The Camel Hair Jacket
Photo/Jeff Harris

It's easy to think of camel hair strictly as the fabric for dowdy jackets or overcoats worn by the polo set. But take another look. The breathable winter fabric is getting more versatile. Once seen strictly in solid tan, camel hair jackets, like the one pictured from Kiton ($5,845), are sporting patterns and rakish peak lapels. Last year, Caruso took a bold step making an entire suit out of blue pinstripe camel hair. The fabric house Loro Piana further boosted camel hair's image by spinning from fibers as small as 17 microns, comparable to a Super 120 fabric.

Camel hair has always had its natural thermostatic properties, providing insulation in the cold and keeping its wearer cool in the heat. You can thank the Bactrian camel—from which hair is collected to make fiber—for these heat-regulating characteristics. This particular camel (two humps, not one) makes its habitat in a wide range of climates and altitudes across Central Asia. Its fine, soft undercoat is collected by shearing, combing, or simply waiting for the camel to naturally molt. Regardless, the camel is not harmed by sharing its coat with us.

Now a staple of luxury fashion, the camel look was imported by equestrian Brits in the 1920s and 30s. The fabric has remained in men's fashion ever since, though now it's used in everything from powerful-looking blazers and accessories to three-piece suits. It is most familiar in its natural golden-tan color, but camel hair can be dyed a range of colors or blended with other threads to create fabrics with extra softness, flexibility or shine. The fabric has a smooth hand like cashmere, but isn't as soft and delicate—a favorable quality if your clothes take a beating.

To stay warm this winter, consider Brooks Brothers Two-Button Camel Hair Sport Coat, with notched lapels, a center vent, flap pockets and leather wrapped buttons (the unattached sleeve buttons can be made functional, $698). You might also choose the Hickey Freeman Baby Camel Hair Jacket, a stylish two-button offering with notched lapels, side vents, and half lining for added mobility. This eye-catching garment is sewn from 100 percent baby camel hair—prized for its comfort and softness ($1,495).