The Great Cashmere Bakeoff Of 2012


Lately I’ve been buying, or attempting to buy, a fair number of cashmere sweaters. As I have said, my primary winter uniform at this new job is a cashmere v-neck with button-front shirt underneath. In the old days, i.e. my 40s, I wore cardigans over tees. Something, I can’t quite figure out what, happened to my midsection, rendering my former strategy a good deal less flattering. My shoulders, however,  remained broad and overly dominant in crewnecks.

Nobody wants to look like an unrelenting rectangle, cashmere or otherwise. On to the glorious v-neck. And on to a sampling from Land’s End, Madewell, Pure Collection, and Brora.

You might want to know how the brands compare. Well, no sooner said than done. We’ll take the business approach, leading with an executive summary.

Cashmere Comparison Summary

  • Land’s End. Oblong styling, hand (feel) a bit slippery but nicely substantial. Kept. $140.
  • Pure Collection. Shorter than Land’s End, more nipped in round the waist, hand similar to Land’s End, color WAY off from web and catalog. Returned. $138 list price, on sale for $70-$103.
  • Madewell. The model I bought is called the Cabin Sweater for good reason. Styled like a loose-middled long-sleeved pocket tee, very boyfriend-esque. One could wear it quite happily in, yes, a cabin. Hand, soft, not slippery, not heavy. Kept. $158 list price, only XS remains, on sale for $99.
  • Brora. Classic styling with a slight edge, low v, arms a little long, banded waist, hand to die for, i.e. strong, a little prickle that softens to heavenly. List price £195, on sale for £145. (This comes out to about $225. Conversion via XE, but we’re full service around here.) Kept, with the hope of more in future.

Operational Detail

This is the part where we give more information for you executives who have not already begun to yearn for your email, or, these days, check it on laptop or mobile device.

Land’s End

Perfectly serviceable. True Navy is just that, true. Not too dark, not too purple, not too perky. V is moderately deep. No shaping of note, but nothing wrong either. I worry only that the cashmere is slippery because, as the Queen of Cashmere told us in her extremely useful interview here, it’s of lower quality and has been “washed” for this effect. We will have to see how the knit endures.

Madewell

This is what I wore here. I love this piece, but in all honesty, it’s not really a work sweater. I bought a size M, returned it thinking it was too big, and realized upon receiving the S that it’s SUPPOSED to be big. I couldn’t bear to return yet again, so I wear as is. But since it’s a) of lightweight cashmere b) a little tight in the arms, I can’t wear a button front underneath. If this sweater were to magically appear in a black, or, I dunno, forest green, I’d buy two in a size and live in them on the weekends. At a guess, Madewell relies on the J. Crew cashmere empire, so I’d recommend a J. Crew v-neck if the styling and colors suit you. ($168)

Pure Collection

This sweater felt like the Land’s End version, but was shorter in the torso and longer in the sleeve. I was so mad that the Blue Haze was in fact Smog Grey that I bundled everything back up and returned it on the next post. At that point they were out of Indigo, so I broke up with Pure and am still sulking in my tent like Achilles.

Brora

Well this is what cashmere is supposed to feel like. Tough – but another dimension of soft altogether. Worn here, this is the sweater I want to put on almost every day. Roomy enough for a button front underneath, sufficient shape for a little je ne sais quoi. A term I use advisedly, as in I really can’t articulate what gives this sweater such silhouette style. BTW, for anyone converting to British sizes, I’m a size 4 in J. Crew tops, and a size 12 in Brora sweaters.

Let me add a few additional data points from my chequered cashmere past. My mother gave me a Bloomingdale’s private label black v-neck two years ago. I like the silhouette, here, but it’s pilling like crazy already. Four or five years ago my sister gave me, at my request, a navy twinset from Isle of Skye. It’s too scratchy. I want my cashmere tough but not hostile. My favorite sweater ever, shown here, came from TSE. They’re doing a lot of yellowish this year so I’m out of luck. Those who favor burned hues, enjoy.

Other people swear by Eric Bompard. This may be my next experiment, on sale (~$205) until February 14. Especially if Duchesse will tell me what size I ought to order.

I will add that I pass right by all Brunello Cucinelli, despite the mythic mountain village which ostensibly knits their goods. I cannot imagine anything worth five times what I paid for Brora. Unless it has magic powers to fly me to Italy, in which case, value granted.

I am not sure whether it’s good news or bad that with cashmere, apparently, one gets what one pays for. On the other hand, even when one pays less, it’s a very nice sweater.

By the way, that interview with the Queen of Cashmere may be the most useful post I’ve published, so here’s the link again.

36 Comments

  • 01/25/12
    7:14 am

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    quintessence said...

