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What is Fleece?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Fleece is a type of hair found on sheep, yaks, alpacas, some goats, rabbits, and several other types of animals. Most commonly, this unique hair is associated with sheep and yaks. This hair has a number of properties which make it very distinctive, and extremely useful. People have been collecting fleece and weaving it into various textiles for centuries, and some of the oldest known textiles in the world are made from fleeces.

Also known as wool, fleece consists of hairs of varying lengths which have a great deal of loft and insulating properties. On the animal, the hair grows together in a mat, with the scales on the individual hairs interlocking. The hair keeps the animal warm and dry, allowing it to live in cold, harsh climates. Because the hairs interlock, it is also possible to remove fleece whole, using a pair of shears or an electronic clipper to quickly snip the mat away from the animal's skin.

The process of taking fleece from an animal is known as “shearing.” Shearing classically takes place in the spring, when the animals have especially long coats, and the risk of extremely cold weather which could hurt the shorn animals is over. Once the hair has been sheared, it can be graded for quality, with people assessing the length of the hair, the amount of crimping it has, the width, and other factors. After grading, fleece is processed so that it can be spun into thread for knitting, weaving, and other crafts.

The texture of the raw hair is quite distinctive. It is, quite literally, woolly. The mat of interlocking fibers which forms naturally on some animals is also imitated artificially by humans to make various “fleece” products such as jackets and blankets. This imitation is made from specially treated plastic fibers, and it lacks the deep insulation and loft of true fleeces, although it can be quite warm and comfortable in wet weather, since the plastics resist moisture very effectively.

When animals with fleeces are butchered, it is not uncommon to leave the fleece attached to the leather, treating them together to create a special textile. This combination of leather and fleece, known as shearling, can be used to make waterproof insulating garments like shoes and coats. Shearling takes advantage of the durability of fleece and leather, along with their water resistance and workability. It is also viewed as fashionable in some areas of the world.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By letshearit — On Jun 25, 2011

Does anyone think that if I am allergic to wool that I should stay away from real fleece?

For as long as I can remember putting on wool has made me itch like crazy. I also tend to get a rash that persists until I take allergy medication.

I find it interesting that many doctors feel that there are very few people with real wool allergies. This is despite many people I know breaking out into a rash after putting on wool. I remember my own doctor telling me that I just may have very sensitive skin and it is more the scratchiness that bothers me. If this is true I hope I can wear real fleece, as it is much softer.

By Sara007 — On Jun 23, 2011

I think most people are familiar with the fake fleece that is available cheaply in most big box stores. It is amazingly soft and will keep you warm in winter.

I actually have had a lot of trouble finding genuine fleece, as we don't have many leather good stores in our city, or higher end clothing stores for that matter. I think it is probably easiest for most people to order online if they are looking for the real deal when it comes to fleece.

I must admit after looking at the prices of true fleece I think it would really have to be an investment piece for your wardrobe.

By golf07 — On Jun 23, 2011

Fleece clothing has become very popular in the last few years, and I can understand why because it is so warm. I have several items of fleece including clothes, blankets and even fleece lined boots and slippers.

On damp, cold days there is something warm and comforting about putting on a fleece sweat shirt, or having that extra layer of protection in your boots or shoes.

By cupcake15 — On Jun 23, 2011

I know what you mean. I have been to Florida in the winter and there are a few days that the temperatures dip into the forties, but that is usually early morning or late evening. You could wear a fleece sweater during the day, but by noon you would have to switch to something lighter because it usually goes up to the seventies which will totally make you sweat with a fleece sweater on.

I like having a change of seasons and I like wearing my fleece jacket in the winter. That is really the only thing that I don’t like about Florida because they really only experience spring and summer and that is it. You don’t get a chance to wear your winter fleece clothing.

By Moldova — On Jun 23, 2011

I have to say that nothing keeps you warmer than wearing a fleece jacket. The material is also so soft and comfortable that it is the best thing to wear on a cold and windy day. I live in Florida, and I can count on my fingertips the cold days that we have had during the year, so my fleece clothing really does not get a lot of use unfortunately.

I really wish I could wear it more often, but it is just too hot. In fact, I remember when I used to work for a department store that was based out of Northern California we would receive huge shipments of fleece clothing, and it would never sell.

The buyers unfortunately bought the same assortment for the whole country not taking into account for regional differences in various parts of the country. Florida is different than California because we normally have tropical weather year round. The lowest temperature is probably in the high sixties to low seventies which is really light sweater weather for some people.

We ended up having to mark these fleece vests and fleece jackets down to 75% off, so I know that the store didn’t make any money. I was surprised that a store of that stature made such a basic mistake like that.

By Kat919 — On Jun 23, 2011

@MissDaphne - I was thinking the same thing! I have a baby who's cloth diapered and the fancy new ones are lined with polyester fleece. It's a wicking fabric, so that way the baby never even feels wet. My favorite baby blanket is made of this fleece fabric my mom found--it says "I Love Grandma." Super cute.

The old-fashioned kind of fleece also has a use in cloth diapers, though. Some people put wool pants on over a cloth diaper instead of using a waterproof cover. I think they treat them with lanolin and it almost works like a sheep's fleece to spread out and get rid of the wetness.

By MissDaphne — On Jun 23, 2011

Ha, I don't think it ever occurred to me that fleece was a natural product. I was thinking of the jackets and blankets which are definitely not made of anything from an animal. I know because they melt if they get too hot!

I'm a middle school teacher and I always see the kids wearing their black fleece jackets, even when it's like sixty degrees outside! I guess they're polyester.

I did once have a pair of shearling slippers that I received as a gift. I felt guilty, but they sure were toasty.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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