Austrian clothing has a rich and storied past just like the Alpine culture from which it evolved. Hallmarks of the style are the ‘boiled’ wool fabrics, called Loden, developed by Alpine herdsmen and farmers in the Austrian Alps. Loden garments have been a staple of Austrian clothing for centuries. Not only has boiled wool clothing met their functional needs for centuries, but it has also evolved into a distinctive fashion. However, fashion and style are relatively contemporary constructs. Boiled wool sweaters were designed for protection from the elements. Naturally, staying warm, dry, and comfortable came before appearances, thus making fashion and style an afterthought. Austrian clothing styles were inspired by Alpine beauty and life in a harsh Alpine environment, where details meant life or death. Maybe that’s why fastidious attention to detail has come to define the Austrian dress. Fast forward to the present, and Austrian clothing not only protects from the elements but also purveys a distinct and timeless style. Survival in the Alps has gotten easier, but the style has become a world recognized fashion.
Yarn is spun onto cones before being woven into fabric.
Few trends stand the test of time, but Austrian clothing made from boiled wool is one of them. In order to stand up to years of wear, craftsmanship and fabric must be of exemplary quality, starting with proper care of the sheep and the wool. The wool must be carded and spun with regard to strength, fineness, and crimp. The yarn must be carefully woven into fabric, and then fulled for hours with warm water and tension. One traditional method, seen below at the Loden Steiner Alpine Mill, is beating the wet fabric with wooden hammers to shrink it.
loosely woven wet wool fabric being pounded into Loden
The fabric is also brushed with teasels (metal or from thistles) before being sheared repeatedly in order to create Loden with the right balance of weight, loft, and warmth; a specialized process carried out by astute craftsmen and women. Loden garments must be cut and sewn with the utmost attention to detail. Only then will the product stand the test of time. Boiled wool fabrics used by Robert W. Stolz keep to these traditions.
European craftsmanship is known for attention to detail and refinement. Austrian clothing is recognized throughout the world. Loden coats and boiled wool sweaters are identifiable by their sleek, yet elegant lines, supple, yet durable shell, and rich earth tone colors. Upon closer examination of a coat or sweater you can see how dense the Loden fabric actually is. Wool fibers are woven so tight the fabric is nearly impenetrable to wind or water. Yet you can recognize a certain loft to the fabric. The loft traps air to keep you warm, but allows the body to breath. You will notice the stitching and possibly give a little tug; tight as can be. You open the pockets to realize the sturdiness of the construction. You think about the skill required to create such a garment. You think about the Alpine regions and time honored traditions of the craftsmen and women who made a coat that will last for years.
Honoring traditions is important because without traditions knowledge is lost. The mills that produce Loden for Robert W. Stolz often employ generations of people. A woman might work right where her grandmother worked; or a man might perform the same task his grandfather performed. The process of making Loden has more or less remained the same since inception. Producing Loden fabric is part art and part science, more of which is explained here. Art is not necessarily rooted in fact, like science, so guidance must be followed. The art of creating is often passed from wise people to lay people. The lay people then become wise and continue the knowledge transfer; hence, a tradition. The knowledge needed for producing Loden is held collectively by the artisans of a handful of Alpine Mills and passed, not through textbooks, but tradition, to the next generation. Not only that, but the physical environment plays a role, like the mineral content of mountain stream water used to treat the wool, which makes it impossible to repeat the process somewhere else. Without these traditions Austrian clothing would no longer be renowned for durability, warmth, and excellence. The people who work in the mills are just as important as the fabric; in fact the fabric embodies their skill, diligence, and Alpine culture.
Spinning for strength and quality.
Tradition and heritage are great, but they aren’t the real reason we wear Austrian clothing. What matters, is how the garment makes you feel. Wearing a timeless boiled wool sweater for example, exudes confidence. Could be confidence to try something new, or confidence to embrace your past, or your family’s heritage. It also gives you the confidence to know that if it starts raining or snowing, you will be dry and warm. Our wardrobe says something about ourselves. Your outfit reflects your personality. Wearing something you feel good in is the best style advice.
Knit Wool Before & After 'Boiling'
Austrian clothing is truly considered timeless. It kept the first men to summit Everest dry and warm on their perilous journey. It kept shepherds warm as they tended their flocks during the frigid Alpine winters (and still does today). It keeps urban alpinists comfortable commuting to and from the office. It allows men and women of the Tirol region to honor their heritage during festivities. Loden has stood the test of time.