When it comes to sweater-weather dressing, cashmere is about as luxe as it gets. And while the fine fabric used to be reserved for only the ritziest knits, in recent years we’ve seen plenty of less expensive brands take a stab at it. So that got us to thinking: What really is the difference between cashmere with quadruple-digit price tags and the more affordable kind? We spoke with some of the industry’s most knowledgable knit experts to get you the lowdown on what to expect at every price point.
Sure, you’re spending less, but how much should you expect to give up in terms of quality? According to Susan White Morrissey, founder of White + Warren, “At the $100 level, the assumption might be that someone is cutting corners somewhere. This could mean using lesser quality yarn, not creating a fully-fashioned garment, or the finishing inside might not be totally complete.”
And while affordable cashmere may feel soft, that could be a manufactured effect. Matt Scanlan, co-founder and CEO of direct-to-consumer cashmere brand, Naadam, notes, “A sweater that is very soft doesn’t always mean that it is better. That might be the result of an artificial process that makes the sweater soft if the raw cashmere material is lacking.”
The length of fiber matters, as well. “Shorter cashmere fiber lengths are cheaper to procure, but are of lower quality — which leads to excessive pilling,” Scanlan says. As always, doing your research is important (you were right, Mom). Naadam, for example, works with Mongolian herders to sell straight to the consumer. “We use only the longest, thinnest, softest fibers,” he says. Brit + Co Pick: Naadam Khulan Nanoweight Cotton Cashmere Hoodie ($99)
What you’re looking for in this price point is the craftsmanship. “Are the seams tight on the inside of the sweater? When you turn it inside out do the seams look chunky or poorly done? A good cut and sew job will finish seams so they are tight and neat,” Scanlan says. The fabric will likely be medium gauge with fibers that last longer. Morrissey notes, “Make sure the garment is not too lofty or fuzzy, or you will probably have a garment that pills after several wears.” Brit and Co pick: White + Warren Cashmere Wavy Stripe Crewneck ($320)
$500 and Up
Believe it or not, anatomy plays a part in the quality of your cashmere. Well, goat anatomy, that is. According to Morrissey, “That soft, plush hand feel and substantial weight is based on Grade A cashmere that comes from the goat’s underbelly — the softest, purest yarn of all — as it’s the area of the goat that’s protected from the elements. It’s also the most expensive, which most likely is going to cost the brand more to create a beautiful, long-lasting product.”
Cashmere sweaters in this price range should hold up over time: Expect fabric that feels thick and weighty with longer fibers that are naturally soft (not artificially treated) to your touch. Brit + Co Pick: Akris Ribbed Cashmere-Blend Sweater ($995)
So which pick is right for you? Well, that all depends on your lifestyle and budget, of course. Whatever cashmere you choose, Morrissey recommends you invest in a label that you trust, take good care of it, and store it well in the off season. “We recommend hand washing after two to five wears in a gentle knits friendly soap, like The Laundress Wool & Cashmere Shampoo ($18),” she says, “Heavy soaps and those with strong smells can damage the product. Do not dry clean your cashmere! It will break down the fibers much faster than the hand washing method. Roll in a towel to remove excess water and air dry and reshape the sweater flat.”
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