Cashmere. Is it worth it?
There are a lot of people out there who might think that my cashmere habit is absurd were they to have a look at my closet.
And to them I would say, 'yes but do you have any?'
Cashmere is of course, a luxury and I am very grateful that I am able to include cashmere in my wardrobe. It helps me get me through the cold Michigan winter much more happily than I might without it.
I will say though, that I have been debating whether or not cashmere is actually an investment.
Between the number of elbow holes I've blown in cashmere sweaters recently, the amount of pilling I have on some sweaters, and the total cost of this more luxurious material... I've been questioning whether or not I should continue to make cashmere purchases. Would I be better off with regular wool? Or even dare I say it... wool with a bit of nylon or other synthetic fiber mixed in there?
And so today we begin the discussion with a review, and a little background info.
First, let's quickly discuss why cashmere can be so expensive. The quick answer is that it's basically the saffron of wearables. Cashmere comes from a specific breed of goat, and can only be collected very carefully at certain times of year. Like the crocus, from whence saffron comes, the quantity of cashmere that can be obtained from each goat is also limited and some 'harvests' are less successful than others.
Cashmere is also broken into grades. Grade A being the best and most expensive, and also, the longest wearing.
But it seems that it's not just the super-premium brands who get their hands on the Grade A stuff. So that's good news.
And that's not the only factor of durability, there is also the milling and fabrication of the yarn.
That is a topic on which I will not go into in detail, but this article is very informative if you are interested: https://www.racked.com/2016/11/16/13633090/why-are-cashmere-sweaters-so-expensive
So who else gets the Grade A stuff? And who is using the good mills? According to the Racked article above, Everlane, Cuyana and Nadaam are all retailers who try to source great cashmere and who do not also sell their product at extortionate prices. None of the sweaters from these stores are what I would call 'budget' buys. However, if you do want to spend the money on cashmere, these are the places I would stop first.
J. Crew is another retailer that frequently extols the wonder of cashmere. I was not able to ascertain the grade of the cashmere that J. Crew sells, but I do think that J.Crew cashmere is worth purchasing when it is on sale.
Let us take a deeper dive into J.Crew cashmere shall we? Because they have a lot to offer, and the price points can be very attainable.
Now. I cannot give you a cost-per-wear metric, because I've not documented the life of my sweaters that carefully.
I can however, give you a cost per year for some J.Crew cashmere as a starting point.
This year I've lost a couple sweaters to elbow blow outs. I am aware that I can sew elbow patches on, and for the turtleneck that my husband gave me on our first Christmas together, I will certainly do so.
But. For the 3/4-sleeved cardigans I've lost this year, elbow patches seem a bit strange.
That leads me to a more specific question as I investigate the 'is it worth it?' question... do I really need any 3/4-sleeved cardigans in cashmere if I've decided that elbow failures are imminent and not repairable? The answer is, probably not. Unless the color is perfect. Then yes. (I've been looking for the perfect green for years, I don't really care what the risks are once I find it).
So it's not just about the material. It's about the material and the style. Is this a long lasting material? Is this a sensible style for such and expenditure?
Let us discuss the two 3/4-sleeved cardigans briefly.
- They were from J.Crew Factory
- I believe they cost something like $70 (which is a steal, admittedly).
- They came in colors I rarely see. One was a brilliant cobalt blue, the other a great, bright, summery, orangey-red.
- They were a great weight for summer because they kept me warm in the air conditioning, but didn't suffocate me once I stepped outside.
- I believe I had them for about five years.
Ok, so breaking that into simple math, that's a $70 purchase made for two items I wore weekly for... hmm.. less than half the year probably... we'll say four months? For five years.
That's 20 months of regular wear to work, on dates, and anywhere else. $70 divided by 20 months is a cost of $3.50 per cardigan per month. Or $14 a year. For five years. That is a number I can live with people.
The key to that math, for me, is that I wore these two sweaters regularly. They were staples in my closet for FIVE years. I spent most of that time being unaware of the capsule wardrobe concept, but they were basically some of the best staple pieces I could have had for a capsule wardrobe.
A lot of lessons were learned in the ownership of these sweaters. What colors I will wear repeatedly, for example. That is valuable information because I learned which colors are worth the cost to me. it's not just about soft cashmere, it's about soft sweaters that I will actually get a lot of wear out of.
So is cashmere worth it.
Yes. To me. But you still have to look at all of the other criteria you would use to determine if anything else were worth it.
This seems obvious. But I find it easy to get swept up in the 'oh but it's cashmere.. oh but it's silk... oh but it's Vince...' kind of thinking sometimes.
There are still questions to be asked and answered too. For example, there have been a lot of comments in the past year or two about the quality of J.Crew cashmere. I bought those sweaters a while ago. Does the current cashmere hold up? The answer is.. so far yes. I will report back if I have a different experience.
Now I am on to experimenting with Everlane cashmere. I bought a navy blue cardigan from Everlane this past Fall. We'll see if it lasts me five years.... and if not, I will also report back on that.
So I suppose my conclusion is that so far, cashmere is worth it to me. If I can find colors and fits that suit me and can be included in my (attempt at a) capsule wardrobe, then I am happy to buy more.
But I am also happy to wait, and buy it on sale, and I am happy to continue to research the companies making a long-lasting and valuable product.