October 31, 2011

How To: Shop For Cashmere

Via French By Design

A few months ago, a lovely reader emailed me about shopping for cashmere. In my opinion cashmere is one of life's little luxuries. Wrapping up in cashmere is one of my favorite things about cooler weather. I rely on cashmere year-round. During the summer I keep a lightweight cashmere cardigan at work to defend against aggressive air conditioning. Even in intense Hong Kong heat, I found it useful to have a cashmere wrap or cardigan in malls and restaurants. I'm partial to cashmere because I'm a bit allergic to most wools. 

When it comes to shopping for cashmere I'm admittedly picky. Here's my guide to shopping for cashmere. 

What Is Cashmere?
Cashmere is a soft woolen fabric derived from the wool of the Kashmir goat. It's a wonderful lightweight insulator. Cashmere has a smooth, soft texture that is incredibly warm. Cashmere fibers can be spun into lightweight or thick yarn for clothing. 
Where Does Cashmere Come From?
Cashmere wool comes from the underbelly of the Kashmir goat. The fibers found on a goats underbelly are the longest staple fibers. The Kashmir goat has a double fleece which contains a soft, fine undercoat. This is the wool that is used to make cashmere sweaters. Kashmir goats are native to the Gobi desert; northern and northwestern China and Southern Mongolia. Kashmir goats are also bred in India and Tibet. China is the largest producer of raw cashmere.

From March until May nomadic herders who care for the goats take them in for the wool to be harvested. The coarse outer coat is separated from the softer cashmere fibers found on the undercoat. The harvesting of pure cashmere is incredibly labor intensive and makes cashmere garments expensive. Everything from a goat's diet to the harshness of the winter impacts the softness of the cashmere. The dying and production process affects the softness of cashmere as well. 
Where to Begin
Since cashmere is a natural fiber there is great disparity when it comes to quality. Higher end sweaters are made from the softest fibers from the goats belly and neck. Mass-produced sweaters are made of shorter-staple fibers from the back and legs of the goat. A garment's label won't indicate that it's made from shorter-staple fibers, but when you pick up the garment it may be coarse, bumpy or rough. 

When it comes to high quality cashmere, it's best to buy from a company that specializes in it. Tse, Johnson's of Elgin and Loro Piana are among the best when it comes to luxury cashmere. Generally speaking Italy and Scotland produce some of the worlds finest cashmere garments. I've had great success with high-end department store cashmere. Larger specialty department stores put their cashmere through rigorous testing, so it tends to be of superior quality. 

Affordable Options 
I highly recommend J.Crew for affordable cashmere that doesn't sacrifice quality. J.Crew offers the most vibrant colors- hands down. I've also found that J.Crew cashmere doesn't pill terribly. Regardless of price, cashmere has to be taken care of properly and maintained. Even if you purchase the most expensive cashmere, if it's not cared for properly it won't hold up.
Raw cashmere is found in shades of grey, brown and white. The dying process significantly impacts the softness. It use to drive me crazy when I would touch the same cashmere sweater in different colors and notice that each color felt a bit different. I ended up adding a few bright cashmere garments to my wardrobe because they felt the softest. Darker colors, such as navy and black are never as soft as their bright counterparts because the yarn absorbs more of the dye.

Label Checking
I'm big on checking labels to see where garments are made and the materials. In the US, The Federal Trade Commission regulates that cashmere garments are properly labeled. Garment labels must list the exact fiber content, country of origin, manufacturer and maintenance/care instructions. Only garments made of 100% cashmere can be labeled as pure cashmere. If a sweater is a blend, then the manufacturer is required to state the percentage of the garment that is cashmere and the percentages that are made up of other materials. 

I'm extremely skeptical of cashmere blends when it comes to knitwear. In most cases, very little cashmere is used and the garment isn't noticeably softer. Coats are one exception I make when it comes to blends.

Ply refers to the number of strands of cashmere used to make up the yarn count for any knitted garment. The more plies the stronger and warmer the garment. Additional plies will also make a garment appear chunkier. If you're searching for a super warm garment you can go up to four or eight plies, but a two ply garment should provide more than enough warmth. Be weary of cashmere that you can see through- that's a good indicator that it's 1 ply and won't be very durable or warm. 
Pick It Up 
When it comes to cashmere, picking up the garment is the only way to gauge whether the garment will pill. 

Cashmere should drape. It shouldn't wrinkle when you ball up the fabric. Good cashmere will spring back to its' natural shape. 

Gently rub your hand over the sweater. If it's made from a shorter-staple fibers even the most gentle rubbing will cause pilling and fuzz. It's important to note that wearing your cashmere creates pills overtime. Pilling is one of the nuances of cashmere. The higher the ply the less pilling.

Don't be shy about checking to make sure that a garment isn't itchy. I use the back of my wrist or underneath my chin to determine if  an item is going to be too irritating.

This weekend's snow storm (yes it really snowed ALREADY) has me thinking about pulling out my favorite cashmere pieces to stay warm. How do you stay warm?