    I have the same uniform as I pointed out on Women’s Voices. I have a stable of V neck cashmeres. I like mine not too full and my favorites are from J Crew (although I don’t like the style this year) and Kinross. I must admit that I do have a couple old Loro Piana ones which are the ultimate but no longer in the affordable category.

    (ed. note – here is the link to Stacey’s post, which I hadn’t yet seen. http://womensvoicesforchange.org/my-winter-fashion-essentials-stacey-bewkes.htm )

  • 01/25/12
    7:24 am

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    kathy said...

    I used to buy TSE cashmere sweaters, when I had more disposable income, and they had their own store on Madison in NYC, and they had great sweaters in every color, cut, etc.
    I have a few sweaters by a company called “Cullen”, bought awhile ago in a small shop.
    This year, it’s been the J.Crew v-necks. I have to admit, not really searching hard. I tried one on, it fit fine, I bought black, navy, gray and forest green. They’re slim fitting, tee shirt underneath works well.
    I love the Madewell on you. I actually like the way it fits you (from the photo) more than the Brora.

  • 01/25/12
    7:25 am

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    Candace Dye said...

    You might like to take a look at http://www.Lunalba.com a gorgeous line of cashmere, with an option for soy cashmere. Beautiful, beautiful designs!

    Their spring collection is being created this weekend.

  • 01/25/12
    7:43 am

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    Jan said...

    I’m getting better – I only hyperventilated a little bit over the prices. Progress!

    That being said, I adore the shade of purple in the photo you posted. That is just lovely.

  • 01/25/12
    7:52 am

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    Dorky Medievalist said...

    I have a J Crew cashmere cardigan in a lovely plummy purple and the fit and cut are just about perfect. The cashmere, however, pilled the first time I wore it and now, having owned it less than two months, it is covered in pills and looks far shabbier than the price tag should allow. I sent a letter of complaint to J Crew (it was on sale so no returns) and was told that pilling is a “natural” process and an indication of natural fibres. J Crew must think I’m some kind of idiot. They have lost my custom. How did/does your Madewell hold up?

    On a positive cashmere note (cashmere is, for me, a necessary luxury), I have had nothing but excellent wear and superior customer service from Golightly Cashmere, which is cashmere accessories (no v-necks but scrummy toques, gauntlets, scarves, etc.). Go there, especially if you live in a winter movie as I do.

  • 01/25/12
    7:58 am

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    The Preppy Princess said...

    This is fascinating, as I have also purchased several over the last year or so. We share the same experience with private label brands at mid-range department stores, like Bloomies, I have several from Lord & Taylor, one that is easily 20 years old. It is ideal for days you need a very snuggly sweater *at home*, but it pilled up like crazy the very first year I wore it.

    I am a TSE fan, and while enjoying the color range at J. Crew, I’ve not bought any from that brand. The news about Pure Collection is devastating, the catalog is sitting here, I was about to go online and do some shopping. Sniff. Thank you for the heads-up, that is helpful information, although I do hope you come out of your tent!

    Sending you a smile,
    tp

  • 01/25/12
    8:13 am

    Reply

    kathy said...

    Oh my, just ordered two Brora’s based on your recommendation. Black and truffle. Also ordered the mohair coat that Duchesse had on her post from them. You can return sale items……..No impulse control this morning.

  • 01/25/12
    8:13 am

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    Babette said...

    I bought Land’s End for my mother for Christmas this year and had to preview them before wrapping them up! I found them to be yummy: thick and with deep jewel-tones: v. deep teal and a true plum! I’m a TSE/Loro P. lover so was quite skeptical but will certainly order from LE again. Prices were well under 200. and I hit on a 30% discount!

  • 01/25/12
    9:27 am

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    J.W. said...

    Thank you for this post. I have a V-neck black sweater that has been my favorite for 20 years. The time came to retire it from the public eye and, after reading all the raves about J Crew, I purchased one of theirs. I was horribly disappointed. If held up to the light one can see through it, and it pilled very badly the first time I wore it. I think I need to check out Land’s End and Brora.

  • 01/25/12
    9:58 am

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    Robin said...

    Even though you get what you pay for with the Lands End cashmere, you get way more than you pay for from their customer service and lifetime guarantee on everything. Their cashmere sweater’s are part of my husband’s go-to winter wardrobe, but between his 200 pound laptop bag rubbing on the shoulder and the hip…they don’t do well. But Lands End is a delight, and replaces them with no discussion. Yay.

  • 01/25/12
    10:05 am

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    Barb said...

    I have a large collection of Land’s End v-necks in a style they discontinued last year: long sleeved, V-Neck Fine Gauge Cotton. Now all they have in my size are cashmere, cotton/cashmere, and (I think) some kind of acrylic. I have complained, and judging by the reviews, I’m not the only one. No signs that LE has relented so far.

    Eventually my current collection is going to wear out, and Houston is just too warm for year-around cashmere. (To say nothing of the cost, which doesn’t fit my current disposable income!)

