Known for its soft, supple texture and superior comfort next to the skin, cashmere is not bulky or itchy like wool, yet it offers a lot of warmth. We wanted to find out if the quality diminishes when the price goes down.
Cashmere comes from the Kashmir goat, which lives in China and Mongolia, and also Iran and Afghanistan.
Kashmir goats live at high altitudes in extremely cold weather. Their very fine under layer keeps them insulated, and is the fleece used for making cashmere products.
Each Kashmir goat only yields about 4-6 ounces of fleece per year, so about 20 goats are needed to make one sweater! This and the fact that the process is very labour-intensive contribute to cashmere’s high price.
The federal Wool Products Labelling Act requires all cashmere labels to include the country of origin, the name of the manufacturer, and the percentage of cashmere it contains. Read the label carefully.
Mongolia produces some of the best cashmere in the world.
Ply is an indicator of thickness, not necessarily quality. The higher the number, the thicker the garment. That said, two-ply is generally more desirable than one-ply because it’s stronger. Warmer four- or six-ply is best for cold climates, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors.
Hold the garment up to the light to look for a consistent weave, an indicator that it will hold its shape.
Cashmere is usually blended with silk to produce a “pashmina”, a type of shawl or stole. Be aware: if it simply says “100% pashmina” there’s no guarantee the item contains any cashmere at all.
Avoid cashmere that looks shiny, a good indication it’s probably not pure cashmere.
Up to 15% of cashmere labels are untrue and state they are 100% pure cashmere when they aren’t. Be sure you’re buying from a reputable retailer.
We got up close and personal with some different cashmere sweaters at various price points to see if you really can feel the difference.
- Abaca (2-ply): $49
- Liz Claiborne (2-ply): $165
- Banana Republic (2-ply): $250
- Holt Renfrew (2-ply): $295
- Jil Sanders (2-ply): $1,660
- Eskander (4-ply): $2,235
Our tests and results include:
The three cheapest sweaters didn’t feel like cashmere should.
The Holt Renfrew sweater was very soft.
Expecting to find unprecedented softness in both of our $1,500+ sweaters, we were unimpressed with the feel of the Jil Sanders sweater.
The $2,235 Eskander sweater was exceptionally soft and luxurious.
OUR TOP PICK
Being realistic (it’s a sweater and not a room full of furniture) we picked the relatively inexpensive Holt Renfrew sweater. It felt great and it’s from a reputable dealer. Ultimately, buy the softest you can afford. Consider it a clothing investment that will last several years.