Back in Wovember 2012, our good friend Tom Van Deijnen wrote this piece for his carefully curated Wovember Words series. In it, he explores the ideas of the German naturalist and hygenist Doctor Jaeger, and how he saw WOOL as the best medicine; in lieu of this morning’s post, we are reviving Tom’s wondrous Wovember Words from the archives!

Wovember Words 28. 

In the late 19th century, Dr Gustav Jaeger developed a philosophy of ‘sanitary clothing’ in which wool is given the spotlight. In contrast to ‘chilling materials’ such as linen and cotton, wool could absorb and pass away the ‘noxious exhalations’ of the body. In 1884 the Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System was founded by English businessman Lewis Tomalin. In a 1930s bulletin extolling the health-giving properties of wool, Mr Garrett, head of the Jaeger technical laboratory explains:

“The foremost elements to give proper protection and comfort in what you wear are – slow conductivity, to enable the body to maintain a normal temperature, absorption to eliminate damp, ventilation and moderate weight. Adequate cover of the human frame is essential for the maintenance of health and good wool possesses all the elements named…ideal sportswear is always made from wool for the reasons given.”

– S Black, Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft, V&A Publishing 2012, London

One famous literary person wearing Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System was George Bernard Shaw (Wovember disclaimer: although this looks like a woollen suit, we cannot be sure if it was made by Dr Jaeger)

Tomalin’s 1884 venture ‘Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Co Ltd’, grew into the global fashion brand Jaeger. The company was committed to supporting the War effort, making underwear and blankets and, as the poster below shows, they continued to promote wool for heath.

With designers such as Jean Muir and pieces modelled by Jean Shrimpton, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, the brand became iconic for British made, fashionable garments. Natural animal fibres were always a key part of collections from the Camel Coat to wool suits and the knitted twinset and pearls look that were once so iconic for the brand.

Many knitters will also have a Jaeger ball of wool in their deep, deep stash as well as a knitting pattern book or two; the early emphasis was the feel and texture of the fabric, as well as being able to make your own high fashion at home.

Jaeger went into administration in April this year and the future of the company is not certain. Team Wovember would like to salute Doctor Jaeger for his pioneering work on wool for health and well being! You can read The Illustrated catalogue pertaining to the Sanitary System of Dr. Gustav Jaeger at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries.