One of the first questions you have to answer when you select a kilt is do you want to buy a budget-friendly acrylic kilt or a true heirloom wool kilt. The difference in price is obvious, but other differences not so much. Some companies criticize acrylic kilts as costume-grade kilts. Other consumers swear that acrylic kilts are more durable and easier to care for. I have worn kilts for over twenty years and have worn my fair share of both and acrylic and wool kilts, so read below to find out who wins in the acrylic vs wool debate.
What is acrylic?
“Acrylic” is a term that describes a group of synthetic fibers that are commonly used for clothing due to their low cost and durability. Acrylic fabrics do not come from the coat of any animal and are not found in nature. Thus, aside from acrylic being more animal-friendly, it is also more resistant to natural degradation such as being eaten by moths. Unfortunately, acrylics wrinkle very easily. It is therefore not the best material for traveling kilt enthusiasts who must squeeze a kilt into a carry-on.
Not all acrylics are alike, however. Because acrylics are manufactured (much like plastics), the process by which the acrylics are made gives the acrylic yarn different weight, durability, and softness. Lighter weight and lower quality acrylics tend to pill—a process that results in small beads of loose fabric forming upon use of the material. Pilling on kilts made from low quality acrylics can quickly become apparent on the front of the kilt. Even heavy weight acrylic fabrics may not be durable if they are of low quality. Make sure that you seek out acrylic kilts sold by companies that have experience in selling acrylic kilts.
Typically, acrylic fabric will sell for between $5-$35 per linear yard, which makes an acrylic 8-yard kilt the more budget-friendly option. If you are looking for high quality, heavy acrylic fabric, check out this acrylic fabric from Atlanta Kilts.
What is wool?
Wool is a natural fabric that comes from the coat of sheep. After the sheep’s coat is sheered, it goes through a lengthy process that affects the weight and softness of the wool yarn. Wool is the traditional material for kilt-making, and its softness makes it the preferred kilt material. Wool is a very warm and soft material, which is why it is the material of choice for kilts, scarves, blankets, and even socks. However, a wool kilt must be properly cared for including being stored in dry, cool places with moth-resistant materials.
Wool fabric costs between $15-$80 per linear yard. Therefore a true 8-yard wool kilt represents a more significant financial investment.
The acrylic vs wool debate could be solved by creating a blend between the two fabrics. Unfortunately, heavy weight acrylic-wool blends do not exist. While acrylic fabrics are easy to blend with other synthetic fabrics (such as polyester or viscose), wool is much more difficult to blend with other materials. This is particularly true for heavier weight wool fabrics that are more suitable for kilts. You should be skeptical of any company that claims to sell a wool-acrylic blend kilt.
Here at The Tartan Kilt, we have evaluated various claims of companies who say they sell a wool-acrylic blend kilt. Allegedly, that offers the benefits and softness of wool at a price closer to acrylic fabrics. We have found all of those claims to be invalid. The material those companies sell as a wool-acrylic blend contain 0% wool. The fabric is instead a blend of acrylic with another low-price synthetic fabric.
What is in a kilt?
A kilt is more than just the material of which it is made. One of the most important parts of a kilt is the colorful pattern (called tartans) that adorns it. Wool tends to absorb dye in such a way that the colors are more muted. This characteristic makes wool the perfect material for pastel colors. Acrylics tend to exaggerate brighter dyes. You may therefore struggle to find the warm pastel colors available in acrylic, but acrylics outperform wool for bright, neon colors.
Also, the processes of weaving the yarn into the tartan fabric and making that tartan fabric into a kilt is as important in determining the quality and durability of the kilt as the material itself. I have found that kilts bought for under $50 from companies that large e-commerce sites quickly degrade. Not only will the buckles deteriorate but also the kilt material itself will quickly pill and degrade. It is therefore important to find reputable kilt dealers that have a history and experience in kilts.
A time for acrylic and wool
Many kilt aficionados will prefer either wool or acrylic, but I find that both can be useful at different times. The debate is less about acrylic vs wool and more about acrylic and wool. I wear my wool kilts to weddings or more formal events. I wear my acrylic kilts to football games, conventions, or to bars for celebrations (such as St. Patrick’s Day). You will notice that both acrylic and wool products are listed in our tool for finding your family tartan.
This strategy gives me peace of mind and takes advantages of the strengths of both materials. The high quality wool kilt looks better for more formal events where high quality pictures are important, and the cheaper acrylic kilt allows me to wear kilts more frequently because I am not worried about ruining a $500 real wool kilt when I wear it to a bar or party.
Did we miss something? Please comment on the differences between the two materials that are important to you. I would love to hear whether you prefer wool or acrylic in the comments below.