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What’s the difference between ‘layers’ and regular ‘clothes’?

November 18, 2019 5 min read

What's the difference between layers and regular clothes?

Ever wondered why we quite often refer to our merino outdoor clothing as ‘layers’ or ‘base layers’ rather than just calling them ‘clothes’. Maybe it’s time we explained why.


Aren’t all clothes ‘layers’, and all layers ‘clothes’?


First the easy bit: Yes, layers are basically clothes, and in theory at least, all clothes can be layered. If you put one thing on over the top of other, technically, you’ve just layered your clothes.


So what’s a base layer?


A base layer is something specifically designed to be your ‘first layer’. Usually this means it’s tighter fitting, so there’s no space for cold air in between your skin and the fabric, and so it doesn’t bunch up if you put something over it. This is one of the ways we make sure you don’t end up looking like The Michelin Man if you need to wear multiple layers. With our Altitude base layer range, it also means you get things like thumb loops which help you pull another sleeve over the top without your sleeve riding up, and drop back hems to make sure you don’t end up with any cold spots if you bend forward. It’s basically the perfect foundation for warmth and comfort.



Can I wear a base layer without other layers?


Yes, of course you can wear a base layer on its own! In fact, this is how ioMerino actually started! When brothers David and Peter Michell used to go skiing, they’d have a bit of a sook about how ugly their base layers were when they called it a day and didn’t like poncing about in effective, but daggy base layers.


So they set about making some that not only did the job, but looked good as well. And ioMerino was born. The closer fitting cut isn’t everyone’s cup of tea though, which is why we introduced our Ultra range (sporty fit) and our Universal range (regular fit). They can still be worn as base layers, but don’t have the traditional ‘contact fit’. (Our Vital range is probably the one you’d be less likely to wear on its own because it’s extra lightweight and the rib fabric is quite sheer.)


Layers are also designed to be worn together.


While you can layer any clothes by wearing one thing on top of another, there’s a whole lot of science and design in layers that work well together, to deliver higher performance and ultimately, more effective comfort with less bulk and weight. For starters, Merino is the world’s favourite material for base layers because it is basically one of nature’s little miracles - it’s breathable, moisture wicking, temperature regulating, odor-resistant and exactly what you want next to your skin for ultimate comfort. If you get your base layer wrong, it’s like getting the foundations of your house wrong - anything else that goes on top isn’t going to be as good. The concept of our Merino layers is that two relative thin, ultra lightweight layers, can deliver more warmth and comfort than bigger, bulkier layers made from regular fabrics. If you’re just walking to the shops this isn’t such a big deal, but when you’re outside on the trails and you want something light but effective that won’t restrict your movement, our Merino layers are about as good as they get.




Layers deliver a great level of temperature control.


Some people love a nice warm coat or jacket. The problem with having thicker, heavier layers like this, is that you lower your ability to make smaller adjustments to your comfort level. If things get too warm for that big jacket, taking it off can mean you lose too much warmth in one hit. By having a few lightweight layers, your can deliver a similar amount of warmth, but taking one off doesn’t take you from boiling hot to freezing in one hit. Instead you can make more subtle adjustments to your warmth level. And if you do take one off, it’s much simpler and lighter to carry than lugging around a bulky jacket. 


Are all base layers the same?


Another easy one, because in a word, no. Generally speaking the two main options are synthetics and Merino. Synthetics mostly only have one, possibly two advantages over Merino. The first one is the price. They’re made of plastic so can be made cheaper. And secondly, they can potentially be more durable. Which, by the way, also happens to be a major downside because when you’re done with them, they become landfill and literally won’t break down for thousands of years. Merino on the other hand, is a natural fibre and will break down nicely. (You can read more about Synthetics Vs Merino here.) With pretty much every other criteria imaginable, merino comes out on top every time. It’s more natural, more breathable, better at temperature regulating, great at moisture wicking and about 1,000,000% better at odour-resistance.


Are all Merino base layers the same?


Again, an easy one, because also no. Sure there’s a bit of bragging involved when everyone claims their Merino fabrics are the best, but there’s also a whole lot of science and facts behind why some are better than others. We could bore you to tears with the ins and outs of it all, but in a nutshell it starts with the quality of wool fibre, it then depends how that fibre is turned into yarn, how that yarn is knitted into fabric, and then how that fabric is cut and sewn into the finished product. There are many variables at every step of the way. And unlike the vast majority of other companies, ioMerino has 150 years of wool know-how to make sure our fabrics are some of the best in the world. David Michell who started the company, still personally oversees everything we do, and he’s a fussy bastard, so if it’s not good enough for him, it doesn’t see the light of day.



Make sense?


So there you go. Now you know why we call them ‘layers’, even though they’re also ‘clothes’. Wear them together or on their own, it’s totally up to you. And when you choose your layers, choose wisely. Because your decisions make a difference. That’s why people who care about the planet as much as they care about their own comfort levels, go with io.