How To Buy a Good Cashmere Sweater

Stack of three sweaters


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Grey wool textile

What Makes Quality Cashmere?

Coveting cashmere for Christmas? No doubt a cashmere sweater is a luxurious present to give or receive. But cashmere sweaters can come in a vast array of prices — from under $100 to in the thousands. Why the enormous range of prices? Wouldn't a cashmere sweater just be a cashmere sweater wherever you buy it? The short answer is no. One hundred percent high-quality cashmere involves much more labor than your average wool sweater. If you're trying to get the real (and best quality) thing, there's a whole backstory. 

Here's the lowdown on this soft sweater material, as well as some cashmere sweaters, from affordable to splurge-worthy, that are worth considering.

Related: Everyday Items That Are Worth Splurging On

Portrait of a Cashmere Goat

Cashmere 101

Cashmere is a fiber from Capra Hircus goats, also known as cashmere goats, which can be found mainly in the Himalayas and Mongolia. The goats grow a course outer coat and soft, downy inner coat that acts as extra insulation during winter months, according to the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a nonprofit trade organizationWhile sheep are sheared, cashmere goats are brushed in the springtime to remove this inner layer. 

Higher quality cashmere may be gathered by hand with a special comb that collects the inner coat hairs. A single sweater may use the fleece of four to six goats. This is part of the reason cashmere is so expensive; a sheep for example, may produce about 10 pounds of wool a year, according to the International Wool Textile Organization. A cashmere goat may produce only about 2.5 pounds of fleece

Related: Stores With Comfortable Clothes That You Can Wear for Years

Pile of sweaters
Olga Ivanova/istockphoto

Types of Cashmere

Not all cashmere is created equal. There are actually different grades of cashmere, which affects the price. Lands' End, which sells cashmere sweaters at an affordable price point, breaks it down this way:

Grade A:  Highest quality; uses goat hair that is longest and thinnest; most likely higher price tag, but also heirloom quality that will last for years. Will be extremely soft.

Grade B:  Products of this grade will have a slightly coarser feel.

Grade C: Sweaters and other items of this grade level will typically be twice as thick as Grade A, meaning the product won't be as soft; these products are typically most affordable, though. 

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The process of sheep shearing in the of Hopa’s valleys.

Why Sustainable?

You may see some cashmere items described as "sustainable," and either coming from recycled or ethical sources. Why? 

The cashmere industry can create negative impacts for the environment, according to the CFDA. Over-grazing by cashmere goats can destroy grasslands, and the goats themselves eat up a wider variety of plant species than sheep do. This clearing of land has led to dust storms in Asia, affecting soil, air, and water. Animal welfare is also affected, as goats starve from lack of food on overused lands.

Other species that are native to the Gobi desert, such as snow leopards, end up being misplaced as well, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. Cashmere that is sourced sustainably focuses on conservation, working directly with herders, and reusing fibers that would have been wasted. 

The following are our picks for quality cashmere options. 

Related: Earth-Friendly Habits That Can Save You Money

Land's End Cashmere Sweater
Lands' End

Midrange: Lands' End Women's Cashmere Turtleneck Sweater

$200 from Lands' End

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This timeless turtleneck is made of 100 percent 2-ply cashmere with Grade A fibers. The sweaters are given a special wash to provide a loftier texture.

Naadam Sweater

Affordable and Sustainable: Naadam's Essential $75 Cashmere Sweater

$75 from Naadam

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This 100 percent Mongolian cashmere sweater keeps its price low thanks to sustainable practices. The company works directly with herders in the Mongolian Gobi Desert, which cuts out the middleman and lowers prices while paying the herders more. The sweater itself is touted as "heavenly soft." 

Patagonia Cashmere Sweater

Recycled: Patagonia Women's Recycled Cashmere Top

$269 from Patagonia

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Patagonia's cashmere sweaters are made of 87 percent recycled materials. This particular sweater contains 95 percent recycled cashmere, which is pre-consumer cashmere waste, and 5 percent wool. Reviewers say it feels soft and cozy.

Loro Piana Sweater
Loro Piana

Splurge: Loro Piana Parksville Crew Neck

$1,675 from Loro Piana

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If you're looking for that one sweater to last a lifetime, this simple design may be worth the spectacular price tag. It's made from the extra soft undercoat of the baby Capra Hircus goat.