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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How to Gauge Cashmere Quality

Just in case you missed the little article in the Wall Street Journal.

This confirmed everything I THOUGHT, but now I have some evidence for my assumptions. In honor of the article, I wore the cashmere V-neck my mother bought at Harrods in London about 30 years ago. It was 100 pounds when the pound was par with the U.S. dollar (an event never repeated, at a time when I was too poor to go anywhere). Thick, made in Scotland. My parents were ecstatic at the price and my father was thrilled to be interviewed on the subject of how far American dollars were going in England. He was very loquacious and so was sad that his lengthy analysis was reduced to 1 second of radio time: "A cashmere sweater for $100!!"

By some weird harmonic convergence, I bought an old Hermes cashmere sweater at Goodwill (when what I want is a SCARF! Hear that, Thrift Store gods!!!???). It is the thickest cashmere I ever felt. I can hardly imagine wearing it indoors. I need to find this to test out my new cashmere knowledge, but I think Miss Em spirited it away.

The best place to feel nice cashmere is in vintage shops. No comparison with most of what you find today. Many bloggers feel that Lands End offers the best price/value ratio for cashmere nowadays. I tend to agree. Some of the cashmere at thrifts is so poor quality (and the bad stuff gets worse with age) that I won't even spend $3.00 on a sweater.

I guess if you want to test the best of the best with your hand, you could check out Hermes. I would be too intimidated myself.


déjà pseu said...

I have one navy crewneck that was given to me by my MIL on my first ski trip with the family back in the early 90's, and at that point it was already "old." It has some moth holes, but I hang onto it, as it is still without pills, and is light as a feather and warm. There's just no comparison to modern cashmere, even Bompard, which I must admit I've found to be inconsistent in quality.

(On a different topic, can you email me? I can't find an email address for you.)

Frugal Scholar said...

@Pseu--That is a beautiful story. Maybe you know someone who can fix the holes? My mother can do it.

I peered into a Bompard window last summer, but they were closed--wanted to check out those lacy scarves that you mentioned a long time ago (do I remember weird things or what?)

Duchesse said...

I have several Hermes cashmeres; too warm to wear indoors here, in Montreal! (The good side of it is, they will last forever.)

Here is a link to an excellent technical article on what exactly happens to the fiber to make some cashmere better than others:

I bought a LE black turtleneck in 2011; good quality for price (@40% off promotion), but LE is a source for basics, not cashmere that makes me wake up eager to wear it.

pseu: Bompard make many pieces that are 70% cashmere and 30% silk; they don't have the same hand as the cashmere, but I like them b/c they are not so warm to wear.

In their 100% cashmere, we've noticed some variation in EB cashmere finish over the last 20 or so years; (some is 'hard', like Scottish cashmere, and some is 'fluffy' like Italian), too, but overall I'm happy with the quality and the colours are the best I've found for easy mail order access.

Vivienne said...

I used to be a devoted fan of Lands' End cashmere, but I think the last 2 or three years it's gone downhill. There's really no way they can avoid raising prices the way they do, unless they cut quality - the goats don't give up fiber just because they like the company!
big hug,

Diane said...

Thanks for an interesting post. I am not sure that it's true that the only good cashmere is old cashmere. I do think there's a lot of new junk cashmere out there, and that colors the impression. I agree with Frugal Scholar that a lot of the junk cashmere finds its way into thrift stores, where it should stay. From my experience, some vintage cashmere isn't that attractive, either. Here's my experience with some recent thrift finds: Prada cardigan, maybe 30 years old. Doesn't pill, and it's a lovely looser weave, so that it doesn't cling and feel like a thermal dressing the way some thick vintage cashmere feels to me. The weave must be the designer's way around the thickness issue.
Pure v-neck: nice chartreuse color, but pills like crazy. I bought it at Secondi in D.C. to ward off the refrigerator a/c in my hotel room, and the owner apologized for the pilling as she combed the sweater and said it was why she charged so little ($30, more than I've ever paid for cashmere.) She also said she didn't think pilling was necessarily a sign of poor quality, but that her customers thought so -- thus the discount. Other experiences: Malo (Italy) multi-colored pullover, thick strands loosely woven. A marvel. Soft, beautiful -- so beautiful that it doesn't even read "cashmere" with all the baggage that entails. It's like wearing a quiet art object. So I agree that cashmere should be stroked and petted before buying, but I also think the weave is important. Unfortunately, I haven't felt a Hermes cashmere sweater. Oh! I did find something you Thackeray readers might enjoy: a cashmere sweater from the 80s/90s brand Pierre Ancel. It's light, with tightly wound threads woven more like some merino sweaters. It doesn't pill, but its armholes sag because it once had shoulder pads. I keep it because, well, why not?

Anonymous said...

I had not realized that cashmere was such a complicated subject. I have purchased thrift store cashmere...some of which I wear like sweatshirts!

Mardel said...

I have a 30 year old cashmere cardigan, Bergdorf Goodman's own brand, which is just fabulously luxurious. Lands End's early pieces are better quality than their newer ones, the same for J Crew, but neither are what I would call fabulous cashmere. I'm not familiar with Hermes but I have some lovely cashmere from Loro Piana which is just a dream.

The Gold Digger said...

I have gotten some nice cashmere sweaters on eBay. They are old, but solid quality.

PS Lisa at Privilege did a great post on cashmere last winter, I think.

Frugal Scholar said...

@GD--Glad to hear you've had luck with ebay. I had an unpleasant experience several years ago, and have not returned. I guess I should...