How to shop for cashmere


What IS cashmere, anyway? And what's the difference between a $200 sweater and a $500 sweater? And what about 2 ply versus 3 ply? Fashion expert Sharon Haver, founder and style director of, answers these questions and shows you how to shop for cashmere.

How to shop for cashmere What is cashmere?
  • Cashmere, the exceptionally soft underdown of goats that originated from the Kashmir region (hence the name), develops under their coarser fur. It is harvested at molting time by combing through the coarser outer fur, and each goat provides only a very small quantity of cashmere. The small quantity, combined with the labor-intensive process necessary to turn it into fibers that can be made into sweaters and coats, makes it relatively expensive.
Wht are some cashmere garments more expensive than others?
  • Cashmere underdown is twisted into either relatively longer, or shorter fibers and the quality, and price, of cashmere depends on what type of fibers were used in the manufacture of a particular garment.
  • Longer fibers are higher quality because they are sturdier, longer wearing, and, usually, provide a better drape on your body. Shorter fibers tend to rub together more which causes breaks and pilling, and a shorter useful life.
  • As with many things in life, you get what you pay for. Items that seem to be too good of a deal may actually be a blend of cashmere, silk and acrylic. A basic, good quality sweater of 100% cashmere should cost anywhere from $80 to $120. Good quality garments at discounted prices can sometimes be found at off-price stores, thrist shops and outlets.
How to shop for cashmere
  • One-ply garments are sheer, delicate, and tend to last for a shorter time than more robust multi-ply garments. They are best used in a layering application with other garments, and are ideal for indoor wear.
  • Two and three-ply weaves are stronger, and heartier, but can sometimes be too hot for indoor wear, especially 3-ply weaves.
  • If you are looking for a classic design -- a turtleneck, cardigan or V-neck are always in style -- you can find good deals if you are willing to buy off-season.
  • Cashmere sweaters should fit like your best Tee shirt -- not too tight, but not baggy unless you are specifically creating an oversize, baggy look.
  • Choosing a cashmere sweater depends on your budget, the quality of the grade of cashmere, how you plan to use it in your wardrobe and where you buy it. Good quality cashmere is a good value as it can last for years and years.

LISA: I'm Lisa Birnbach for Have you noticed that cashmere seems to have migrated from the luxury department stores to just about everywhere except the hardware store? And the prices range from around $50 to about $500? We don’t want to smear the ’shmere, but this is definitely a case of buyers beware. Here to unravel the mystery of cashmere is Sharon Haver, fashion reporter and founder of
Hi Sharon.

SHARON: Hi Lisa, how are you?

LISA: Fine, how are you?

SHARON: Thanks.

LISA: What exactly is cashmere?

SHARON:Cashmere is the underdown of a goat … of a certain kind of goat. What it is, is when it gets really cold, the goat gets this very soft down underneath its core surface of fur on the outside, and come warmer weather it starts to naturally molt. And certain farmers – what they do is – they comb through the coarser fur to get this beautiful soft down and then it gets woven into cashmere, which they turn into sweaters or woven coats.

LISA: And is it more rare? Is that why there is so much more cache to it?

SHARON: Basically, you have to comb through the goat, and there's machines that do it and there's farmers that do it. So it’s quite a process to get this tiny little amount of soft down to actually weave into something.

LISA: Now, is all cashmere created equal?

SHARON: No. There is definitely finer quality cashmere and there's cheaper cashmere. What you want to look for in better cashmere is it comes from a longer fiber, so what happens is, as you go into the ply of thickness, it’s how it’s twisted, so if something is a longer fiber, it’s sturdier. It has more wear. It has better drape to it. If it's cheaper cashmere, it usually has a shorter fiber and it can break and rub against you, get some abrasion and pill and it wont last as long.

LISA: And you can tell the difference by feel?

SHARON: Pretty much. I mean, to a trained eye you can. But even in a cheaper fiber if you haven't paid a lot for it, it’s still pretty nice and it’s not something you should snuff.

LISA: Well let’s look at some of these.


LISA: Ok, this was purchased on the street for five dollars. It feels good and boy is that a beautiful color.

SHARON: It's gorgeous and it’s gorgeous as an accent piece to wear and throw over a sweater or a coat just to brighten up like an all-black outfit. However, it feels like it could possibly not all be cashmere. It feels like it could have a little bit of silk in it or even acrylic and you get what you paid for. It’s not going to last forever. If you go like this it will probably start to fuzz up a little bit and pill and it wont last for long, but it’s five bucks, so if it adds something to your outfit and it’s $5… But don’t think you’re getting this incredible deal. You’re not, you’re just getting a really beautiful color that you can add to your wardrobe.

LISA: What about this? This comes from a department store.

SHARON: This comes from a major department store and many of them have their own house brands of cashmere now and this is what most people will be wearing. It sells for around $100 and it’s two-ply, so it’s nice and thin so you can wear it indoors, outdoors or under a sweater. And it’s not great, it’s not bad, but it’s perfectly lovely and it’s really soft.

LISA: It is very soft. Now this is much thicker.

SHARON: Yeah, this is like the mama of all cashmeres. This comes from a luxury cashmere brand and you can tell how soft it is and how incredible. It’s also a much thicker ply so you wouldn't wear this indoors. You'd wear this on a colder day or you'd wear it maybe, you know, in a ski chalet, but you wouldn’t wear this indoors necessarily.

LISA: Now what about – I’m wearing two-ply.

SHARON: You’re wearing two-ply, which is what most people wear.

LISA: Right. And your sweater?

SHARON: My sweater, which if you notice is very shear, is one-ply and one-ply is really great as a layering piece or as an accent. It’s a cheaper kind of cashmere. It will probably break and not last that long as a better one. If you’re careful, because it’s delicate, you'll get some life out of it. And the body of my sweater is three-ply and three-ply is thicker, not as thick as this, but I’m still wearing it indoors and I’m fine in it.

LISA: Now, when you're buying cashmere, do you want it to fit snuggly or do you want it to have a little room?

SHARON: You want it to have a little room but not be baggy. You want it to fit like your best T-shirt. You want it to graze your body and fit well and not pull, not yank but you don’t want it to be so tight you see bra bulges and all sorts of little nasty outlines and you don’t want it to be so baggy that you’re lost in it unless it’s intentionally an oversized sweater.

LISA: OK, now finally on price, you say this is about $100. Is that good value?

SHARON: Yeah, that's great value. It’s pretty much average and you know if you try to save money on these it’s always wonderful to get, when they're on sale, but that’s pretty much standard these days – ninety, a hundred, that hundred-ish ballpark.

LISA: Sharon thanks so much.

SHARON: Thank you.

LISA: For I'm Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Sharon Haver

    Sharon Haver Fashion Industry Expert Sharon Haver has been a fashion industry reporter, stylist, editor and columnist for nearly 20 years. She knows the business of being beautiful inside and out. more about this expert »

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