Sometime about the middle of October, when I felt the first hint of a chill that Fall weather brings, I reached for a cashmere sweater. I wear my gray zip mock cashmere sweater the most. In fact I’m wearing it right now. It amazes me how good it still looks knowing how often and under what conditions Its been worn.
Mind you, I harbor no ill feelings toward clothing knit from cotton or wool. I own and enjoy several items of each. But cashmere. Well, it’s just a cut above in so many ways. I could list all of the reasons why, but the cleaning lady in Seinfeld, The Red Dot episode, tells it so well.
OK, so anyone who knows what cashmere is and has ever felt something made from cashmere probably loves cashmere. Given the option, most would prefer cashmere, including George Costanza from Seinfeld, The Apology episode….
George: “Ho ho ho ho! I can’t wait for Hanke to come crawling back to me.”
Jerry: “Still with the neck hole?”
George: “Still upset. Very upset.”
Elaine: “What neck hole?”
George: “Remember that New Year’s party he threw a few years ago? He had that
very drafty apartment, you know, I think on Ninth Avenue.”
Elaine, becoming bored: “Faster.”
George: “I asked if I could borrow a sweater.”
Jerry: “A cashmere sweater.”
George: “I said preferably cashmere, for warmth. So in front of the whole
party, he says, ‘No. I don’t want you stretching out the neck hole.'”
Elaine: “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”
George: “Oh, yeah, sure, laugh it up. Everybody else did!”
Elaine: “Well, it’s funny. I mean, you have a big head. Or is it ’cause of
Jerry: “No, I think the head does most of the stretching.”
George: “Regardless. I had to walk around for the rest of the party in some
cheap Metlife windbreaker. Now, it is payback time.”
Cashmere is prized for it’s warmth. Even a very lightweight cashmere sweater can keep you warm because of it’s unmatched ability to trap air. But it’s expensive, right? Yes it is. And for good reason. For one, the soft, downy fleece is hand combed each Spring from the Kel goats that live high in the mountains of Inner Mongolia and nearby regions. So it’s not exactly like picking an apple from your tree in the backyard. In addition to that, each goat only provides a few ounces of the really fine fibers that live beneath the coarser exterior. As a result, the annual output from at least three of those goats is required for just one average size cashmere sweater.
But I implore you to look beyond the price tag and consider the long term benefits. The simple truth is that excellent quality cashmere is surprisingly practical. Sure cashmere costs more to buy, but it costs less to own and wear. A quality cashmere knit is relatively more expensive than a similar item made from other fibers, but it will out last cotton by a mile and even a really good wool sweater will lose it’s luster sooner than cashmere. Like many a fine red wine, when properly cared for, cashmere improves with age for a very long time. More to the point, cotton and wool, no matter what the quality, will never rival the soft look and feel of cashmere.
That fact holds true whether it be a sweater, a jacket or coat, scarf or shawl, or even a throw blanket for the sofa. Cashmere shawls were so popular among the elite of Europe between 1780 to 1880 that the period was often referred to as “the shawl years.” For many women a cashmere shawl is immensely practical. Especially in drafty theaters, when dining outdoors, or when traveling.
Note: Most cashmere knits have labels that suggest dry cleaning when necessary. While a good choice for multi-colored pieces, a better choice in most cases for solid color items is to hand or machine wash in water with a small amount of mild detergent. Then lay flat to dry on a white towel. Do not twist or wring.
I’m getting my mother a cashmere shawl or sweater for Christmas this year. Maybe both. She’s always wanted a cashmere sweater and it’s high time she gets it. Who will you give the gift of cashmere to this year?