Looking to upgrade your sweater collection this fall? Us, too; and this year, we’re even more interested than ever in what our favorite styles of sweaters are made of and how that affects their practicality. A sweater material can change the whole experience, so it’s important to know what you are looking for in a sweater and which material can help you best meet your vision. Sweater materials can seem quite complicated, which is why we have put together this handy guide to help all your sweater dreams come true.
When peeking at the tag on the inside of your sweater, you'll find the specific material, whether it be 100% cashmere or multiple materials such as 70% wool, 20% acrylic, and 10% cashmere. What does it mean, and does it even matter? If you are looking for something to wear only for one season and perhaps then add to the giveaway pile, then chances are it doesn’t matter so much. But, if you are looking for a long-lasting and high-quality women's sweater that will keep you warm for years to come, then material does indeed make a difference.
Cashmere is arguably one of the most luxurious sweater materials out there. Cashmere fibers are a natural wool fiber that comes from the soft undercoat of exotic central Asian goats. This nomadic breed lives in the Gobi Desert and Himalayan regions of Asia, which explains why its fur is so cuddly and warm. Cashmere offers unparalleled warmth for its remarkable lightweight feel. Heavenly soft to the touch, cashmere sweaters are one of those things you may want to live in forever.
While pure cashmere sweaters are truly the crème de la crème, it is also common to find cashmere sweater blends. These materials can range from silk to other wools, acrylic to polyester, cotton to elastin, and many other filler materials that will give a sweater its shape and texture. The material blend can also range from being mostly cashmere with only 5 to 20% other materials, or vice versa. It’s best to check your labels carefully when buying a women’s cashmere sweater , as some sellers will say it’s cashmere when the proportion of cashmere is actually minimal. Choose a sweater that is predominantly cashmere — if not 100%, then at least 75% — to ensure you will have a warm, lightweight, and luxurious sweater that will keep its quality and last for years to come.
Wool is the most common material for sweaters and can refer to a variety of animal fibers. This natural material is perfect for function, style, and comfort. Wools are also often long-lasting and high-quality, meaning you will get to enjoy their fabulous fuzziness for years to come. Wool can include sheep’s wool, rabbit’s angora, alpaca, and other natural animal-based fibers. These animals are typically bred and raised for their coats, which are humanely sheared once they’ve reached a certain length to be woven into thread for clothing and other uses.
One of the most commonly used wool in sweaters is Merino sheep’s wool. Merino wool is known for being hydrophilic, meaning it can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water, making it a great weatherproof choice of sweater. Women’s wool sweaters, including cashmere, can be made from a mix of materials. This can make the wool less itchy and more comfortable to wear. If you prefer a pure wool sweater, consider wearing a thermal or shirt underneath to offset any potential itching, though that itchiness typically subsides after a few wears and washes.
Another wooly favorite is alpaca. This natural fiber is sourced from the mountain-roaming alpacas of the Andes mountains in South America, and is known for its softness, and even softer counterpart, baby alpaca. This woolen fiber is famous for being remarkably warm, waterproof, and beautiful to wear. Alpaca also makes for wonderful winter accessories, such as winter hats and gloves.
Cotton is not typically used for sweaters, but is great for sweatshirts and lightweight sweaters that can be worn for athletic activities and during warmer months. Women’s cotton sweaters are perfect for all your summer and early fall needs. Cotton is less insulating and more breathable than its animal counterparts, making it useful for a wider variety of occasions. Sometimes, you can find blended sweaters made of cotton mixed with wools or cashmere to make them a little more breathable and casual than a full-on wool or cashmere sweater. Not even remotely itchy, cotton sweaters are also great for kids.
Sweaters are often made from synthetic materials that can be petroleum- or chemical-based, making them less natural and sustainable than their plant- and animal-based counterparts. But synthetic fibers in sweaters have their place, too. Acrylic, for example, is designed to be warm and strong, making it a perfect base material for athletic wear and men’s sweatpants.
Some sweaters are made completely from polyesters or polyamide, making them feel very soft, but without the naturally warm or water-resistant qualities of animal hair. When looking for the perfect sweater, a predominantly natural material is best for quality, function, and durability.
Synthetic materials tend to wear down and pill more quickly, making them less than ideal for long-term use. Synthetic materials, such as elastin, can play an essential role in sweaters, like giving them their shape and stretch. Overall, however, it’s best to wear sweaters that are made of at least 75% natural fibers, with a little room for synthetic ones if necessary.
When choosing your perfect sweater collection for the season, check the tags carefully for what materials lie beneath the surface. Choose the materials of your sweater based on feel, needs, function, and personal style. You’ll be happy to know what you are wearing, after all!