  1. What a useful post! I love cashmere, and among affordable options, I think Uniqlo knits are lovely. Great colours and good quality at a very low price. Completely agree with you on the maintenance required. I spend a lot of time with my little pill-shaving device once winter kicks in. Plus, I love how soft my sweaters feel once I am done :)

    I am looking forward to wearing my wool dresses once it gets cooler. Have a few lovely pieces by Bi La Li, Development, Vince. Also plan to get a lot of wear out of the new Ferragamo Vara shoes I picked up this weekend, in a lovely rich plummy brown.

  2. I agree with Ammu - useful posting indeed. Love the image you chose, Lindsay. xo

  3. Ammu- Thank you! I’ve been thinking about this post for a while. I plan on doing a separate post on care and maintenance- so important.

    I always hear the most wonderful things about Uniqlo knits, but their clothes don’t work for me. Everything at Uniqlo is too boxy on me:( I’m constantly amazed that they can do cashmere at that price. I was also intrigued by the Jill Sander collections.

    Love the idea of the wool dresses- so versatile. Yay! So glad you got the plumy brown Varas. That’s such a pretty color.

    Tricia- Thanks Tricia. I can’t wait to see your new cashmere.

  4. Thank you for another wonderful post, I really enjoy reading your blog.

  5. Such a great post Lindsay - I bought my first cashmere sweater this summer from Zadig & Voltaire and it certainly won't be my last. Living in Norway sort of forces you to stock up on wool in all shapes and forms, but now that I know how soft a cashmere sweater can be, I'm not sure I'll be able to go straight for the regular old wool ones anymore.. ;)

    Can't wait to read the post on care and maintenance!

  6. Thank you so much for this brilliant post! Extremely useful. I don't own anything 100% cashmere and it's high time to incorporate a cashmere piece into my wardrobe. Going to use this guide when searching for the perfect high quality cashmere sweater!

  7. Grace- Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It makes my day to hear that you enjoy reading this blog.

    Maja Piraja- Thank you! Yes, the minute you start wearing cashmere you never want to go back. So soft and snuggly. It’s seriously one of the best things about winter. I can only image that living in Norway you must stock up on wool of all sorts. I don’t play around when it comes to winter;)

    Yes, care and maintenance is so important. I’m very excited to write part deux.

    Fleurette- I’m so glad you found this useful and informative. I can definitely picture you adding a grey piece;) I consider cashmere to be a wardrobe staple and love collecting new pieces. With everyone selling it these days I think it’s harder and harder to truly distinguish quality.

  8. Such a great comprehensive post. I really needed this as I am starting to build up my reserve of cashmere sweaters for the upcoming winter (I need sweaters which didn't itch!).

  9. Thanks for such a great post! I love cashmere, and I've found Luella's quality to be the best of the ones I've tried. I made the mistake to get a cheap cashmere cardigan from zara once - horrible quality. Can't wait for the care post!

  10. I do agree that Uniqlo does great cashmere for an affordable price. As for their clothes, they are quite good on me despite my diminutive frame, particularly the Jil Sander collection (last year so go for it when you can): there are several garments that I am coveting to get!
    As for cashmere, in France you can go to Eric Bompard or Atelier de la Maille, but Monoprix, which is a general store, sells also cashmere which are, amazingly, of good quality for an affordable price. I've got several for some years now and they are still in good shape.
    As for bright colour I would rather prefer either full merino or a blend of merino and silk: light, soft and warm.
    Last year when winter was quite early and cold in France and when snow was heavy, I ordered from Ebay a long whole merino cardigan which really save my life (and back by the way) because it was so warm and cozy to wear under a coat.
    And when I was a student I bought an old moth eaten thick fur coat at the flea market which I used as a blanket for my bed in my unheat small flat. I know it is not politically correct but yes fur is very warm when you are in real cold climat.

  11. Joy- Thanks Joy! I hear you when it comes to sweaters that don’t itch. That’s the worst feeling ever. Cashmere is one of those things that makes winter infinitely better.

    Garderoben- Thanks! Luella makes beautiful cashmere sweaters. Good quality cashmere that’s taken care of properly can last for a long time. I can’t imagine how cashmere from Zara would hold up.

    Eveangel66- Uniqlo does great basics. I can’t imagine anyone doing cashmere for a lower price. I’ve tried on a few pieces at Uniqlo (shirts, jeans, sweaters) and a few pieces from the Jil Sander collection and they didn’t fit. It’s not surprising, because I end up being much taller than most that wear my size (with long limbs) and have this problem all the time.

    Yes, I’m very familiar with Eric Bompard, Atelier de la Maille, and Monoprix from shopping in France. They are good quality, but at Eric Bompard they do a lot of blends (70/30).I prefer buying from companies that work with pure cashmere. Sometimes it’s necessary to blend fabrics to hold the shape of a garment, but blends really do compromise the cashmere.