    Does anybody have a good source for a long-sleeved fine gauge cotton V-necked pullover that is NOT a T-shirt?

  • 01/25/12
    10:06 am

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    Dorky Medievalist said...

    I feel compelled to add that my endorsement (for whatever it’s worth) of Golightly Cashmere is not a paid endorsement. I have shopped there of my own accord, on Duchesse’s recommendation in fact, paid full price for items and enjoyed them entirely independently of the company’s intervention. Just a great internet shopping experience. But no v-necks, I’m afraid.

  • 01/25/12
    11:26 am

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    Ida said...

    Have quite a few Brora cashmere jumpers,socks + a Harris Tweed hacking jacket,am sure you will be happy with your choices Kathy.

    I find shirts/blouses under vee necks too bulky,so mostly tees for me.Ida

  • 01/25/12
    11:46 am

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    Miss Cavendish said...

    I bought two J Crew rugby cashmere sweaters over Xmas on massive sale: two for well under the price of one and love everything about them except the pilling. Would def. not have paid full retail for these pieces, despite my love for their color, shape, and fit.

  • 01/25/12
    1:11 pm

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    Duchesse said...

    Shucks, you don’t need me: EB lists length and width measurements for *every* garment. Click the “Size?” icon. EB finish varies from piece to piece, some is ‘harder’ finish, others lofty like Italian. I swear by the fitted v-neck which is 70/30 cashmere/silk, not as hot (but warm!) which you might like. Great shaping and beautiful notched cuff. You can wash it, too.

    Pure is a non-starter for me, colours are muddy and sizing bizarre, LE good for basics like black turtleneck, but if you want gorgeous colours easily obtained by mail, EB followed by Brora.

  • 01/25/12
    2:33 pm

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    mary anne said...

    I have about a dozen LE cashmere sweaters, which, along with a handful of Ralph Lauren cashmere are my favorites. Soft, pretty colors, long lasting. A bargain at any price.

  • 01/25/12
    4:15 pm

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    belle de ville said...

    This year I’ve invested in the v-necks by Aqua at Bloomingdales. They come in basic colors and are cut long with a small amount of shirring at the sides. They are both flattering and reasonably priced if you get them on sale.

    I hope you’re doing well. Things are super busy chez moi, but in a good way!

  • 01/25/12
    6:26 pm

    Reply

    materfamilias said...

    Darn you! You’ve got me making up a Wish List over at Bompard’s site where there’s a sale, so hard to resist . . . I’m going to park my list for a day or two, test my willpower, and then if I order, I’ll blame it on you . . .;-)

  • 01/25/12
    6:32 pm

    Reply

    Linda G. said...

    had a gorgeous collection of cashmeres from vintage stores and thrift stores that I’ve stored away until the hotflash era passes and I can wear them again (can only waer clothing that can be QUICKLY removed or opened for now!) They tend to be higher quality — made before cashmere sweaters started to be produced cheaply in china about a decade ago and started showing up at Costco.

    if you can find used/vintage the prices and quality are still better than many affordable new ones. And the thrill of the hunt isn’t bad either if you enjoy that sort of thing…

    01/27/12
    4:02 am
    RoseAG said...

    Same issue for me – variable temperature control. I’d be pulling those V-necks on and off all day.

  • 01/25/12
    6:42 pm

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    Christine said...

    I love Brora, and I think they might be my favourite.

    I do love Brunello Cucinelli and they are worth the very high tag, but sometimes they can be found on sale. Obviously, I will never have very many.

    I find all cashmere pills, at some point. What I have observed is that Scottish cashmere seems to pill less, but my observation is not a scientific study.

  • 01/25/12
    7:52 pm

    Reply

    pigtown*design said...

    I have the world’s largest collection of cashmere sweaters, or I did until the moths visited this summer. I have lots of brands, but I find that my older sweaters hold up the best. They’re much thicker, better knit and the colours are better. I have old Brooks Bros ones that you can’t see through, and newer Lord & Taylor that are practically lace they’re so think

    The WSJ did a cashmere comparison article a few weeks ago and it was very instructive.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204553904577102580678027716.html

    And another one on caring for cashmere.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204262304577068440402932330.html

    I am a total heathen, as I chuck my sweaters in the washer and dryer. Since cashmere’s so fine, it doesn’t felt like wool does.

    And as for my moth-eaten sweaters? I cut them up and made patchwork cashmere scarves from them!
    http://www.pigtown-design.blogspot.com/2011/12/shameless-self-promotion.html

  • 01/26/12
    12:25 am

    Reply

    Marsha @ Splenderosa said...

    Lisa, you’re still hot, mama. Looking really good in all the new pics. I’m still dieting and won’t show anyone anything until I’m moved and unpacked. Sending love…

  • 01/26/12
    6:16 am

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    Anne said...

