Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cashmere - The Ultimate Practical Indulgence

What is more luxurious than a plush cashmere shawl or sweater? The most exclusive of all wools, cashmere is extremely warm, it's not the least bit itchy, and it just feels fabulous on the skin. Although it seems like lately you can get cashmere everywhere, from Target to Neiman Marcus, all cashmere is definitely not created equal.

Cashmere comes from kashmiri goats, which can only survive at 12,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level (if their fur can keep them warm at those heights, imagine what it can do for you down here). It's also animal friendly, because the goats are just combed, not killed for their coats. Good cashmere must be woven by hand because the fibers are so delicate - they are 1/6th the width of a human hair. The longer the fibers, the lower the chances of the piece pilling. This is one of the reasons why quality cashmere is so expensive.

Now, let's talk ply. Ply is the term used to describe the thickness of the yarn, and it's generally believed that the greater the ply, the higher the quality. This is usually the case, but the tightness of the weave is also quite important. For instance, a tightly woven sweater in a 1-ply yarn would actually be warmer and less likely to pill than a loosely woven sweater in 2-ply yarn, although 2-ply is considered more desirable. Higher than 2-ply is really too bulky for clothing, and the extra thickness doesn't contribute a noticeable amount of warmth. 4-ply and higher weaves can make incredibly luxurious bedding, however.

Cashmere sweaters are best when done in classic shapes and luscious shades. You can get beautiful turtlenecks, v-necks, and cardigans, and hoodies in every color of the rainbow at a wide variety of stores, including Saks, Lord and Taylor, and even Costco. TSE and Vince cashmere are some great high-end options; Vince even makes some interesting modern shapes like beautiful cashmere ponchos and bolero jackets.

Scarves and shawls are cashmere classics. Although you can find them in many different solid colors in stores, look to etailers like Pashm (pashm.com) and Silk Road Importers (srimp.com) for patterned and beaded cashmere straight from the Himalayas. Try an exotic animal print or cheery polka dots to brighten a dull winter day.

Cashmere is an excellent way to reward yourself, too. Think plush blankets and throws in an array of candy colors, or a full-length robe in your favorite shade. Now that would be the ultimate in luxury.

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