    I wish I could wear Merino, but I break out and feel itchy. Even my eyes start to get itchy with Merino and lambswool. I need really soft fabrics. I do agree good insulated fabrics are the only ways to brave the winter.

  12. Great post! Cashmere has become a fast-favorite after I bought my first cashmere sweater in China this summer. One thing I don't like is how high maintenance it is but, then again, I seem to have a predilection for high maintenance materials (suede!). I think the warmth and softness of cashmere is well-worth the extra care!

  13. 0000- Thank you! I tend to gravitate toward high maintenance materials too. Maintaining an item and the costs associated with that are things I consider when I purchase an item. Cashmere is one of my favorite materials and I agree, the warmth and softness outweigh the extra effort of caring for it.

  14. Grace!!! I forgot to add in my previous post that you were the reader that inspired this guide. Thank you!!!

  15. Such a great post! cashmere is really addictive. I have never found really good quality cashmere to be particularly high maintenance though. I have had one swearer in particular for six years and worn it every other day in winter and only had to use my de pilling device on it once. Chain store cashmere is another story completely though!

  16. Anonymous- Thanks! Cashmere is addictive.

    The maintenance of cashmere doesn't have to be cost or time prohibitive, however to truly maintain cashmere properly it takes effort. Cashmere needs to be handled with care- from the washing, to storage and even making sure that jewelry and other fabrics don't cause pilling. Even the best cashmere still has to be maintained.

    All cashmere (even the best) over time pills, but the better the raw quality of cashmere and the higher the ply the less pilling.

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  18. I really enjoy reading your blog.

  19. Megan- Thank you. That's so great to hear.

  20. Thank you for sharing these tips. For a cashmere newbie like myself, reading your post has been an eye-opening experience. I didn't know about the varying qualities of cashmere but at least now I can make an informed decision when I set out to buy my first cashmere sweater.

  21. Chocolate, Cookies & Candies- I'm glad you found this post useful:)

  22. Great idea--Thanks for sharing! Love the Chanel nail polish too!


  23. J'Adore Fashion- Thank you! The Chanel nail polishes are so hard not to love.

  24. Maybe I'm shopping in the wrong stores, but cashmere garments are not very common in Australia - everything is comprised from lambs wool or other wool blends. What am i missing out on!?!? When I'm in your country next year and am heading straight to j.crew for sure!

  25. catssaymeow- That makes sense to me because the Australian Wool Innovation Limited is the world's leading wool textile organization and now owns the Woolmark brand (which is the highest stamp of approval for wool products). There's a very strong campaign for the use of Australian wool (of all types, which probably accounts for less imported cashmere.

  26. Hey, I'm a dude but I really enjoyed reading your article. What brought me here was a search to see what's the quality of the +J cashmere knits. It feels very soft and it hasn't balled up yet, but it does have wrinkles, which I'm sure I can steam out. But apparently from your article, a nice quality cashmere shouldn't wrinkle, right?

    Also it's a 90% cashmere 10% nylon blend, which isn't pure but gives it a nice stretch. When I was in China, I came across some high-end cashmeres but didn't buy any because of the prohibitive price. Had I read your article before hand, I might've convinced myself to buy a few pieces considering the fabric's longevity and supreme comfort. Plus, buying from the source probably would've been cheaper than buying in the states.

    Anywho, that was a great piece. Thanks for the education.

  27. Unknown- I'm so glad to hear that you found this piece useful. I also love hearing from male readers (you are not alone), but they tend to be shy about speaking up. Going forward I really would like to writing more pieces that appeal to both genders.

    I'm sure your sweater will bounce back. That's the key with quality cashmere. You can steam it inside out.

    90% cashmere seems pretty luxurious to me. I find it so rare that you find blends with that much cashmere- that's excellent.

    Very interesting about your experiences in China.

  28. I truly like reading your post. Thanks for giving such a nice informations.


    1. Jone Barry- Thank you. That's a lovely compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  29. Thanks for sharing the nice information regarding the shop for cashmere.
    buy cashmere blend

    1. Jeny- You're welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed reading. I don't buy purchase a lot of blends due to allergies, but love cashmere and silk blends!

  30. Thanks for sharing this Lindsay. As well as being one of life's luxuries, cashmere can also save lives :) Ok perhaps that's an exageration, but in cold weather, cashmere clothing can offer high levels of insulation from freezing conditions.

    1. Emily- Thanks Emily! I don't think that's an exaggeration at all. You're so right, it does provide high levels of insulation from freezing conditions. As someone who suffers from a naturally low body temperature, cashmere's insulating properties are critical for me.

  31. Informative Blog! Thank you for sharing. Online Cashmere Shop offers you best quality cashmere from the corners of the world. Procuring best quality cashmere textile fibre from Kashmir, Mongolia, China these manufacture high quality products and make them available to the customers at competitive prices.

    1. Martin Warlike- Thank you! I'm glad to hear that you share the love for cashmere and found my post useful.

  32. Nice article. This is so much more than I needed! But will all come in use thanks!
    Womens Cashmere Sweaters