    I used to ask for a Land’s End cashmere sweater for Christmas each year. The sweaters I received in the 90s are beautiful, and they’ve stood up to hundreds of hand washings. (One has been a serviceable underlayer in hiking trips from the Himalayas to the White Mountains to my local state parks.) Over the years the sizing has varied widely, and the quality has definitely changed…and not for the better.

    In 2010, the quality of the two sweaters I received was so disappointing that they’re still unworn; I asked for a different gift this year.

    After reading this, I’m wondering whether the quality has taken an upturn. Should I explore exchanging last year’s sweaters (still in the plastic bags they were shipped in…)?

    Thanks!

  • 01/26/12
    6:51 am

    Reply

    metscan said...

    I´d prefer to buy cashmere in person. Ordering online and returning, oh so complicated.
    None of the brands mentioned are familiar to me.
    But, why would you wear a shirt under one? I think that cashmeres are greatest worn as such!

  • 01/26/12
    11:47 am

    Reply

    Sharon said...

    Lisa – I think you will look a bit more au courant if you substitute a sharp tee (such as a Michael Stars tee) for the button-down. I suspect the button-down will age you more than you desire.

  • 01/26/12
    1:13 pm

    Reply

    Melissa said...

    I want to enroll at your Cashmere College, if only so I can learn to pen lines like this, “Nobody wants to look like an unrelenting rectangle.” Indeed.

    Thanks for the tips, too. I’m fed up with my pilling J. Crew cashmere but have been unclear on where to proceed from there.

  • 01/26/12
    6:35 pm

    Reply

    aesthetic intelligence said...

    Great post. Do you or anyone have reviews of Neiman Marcus cashmere?
    Thanks.

  • 01/26/12
    6:45 pm

    Reply

    Sarah (Semi Expat) said...

    As you know I am a Brora girl through and through for quality and lasting beauty of the cashmere kind! Love your comparisons and pleased that Brora came up trumps.. (I ususally buy in their sale which makes it all a little less painful!!) X

  • 01/27/12
    4:01 am

    Reply

    RoseAG said...

    My favorite cashmere was my zip-front hoodie.

    It was toasty in the cold gym of the yoga studio.

    Sadly pant waists crept downward and the sweater was waist-length so over time I was left with a frosty mid-section. If I see another it’s in my cart.

    Blog note – could you make links open in another window? I don’t want to lose you while inspecting your ideas!

  • 01/27/12
    2:43 pm

    Reply

    Duchesse said...

    “All You Need to Know About Cashmere” explains what drives cost, through the entire process; recommend it to anyone interested in choosing a quality piece:
    http://www.simplycashmere.co.uk/cashmeretruths

    01/28/12
    7:22 am
    kathy said...

    Thanks for posting this link. It’s an interesting article. Looking forward to my Brora sweaters arriving – my first real Scottish cashmere yet.

  • 01/30/12
    10:26 am

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    Tabitha said...

    Brora fan here, nothing else compares or even comes close to the feeling of Brora cashmere.

  • 02/01/12
    2:03 pm

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    rb said...

    I like Lands End’s navy too, because it’s actually blue and not so nearly black as a lot of so-called navies. I also like their new cashmere, though clearly I’m in the minority. I like that it’s less fuzzy and “sweater girl” looking than it was before.

  • 02/03/12
    8:35 am

    Reply

    Elizabeth said...

    I loved this review.

    I have a vast collection of cashmere, amassed over a period of years. I have had Brora, Pure, J.Crew, and others. I found the Brora knits to be lovely, but the sleeves were too short for my orangutan arms. The J.Crew cashmere used to be better, but they cheapened it, I assume to make more from sales. The first Pure pieces I had were lovely, cut perfectly, and had a great hand. Then they changed their fit, and I can’t wear them anymore.

  • 02/03/12
    11:08 am

    Reply

    girltuesday said...

    put me in the eric bompard fangirl section (in fact: i’m wearing one now). one of the many, many joys of having family that live in paris: discovering things like eb. sizing runs pretty true in my experience. he’s price, so take advantage of the twice yearly sale. the colours can’t be beat.

    shipping costs are pretty reasonable (especially compared to some british stores) but you will have to pay an import fee (I don’t think it’s VAT, but perhaps it is?). last time i ordered, it was roughly $50.

  • 02/03/12
    3:51 pm

    Reply

    Tiffany said...

    I’m with Duchesse on the EB fitted v-neck. I have two now and I adore them. I plan to add a new one every time they’re on sale …

    02/03/12
    7:19 pm
    Lisa said...

    I have a pale blue one on its way!

  • 06/16/13
    4:35 pm

    Reply

    Thorsten said...

    Some truly quality blogs on this web site, kept to my bookmarks.

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