There are cashmere sweaters for thousands of dollars and some for less than fifty. So what should a cashmere sweater cost you?
Cashmere has been called “the diamond fiber,” and seeing as Loro Piana sells a cashmere sweater that costs $5,395, it’s easy to see why. But when it comes to cashmere sweaters the pricing is strangely all over the map. Luxury brands sell sweaters that cost thousands of dollars, while mass market retailers have cashmere sweaters that go on sale for less than $50.
Well, remember that cashmere wasn’t always so accessible. Cashmere sweaters were once an item that only the wealthy were able to own. It was the kind of piece that someone may only have one of and it would be passed down to your children. The same just can’t be said now that you can find cashmere sweaters all over big box retailers at the mall this time of year. (Not that I’m complaining. I mean, don’t we all want to be able to enjoy a beautiful sweater?)
But with the democratization of cashmere has also come a lot of confusion. What should you be paying for a cashmere sweater, and why is there such a big gap over a product that’s seemingly pretty much the same thing? I mean, isn’t a sweater just a sweater? Don’t worry, I’m going to break it all down so you can make the best decision about the quality that suits your budget.
What Is Cashmere?
Cashmere is the softest type of wool that comes from specific breeds of goats, such as the Zalaan Ginst white goat and the Tibetan Plateau goat. These specific breeds of goats have a low wool yield, so the material itself is worth more because of its relative rarity compared to other very common clothing materials like cotton. The cashmere comes from the winter undercoats of the goats. The goats are currently raised all over the world, but traditionally, Scotland and Italy have been known to breed the best cashmere goats and to boast some of the best manufacturers with the most storied histories. If you care about the heritage of the brand, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny.
Cashmere is the softest type of wool that comes from specific breeds of goats.
But luckily, you no longer have to pay a pretty penny (or at least as pretty of a penny) to acquire a cashmere sweater. The tricky part is understanding what a quality cashmere sweater is. No, they aren’t all the same, and more expensive will not always mean better quality (though, generally that’s going to be true).
What’s Good Quality for Cashmere?
Cashmere is separated by grade. Grade A cashmere is longer than Grade B cashmere, and the reason why that makes a difference is that the longer strands are less subject to pilling. However, most sweaters today aren’t going to be made with 100% cashmere. (But that can actually be a good thing! Blends that use other high-quality wool can give you a sense of cashmere without the insanely high price tag that comes along with 100% Grade A cashmere from a storied brand.)
The other factor is thickness. Single-ply yarn is obviously weaker than two-ply or three-ply yarn, which is associated with a quality cashmere sweater. That matters because the weaker the fibers, the more likely you are to get holes in the sweater you adore. So in the long run, it’s usually worth it to pay more for a more quality sweater that will last you years than one that will need to be repurchased after a few wears that season.
Grade A cashmere is longer strands than Grade B cashmere, which helps prevent pilling.
Ensuring the quality of cashmere is a very labor intensive process. The goats need to be hand combed to remove the wool. Mechanical shearing will ruin the integrity of the fibers and lead to more pilling. And then the fibers have to be hand separated into different grades. So especially if your sweater is coming from Scotland or Italy where workers are paid more for their labor, that labor cost is going to weigh heavily into the final cost of your sweater. But that expense comes with benefits. The Scottish and Italian workers at factories that have been running for hundreds of years have knowledge of the tradition of cashmere that helps them with details like how to dye the delicate fabric (cashmere is known for being resistant to dye) that other companies might miss.
What Shoppers Are Getting Wrong
“Come feel this! It’s so soft.” Ever heard that while shopping at the mall? Well, when it comes to cashmere that could actually be a bad sign. Shilpa Sha, one of the co-founders of the brand Cuyana, explains that grade A cashmere will be soft to the touch without washing, but since most of what you see in stores is a grade B cashmere blend it means that the cashmere has had to undergo lots of washing to soften the fabric prior to retail, which shortens the life of the sweater.
Sha says, “In reality with cashmere, the better cashmere is not super soft to touch. It softens over time. What happens with some brands is that they over-wash the yarn in order to up the softness, so that American consumers actually feel like it’s a quality sweater because it’s so soft.” Who knew?
The better cashmere is not super soft to the touch at first. It softens over time.
And co-founder of the cashmere-focused brand Naadam, Matt Scanlan, agrees, “The customer cares much more about the hand feel than they care about the durability or the color saturation. They don’t even care if it starts to pill. We’ve just become used to it.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I actually care much more about the durability of my garment than the hand feel, especially if I’m going to be purchasing something expensive.
What To Look for When Buying a Cashmere Sweater
Unfortunately, most brands probably aren’t going to be so forthcoming about the grade of their cashmere. So it helps to have tips to suss out the quality of a sweater even though it isn’t being directly disclosed to you.
Here are a few tips you should try in-store or when you get your package while trying out a new brand and are deciding whether or not to keep a sweater:
Pull on the fabric of the sweater. If it doesn’t return quickly to its original shape, that’s a bad sign.
It should not look or feel thin.
If it feels incredibly soft, think twice about whether that’s a good thing.
The Price Is Right
When it comes down to it, I think for most of us, the sweet spot for a sweater is somewhere between $100 and $300. It’s an investment (and clothing should be an investment), but not completely out of the price range for the average shopper. I’m looking at you, Loro Piana.
For most of us, the sweet spot for a sweater is somewhere between $100 and $300.
For most of us, I think sweaters that cost thousands of dollars are so far out of budget that the law of diminishing returns wouldn’t justify the difference in expense. But, for a very special purchase of a sweater you know you’ll wear for years, a designer brand could be worth it, if only for the joy of owning a garment that has the kind of attention to detail and quality that’s hard to find outside of that jaw-dropping price range.
A cashmere sweater is a staple and something every woman should have in her wardrobe. I hope these tips will help you to find the best quality sweater in your budget and know how much you really have to pay.
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