Buying cashmere? Check label, price

Q: My mailbox is stuffed with catalogs these days, and the catalogs are stuffed with pictures of cashmere sweaters. The prices vary greatly, from just less than $50 to more than $800 — all for long-sleeved sweaters that look essentially the same. So what's the difference?

Quality is the main difference, although the intricacy of a design and a designer label can also bump up the price.

Cashmere is the exceptionally fine, strong, soft wool of the Kashmir goat, which is raised in the high-altitude regions of places such as Tibet, India and Mongolia. Lighter and more durable than sheep's wool, it is just as warm.

It is best to buy a cashmere sweater in a store, where you can examine it carefully and feel its thistledown quality. First, check the label. It should read “100 percent cashmere” or “pure cashmere.” Without that label, the cashmere likely is blended with ordinary wool. When ordering from a catalog, check the small print for that wording.

Signs of pilling (small woolly balls) on the surface of a sweater also indicate a blended yarn. Loose threads and puckered seams on the inside are additional signs of an inferior garment.

However, whether you are buying in a store, from a catalog or online, price is usually a surefire indicator of cashmere quality. It is unlikely you can find a luxe cashmere sweater for less than $150. At least, not if it is new. If you can find a significantly more expensive sweater sale-priced for less than $150, it's probably a good deal.