Nothing feels quite so luxurious as a cashmere sweater. Incredibly soft, cashmere adds that special something to every outfit, whether it's a little black dress and heels or jeans, a tee and loafers. Though it can be expensive, cashmere is a worthwhile investment in your wardrobe and can last for decades when given proper care.
Cashmere is a special type of wool made from goat hair. Lands' End gets its cashmere from Inner Mongolia, where goats grow long, soft hair on their bellies to protect them from the cold winter weather. One animal only produces a few ounces of this downy stuff each year and up to four goats worth of hair can be required to create a single women's sweater, making it much more valuable than sheep's wool.
If you take proper care of a cashmere sweater, it can last for 30 years, or even longer. To keep your investment looking like new, wash it with a wool-safe detergent on the gentle cycle and let it air dry while lying flat; placing it on a hanger can cause it to stretch out of shape. You can also wash cashmere in a sink filled with cool water. If it smells a little funky, add a dash of white vinegar to the water to cut odors.
Gathering sheep wool is pretty simple – a farmer will typically grab an ewe and sheer it with clippers, resulting in a huge pile of fluff. Cashmere has to be carefully separated from the goat's protective top coat during the spring molting season, though. This requires combing each animal by hand and selecting the finest hairs before trimming them away. The process takes time and patience and is also why only a modest amount of cashmere is harvested each year: just 6,500 metric tons or roughly .05% of global wool production.
Any outfit looks better when you add a cashmere sweater to the mix. Wear one over your favorite dress and cherish the way it feels against your skin. A cashmere cardigan can take the place of a blazer when you're at work, but it also looks sharp over a tee and skinny jeans. Try a pencil skirt, heels and a cashmere short sleeve sweater for a job interview or wear it with capris and your cute new sandals when you're going for Sunday brunch with friends. You can even add a necklace or some bangles if you want a little sparkle.
Cashmere is so touchably soft and feels wonderful thanks to the very fine goat hair, which is less than 18.5 micrometers in diameter. Each fiber also has a bumpy texture that you can only see with a microscope and it naturally clings to itself. This means there aren't any tiny bits of fiber sticking out and scratching your skin, giving it that signature feel.
There's no bad time of year to wear your favorite cashmere sweaters. Since this fiber can be up to eight times warmer than regular wool (you read that correctly!), it's just what you need on cold autumn and winter days. Cashmere is also nice in the spring, as it's so soft that you won't have to layer it with another shirt and risk getting too hot. In the summer, trade your jacket for a cashmere cardigan when evening arrives.
Not every cashmere sweater is of equal quality. The color, texture and length of the goat hair influence pricing and manufacturing. Whiter fibers don't need as much dye and therefore sustain less damage when a cardigan or tee is made. Where the cashmere comes from also affects its price, and the harsh, icy climate of Mongolia results in animals growing the finest, softest hair of all. And of course, a factory with high standards will also charge more for its sweaters than one that cuts corners.
Like a bottle of fine wine, a good cashmere sweater only gets better with age. A top made from this amazing fiber actually gets softer the more you wear it, which is a great incentive to make it a centerpiece of your wardrobe. And unlike most knitwear, a well-made cashmere piece usually won't pill. Also, something simple and timeless, like a black cashmere crewneck sweater or navy cardigan, will never go out of style and can be worn year after year without seeming dated.