What is Cashmere?
Cashmere is the fine hair from the undercoat of cashmere goats. Most cashmere comes from the goats of Mongolia and China as the harsh climate, where winters can be -40 degrees, forced the cashmere goats to adapt to the climate by developing a double fleece. There is an outer guard layer that protects the undercoat from water, and an undercoat made of ultra-fine hairs with strong insulating properties. This undercoat is what produces cashmere.
Not all cashmere goats are created equal. Inner Mongolia is generally seen as the best origin for cashmere, due to the harsher winters which produce the longest, thinnest and softest hair.
The quality of cashmere can differ with fineness, length and color being the key factors.
The most important factor in the quality of cashmere is the length and fineness of the fibers. Items made with long fine fibers pill less and maintain their shape better than items made with shorter hair.
Color also impacts the quality of cashmere; naturally white hair is more desirable because it doesn’t require as much processing to dye different colors.
How to Tell if it’s Good Quality Cashmere
Cashmere should feel soft and not scratchy against your skin. The better quality cashmere is soft, but not overly soft to touch – it softens over time. Some companies increase the softness by treating the cashmere with chemical additives and softeners or by over washing it. This reduces the life of the cashmere garment, so beware of cashmere that feels unbelievably soft.
Gently stretch out a piece of the cashmere and see if it springs back into shape. Good quality cashmere will, lower quality cashmere will remain out of shape. Also stretch it and look through it. The tighter the knit of the cashmere the better quality it is and the better it will retain its shape and be less susceptible to holes.
Rub your hand over the cashmere item. If little balls start forming it is a sign that the cashmere used contains an excess amount of shorter hairs which means lower quality. All cashmere will pill when rubbed over time, but if it pills immediately it’s a sign of low quality cashmere.
100% Cashmere vs. Cashmere Blends
100% cashmere is luxurious. It feels soft and offers great insulation keeping you warm in winter and cool in spring. Cashmere becomes softer with age and rarely pills after being worn and washed. It travels well and doesn’t wrinkle. Cashmere should last a lifetime.
A blend will combine cashmere with wool, silk or synthetic fibers. These cheaper fibers lower the price. Also blends are often made with lower quality cashmere that is made of thicker and shorter cashmere hairs. Buying a blend means you’re compromising price for the very things that make cashmere so sought after – it’s soft, light-weight and insulating properties.
Cashmere is 8 x warmer than sheep’s wool, yet significantly lighter, which means to reap the full reward of cashmere you should invest in only 100% cashmere items.
To check if the garment is 100% cashmere read the label which should state ‘100% cashmere’ as required by the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S. If it is a blend, by law it must state the percentages of yarn on the label e.g. 20% cashmere / 80% merino wool.
What does Ply Mean?
Ply is the number of cashmere threads twisted together to make the cashmere yarn.
Two twisted threads are referred to as 2-ply, and three twisted threads are referred to as 3-ply etc. Since cashmere is a fine hair, it benefits from the increased strength in the twisted thread.
Look for items that are 2-ply or higher, as 1-ply cashmere is less durable and is more likely to develop holes. Higher plies such as 4-ply add additional weight and warmth, but do not indicate additional quality.
What does Gauge Mean?
It is a measure of how tightly the item is knitted. Gauge refers to the number of stitches and rows per inch. The higher the gauge number, the tighter the knit and the more cashmere yarn that is being used.
With 12-gauge there are 12 stitches or rows of yarn in one inch of knitted cashmere, so the cashmere is relatively dense. With 7-gauge there are 7 stitches or rows per inch, so the cashmere has a more open or mesh like look and is more light-weight than the 12 gauge if the same yarn is used.
Jet&Bo stocks a range of luxurious cashmere travel accessories: