Sherpas and Shackets and Skiwear, Oh My: Staying Warm, Stylish and Flare-Free This Winter


By Melissa Haller Tanoko

Published On: Dec 6, 2021

Last Updated On: Dec 14, 2021

Retail stores and catalogues are jam-packed with stylish and cozy winter trends, but people with eczema face unique challenges when choosing winter clothing. Warmer items are often made with fabrics that can cause irritation and itching. They can also lead to overheating, sweating and resulting flares. 

But don’t worry, having eczema doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice fashion. We connected with a panel of experts and asked for their advice on dressing for winter this year: Daniel Boey, a world-renowned fashion producer and director (who also has eczema); Dr. JiaDe (Jeff) Yu, a board-certified dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital; and Dr. Rupam Brar, assistant professor of pediatrics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

Boey highlighted a number of options for fashionable outerwear this year, noting that “designers are taking ski fashion and mixing it with our daily wear. Think puffer coats in bold, brash colors, mixed with cropped or cardigan knits.” For more formal wear, tailored long coats and trench coats are in style this year. He also mentioned that “ponchos and capes had a resurgence at Gabriela Hearst, Alberta Ferretti and Missoni.”

Sherpa seems to be in everything this season, providing the lining and/or outer layers of jackets, vests, hats, purses — you name it. Sherpa is a type of fleece fabric made from polyester, acrylic, or cotton and is sometimes called ‘faux shearling,’ named for its resemblance to the wool-lined clothing worn by the Sherpa people of Nepal. Sherpa mimics the bumpy texture of sheep’s wool. Sherpa and fleece are generally okay for people with eczema, though it depends on the specific fabric and quality. 

The shacket (a combination of shirt and jacket) is another hot trend this winter. “The shacket combines the best of two staples and is great to wear when the weather is cool but not cold enough for a full jacket,” Boey said. “You can layer them over a tee, a thin sweater, a blouse or a dress. And men can embrace this trend too.” He went on to say, “Shackets also happen to be made of really comfortable fabrics.” These include cotton and flannel — both good choices for people with eczema.

This year, one way to update your wardrobe is to look for a few key pieces in the saturated (or vivid) colors that have been seen on the runways, in contrast to the neutral tones of past years. You can also choose to mix and match them. Boey explained, “Complementary and secondary hues of the color wheel are mixed (up) and matched, e.g., mustard meets lemon at Jil Sander, pink and marigold at Miu Miu.”

In terms of fabrics on the runway, Boey said, “Knits are back in a major way. Designers are doing luxe knitwear in the form of skirts, maxi dresses and two-piece sets. We also see lots of knitted polo shirts for men in the seasonal collections.” Remember to look for lighter cotton knits that won’t make you overheat.

What to look for in fabric

Fabric is the most important aspect to consider when looking for eczema-friendly clothing, especially garments that lie directly against the skin. All of the experts we interviewed agreed that natural fabrics (other than wool) are a good choice for people with eczema. They also recommend looking for soft, finely woven fabrics. Textiles with larger fibers tend to be itchier. 100% cotton is ideal, according to Boey and Dr. Yu, especially for garments that touch the skin directly. “Cotton is soft, cool, great at absorbing sweat, easily washable, allows the skin to ‘breathe’ and doesn’t irritate skin as much,” Boey explained.

It is best to choose organic cotton, whenever possible. Dr. Yu said, “100% organic cotton clothing is less likely to contain some potential allergens in clothing, including potentially allergenic dyes (disperse dyes) as well as formaldehyde resins, used in clothing labeled “wrinkle-free” or “stain-repellant.” He continued, “Some fabrics have an ‘OEKO-TEX’ label which also certifies that they are free of harmful and potential allergenic chemicals. These are harder to find, but are optimal.” Boey recommends Supima cotton, which can be found at major stores.

Clothes made from bamboo fibers are also eczema-friendly. “It’s another soft, breathable material that is more absorbent than cotton. It’s also effective at regulating body temperatures and has antibacterial properties,” Boey said. Boey also uses the HEATTECH clothing made by Uniqlo. Even though it is made of synthetic fibers, it doesn’t irritate his skin or cause overheating.

Dr. Yu and Dr. Brar routinely tell their patients to avoid wool. Dr. Yu said: “Even though it’s a natural fabric, it is often very scratchy and the fibers can irritate anyone with exposed, sensitive skin.”

Boey and Dr. Yu both stressed that triggers can vary widely from person to person. As a result, finding the right fabrics can be a process of trial and error. Boey said, “You have to experiment with different types of textiles until you know for sure what your body can tolerate. It’s different for everyone.”

While avoiding irritating fabric is important, Dr. Yu also underlined the importance of washing clothes carefully. He recommended, “Wash clothing in 100% fragrance-free detergents and avoid fabric softeners and dryer sheets.”

Experts also recommend washing garments once before wearing in case there are any remaining chemicals or dyes.

Boey also cuts the labels off his clothing (especially his base layer) prior to wear.

It’s all about that base (layer)

It’s important to find clothes that fit well and provide room for air to flow. Boey and Dr. Brar both advised against tightly fitted garments that can cause itching and overheating. Regulating heat with appropriate clothing that isn’t too thick is another important aspect of managing eczema. Dr. Brar said, “Heat is such a big trigger for my patients with eczema.” Boey recommended layering as the best way to ensure optimum comfort and avoid overheating. He recommends three layers: base, middle and outer.

He explained that the base layer “is of utmost importance.” This is the layer of clothing that comes in direct contact with the skin. Boey chooses soft clothing, usually made from Supima cotton, or Uniqlo’s HEATTECH material.

Boey said, “The middle layer is where you can make your fashion statement. These garments should keep you warm, but should be comfortable enough in an indoor environment as well.”

The outer layer should “protect you from the biting cold of the outdoor winter weather,” Boey said. He explained this can include coats, jackets or ponchos. He avoids turtlenecks or other garments with higher necks because they irritate his skin

Key take-aways

Choosing the right winter clothing is possible when you remember these key points:

  • Avoid chemicals, especially clothing labeled “wrinkle-free” or “stain-resistant;”
  • Look for soft, breathable, natural materials like cotton and bamboo;
  • Choose lighter-weight clothing that won’t make you overheat indoors;
  • Dress in layers;
  • Wear your most fashionable pieces over a comfortable base layer;
  • Stay warm and have fun!

For more tips on managing eczema in the winter, check out these articles: Eczema in Winter and Six Tips For Keeping Eczema Calm In Winter.

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