Cashmere sweaters are classic, elegant and oh so soft. Coco Chanel must have been thinking of cashmere when she said, "Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury."
And with winter's arctic blasts upon us, now is the time to tap into that luxury.
Mimi Wong, a sweater knit designer at Eileen Fisher, says the rich fabric remains a classic because of its lofty feel, superior quality and light weight, plus insulating abilities.
"It is seasonless and belongs in every wardrobe," she tells StyleList. "What's great about cashmere is that you can dress it up or down. Pair it with jeans and you can go play or work. Party (by pairing it) with shiny pants or skirts."
Fashion expert George Kotsiopoulos, co-host of E!'s "Fashion Police With Joan Rivers," agrees that the fabric works in all kinds of weather.
"While cashmere may not be as warm as wool, a lightweight cashmere cardigan is versatile enough to keep you cozy in winter, but will not stifle you on a chilly summer night," he tells StyleList.
We asked our experts -- Wong, Kotsiopoulos and Lindsey Wieber Boyd, co-founder of the Laundress line of specialty detergents -- for the latest on cashmere style, selection and care.
We're feeling luxurious already.
Selection: "The touch test is the best way to tell the quality," Kotsiopoulos says. "Simply run your hand over the sweater and if you see lots of fuzzies or pills, then your sweater is made of low-quality cashmere. But even if it's the softest thing you've ever felt, move on to the label. Of course, 100 percent cashmere is the best, but cashmere-silk blends are also acceptable, provided the price is right since cashmere blends should cost less."
Color: "The natural, undyed colors of the cashmere itself is always exquisite and the metal-gray shades are beautiful," Wong says. "Both colors have longevity usage."
Shape: "Simple, slouchy, iconic boyfriend cardigans, modern tunics, oval cardigans, slouchy, long easy tops, tiny cropped cardigans..." says Wong, who is clearly a devotee.
Price: "Just because it's cheap does not mean it's low quality," Kotsiopoulos says. "Large retailers can make great sweaters simply because they buy quality cashmere yarns in bulk and pass that savings to the consumer. Always look at the label, and if it's mostly wool, then it should be supercheap."
Accessorize: "The yarn is so versatile, it can be knit into luxe wraps, ponchos, hats, scarves, gloves, throws -- and I haven't even mentioned the interesting stitches, textures and sparkles that can be turn these accessories into necessities," Wong says.
Care: "You can put cashmere into the machine, but the best way to wash cashmere or wool or blends is by hand-washing and laying flat to dry," Wieber Boyd tells StyleList. We asked her to walk us through the cashmere-cleaning process.
1. Treat stains with a prewash solution. "The first thing you want to do is check your sweater for any visible stains before you wash it. We recommend checking the outside and then turning the sweater inside out, because a lot of times there are stains on the underarms and around the collar and cuffs."
2. Remove any pills. "We use our sweater stone, but you can use a sweater comb as well. Just rub the sweater in one direction, as you would with a lint brush, and this will pick up the little nubby pills. Pilling is really natural -- it doesn't happen from washing, which a lot of people think -- it happens from wearing. It's friction that occurs typically under the arms or the back side of the sweater, from sitting down or in your car or from your handbag, things like that."
3. Hand-wash. Add a few squirts of wool-and-cashmere shampoo to a wash basin or sink filled with cold or tepid water. "It's really important that you use the right product in order to preserve the natural oils of the yarn. Let it sit for up to an hour -- it doesn't hurt it if you forget about it. Once you soak it, rinse out the excess water and soap with cold water and press it against the basin or the sink. You never want to wring the sweater because it will distort it."
4. Air-dry. Place the sweater flat on a towel to remove more water if necessary, and lay it flat to dry on a drying rack or a clean towel. "We recommend a drying rack because there's air that comes from below and above, so it dries faster." Let dry overnight, and if it's wrinkled, steam it. "Never iron it, never use the dryer. I use a steamer for almost everything, and it's really great for cashmere."
5. Don't hang it up. The number one error people make when it comes to cashmere care is hanging their sweaters. "If you put it on a hanger, especially when it's wet, your sweater will actually get bigger versus shrinking. It's really important to lay it flat. Even when you're storing your sweaters, you don't hang them. Hangers also leave shoulder marks."
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