even after hours of use underneath backpack straps. Wool fabric can bend thousands of times more than cotton fibers without breaking at the microscopic level, making these shirts almost lifetime investments. All of them still look new. Since wool is hydrophobic, these resisted staining fantastically, and all clean up with a quick dab of hand soap or a rinse cycle. Maintenance was almost zero.
If I packed these in the bottom of my backpack for days, wrinkles formed. If I wore them for 20 minutes, those same wrinkles faded right out. My “wrinkle-free” synthetic clothes can’t touch the Better Button Down. That’s a big deal, especially if you’ve got to keep your shirt tucked in for more than a couple days in a row. The telltale wrinkles around the waistline simply don’t form.
I’m 6’1″ and 165 lbs. In May I was 175, thanks to dormancy post-surgery, and in January I was closer to 155 because I had given vegetarianism a spin. The Medium was a little tight on me, but the Large was a great fit.
Fit was important to me, since a shopping trip to Macy’s can make you feel 50 pounds underweight. Men’s dress clothes are often cut for the most frequent user, the middle-aged father of three with a well-deserved paunch. Finding formal clothes that fit great for someone in their athletic 20’s is a challenge. Some brands make “slim fit” clothes that leave me feeling like I’ve got a corset on. Try to pivot at the hips with only an inch of give in your dress shirt, and you’ll see what I mean. The Better Button Down could have been tailored for my build. If you’re anywhere close to my proportions, this should work. The fit is, at least, the best I’ve worn.
I had to have a tailor add a button to the cuffs of my original shirt, since those were a bit wide. Mac at Wool & Prince has since added a second button, as per feedback.
I get comments all the time on the feel of the fabric. Unfortunately, most of the comments come from my mother. These aren’t wool sweaters, and they’re not the Pendleton flannels of the 1970’s. Wool and Prince uses a really tight weave, so they feel softer than cotton shirts and are just as thin.
The fabric feels durable and tightly woven, but there’s a certain softness to it that is reminiscent of cotton. My wool athletic shirts from Smartwool, Icebreaker, and Ibex all have the faintest bit of wooly scratchiness that some people (like me) can’t feel and others cannot stand, and these dress shirts don’t even have that. It feels very different from typical Merino Wool, in a good way.
There’s enough length in the sleeves to prevent binding when I’m holding a bag over my head, shuffling out of a crowded bus. So, usually, I get to forget I’m wearing one of these, which I find impossible to do with a traditional dress shirt. If I’m dressed formally, I think about the discomfort of my reach and the perpetually half-untucked state of my shirt about ten times per minute. This shirt is comfortable enough that it drifts to the back of my consciousness.
Wool and Prince takes inspiration from a previous age, and avoids “old” and tired formal patterns like huge box-paid designs like the plague. Just about every one of their shirts matches up with the khakis, blazers, bow-ties, and shoes I’m already wearing. My three Better Button Downs go with everything else in my minimalist wardrobe, so I’m encouraged to wear them often.
Mac hooked me up with new threads to test during the summer, so I wore their T-shirts (tested here) and their undies just as often as I spun through their dress shirts. Today, my minimalist wardrobe consists of two T-shirts and three dress shirts, all of which are shamelessly Wool & Prince.
I’m a supporter of this shirt, the brand, and the guys over at Wool & Prince who keep re-designing everything several times a year because myself, and their other testers, provide feedback relentlessly. It’s nice to see a home-grown company do so well, and now, just one year after establishing themselves, Wool & Prince is thriving on the back of a better product that doesn’t cut a single corner.
If you’re looking for the ultimate travel shirt, this is it.
Disclaimer: Yes, I’m a tester for Wool & Prince, and that means I’ve been given these shirts (along with some prototypes). I’ve told other companies that I’m not comfortable reviewing a “free” product if I don’t think it’s worth every word. W&P’s shirt earned its review.