Ask Jeanne


Dear Jeanne,
I’m on the hunt for a cashmere sweater but know not all cashmere is created equal. How do I tell high-quality from a low? And where should I start my shopping?


Dear Hannah:


Like all those of us who have the luxury of ever wearing cashmere, I can understand why you’re hooked. Nothing is cozier, warmer, and chicer than real cashmere. And now, the once ultra precious yarn has become increasingly accessible and even affordable. But you’re right when you say that not all cashmere is the same. And the quality of different sweaters can differ dramatically.

Right off the bat, make sure that the sweater you’re considering feels soft, smooth, and un-itchy. It’s that luxurious quality that you’re after. You’ll also want to take into account the density factor. If the knit is too loose, chances are the sweater is cheaply made. Even a lightweight sweater should feel substantial. And don’t be afraid to stretch the sweater a bit. A quality garment will return to its original shape. Also, there should only be a slight fuzz layer on the top of the cashmere garment. If there’s too much fuzz, that could mean the product is poorly manufactured, or perhaps made with fibers that are too short to hold shape. (Shorter fibers are cheaper, and used by lower quality manufacturers.) These items are certain to stretch out, and even pill very quickly. Of course, pilling occurs in most new sweaters, especially if you have a purse or a belt or necklace rubbing against your sweater. But in a quality garment, the problem usually subsides after the first cleaning. You’ll also want to check the seams of the sweater you’re considering: In high quality cashmere sweater, the seams are knitted together with yarn, while lower quality sweaters have seams that are sewn together using regular needle and thread.

Cashmere, which originated in India’s Kashmir region, is spun from the very fine hair from the undercoats of a variety of cashmere goats. Most of our cashmere these days comes from China, and to a lesser extent, Mongolia. Because labour costs in China are relatively low, Chinese-made sweaters usually have good value. However sweaters made in Europe often offer a higher level of styling, and so, they’re priced higher. And while the manufacturing of cashmere in China has certainly developed over the past 30 years, European manufacturers do have a longer track record. If you’re looking for really top-notch sweater, you might want to look at the products coming out of Scotland or Italy, or even Japan, where they have high-end luxury mills. Then again, 100% cashmere sweaters, made in Europe or Japan, can also be prohibitively expensive.

There are always great bargains when it comes to shopping for quality cashmere on a budget. If you can bare waiting until after Christmas, you’ll see that that many cashmere sweaters are up to 70 percent off. The Lord&Taylor cashmere sweaters, which have been very popular stateside for years, have been sold at The Bay for several seasons now, and cashmere aficionados can’t seem to get enough of them. These fab sweaters come in a wide variety of styles and in a gorgeous range of colours and even print designs. But there are also several other popular brands of quality cashmere sweaters you might want to check out, including TSE, Vince, and J. Crew. Countless online shopping sites feature untold types of cashmere sweaters. It’s really worth going on a cyber shopping spree to see what your options are. Granted, you may not be able to touch and feel these sweaters for yourself, but it’s a great way to compare prices and see the broad range of product styles and colours available. Some think that cashmere is a kind of timeless investment, and a quality sweater, if well taken care of, can last certainly a lifetime.   You may have to pay more for a good quality cashmere sweater, but when you think that it takes approximately 4 years for a goat to produce enough cashmere to make one sweater, well, the high price tag is rather worth it.