Jul 02, 2020
In the world of natural textiles, the word “wool” can mean many things. It’s not uncommon to see cashmere described as cashmere wool, but clearly not all wool is cashmere, so how can you tell the difference between these different types of wool?
Those differences aren’t always obvious, but we’ll help you know what to look for and when to be on high alert for marketing tricks that try to sell you something that’s not worth the price on the tag. And, we’ll make sure you know how to take care of your luxury garments and textiles so they hold their value long into the future.
Wool, by the most basic definition, is a protein-dominant textile shorn from the coats of certain types of animals. The most common are different breeds of sheep and goat, but wool may also be spun from the shorn coats of musk-oxen, rabbits and certain breeds of camel.
If your garment tag just says “wool” and does not list any other identifying information about the textile being used, you can assume it’s sheep’s wool. It just isn’t from a region or breed that warrants specific identification.
Even with all of these choices in natural fibres, cashmere continues to maintain its luxury status in the textile industry. So what makes cashmere so special compared to all those other types of wool? Let’s dig in.
As the world’s most luxurious wool textile, how much warmer is cashmere vs merino wool, or cashmere vs wool from other breeds? It’s not easy to answer that precisely, but most industry professionals believe cashmere to be at least eight times warmer in a side-by-side merino wool vs cashmere warmth comparison. This provides a workable reference for other types of wool.
Toe-to-toe, cashmere probably won’t beat out ultra-insulating textiles like quiviut. It’s no surprise, of course - the musk ox lives in the arctic, after all. But, quiviut isn’t as easy to find as cashmere, so cashmere is often one of the warmest textiles that’s also readily available and relatively affordable.
The luxe legacy of cashmere may be somewhat deceiving — it is not because cashmere is the softest or warmest or most expensive of all possible types of wool that makes it such a prized textile. It is because of how well-balanced that texture and insulation is compared to the cost of its production that sets cashmere truly apart.
Overall, few types of wool can compete with the expense of cashmere and the willingness of the market to pay that cost on a recurring basis. Buying and wearing cashmere is no flash-in-the-pan trend, but a timeless standard.
You may be able to find a cashmere jumper for less than a merino wool one, but that’s due to a variety of reasons — where in the world animals are raised can impact the final price tag as much as the fashion house who designs the garment does.
No matter what you pay for it, cashmere’s value endures far longer than many other types of wool pieces.
Natural fibres play a bait-and-switch game with us. When processed correctly, these fibres can be spun to form some of the most resilient textiles known to the world. However, if subtle changes in its environment occur, it becomes incredibly and sometimes irreversibly fragile.
It doesn’t take a science degree to figure out that the soft and shorter an individual fibre is, the easier it will be to separate it from the rest along any given thread of fabric. Coarser, longer pieces of fibre cling to one another better, and have more surface area for that contact to persist.
Much like measuring warmth and expense, it matters exactly what type of wool you’re comparing to cashmere. In a straight comparison of lambswool vs cashmere, it makes sense to find that cashmere has more durability due to being shorn from mature animals rather than young ones.
However, if you were to put cashmere fibres side-by-side with every other type of wool, you’d find it down with the rest of the finer, shorter fibres. Because of this, manufacturers may blend their cashmere with sturdier wools to make a more durable garment.
As with any garment, the manufacturer’s label will be your first reference for the best cleaning process, so be sure to check it for any special notes. Otherwise, it’s safe to assume that hand-washing with a mild detergent in lukewarm water will keep most natural fibre garments fresh and stain-free.
Drying natural fibre garments requires careful planning, because you can’t hang them like you might a cotton or synthetic blend. Wool garments lose their shape easily, especially since water makes them fragile and very vulnerable to damage. Unless otherwise specified on the garment tag, you should plan to air dry wool pieces by laying them flat, out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources.
There can be some particular considerations to keep in mind when you’re washing lambswool vs cashmere vs merino wools, and so on, but our step-by-step guides have you covered with in-depth knowledge and all the latest tips and tricks.
Storage is another topic you know we cover thoroughly, and that’s because natural fibres are at their most vulnerable to damage and infestation when they’re in storage. The small, dark corners of your closet are the perfect breeding ground for clothes moths that like to feast on leftover proteins attached to the fibres of your cashmere and wool.
The texture of each individual fibre, along with its natural oils, loves to soak up perspiration and hold on to dead skin cells. To a clothes moth, these microscopic remnants are a feast fit for a king — or at least for the larvae when they nestle into the crevices of your closet.
Any storage prep begins with thoroughly leaning your garments and textiles as described above, which includes allowing each item to dry thoroughly. Natural repellents work best as preventives, so use freshly oiled cedar wood and lavender sachets in the compartments you’ll use to store your wool and cashmere.
Tucking a moth pheromone trap into a strategic spot is the next step in preventing full-blown infestations, but you also need to know how to prevent your clothes from becoming damaged while in storage. Check our storage guides for tips on safe-keeping each piece, like whether to fold or hang the item, or how to use acid-free tissue paper effectively.
First: don’t panic. Even though natural fibre textiles like cashmere and wool can be quite fragile and lose their shape, there’s still hope. Try the follow steps to rescue a misshapen wool garment:
Remember that not all wools are made the same, so if one type of garment makes you itch, the first thing you can do is switch to a softer type of wool. Most wool is gathered from a coat that contains fine, soft undercoat hairs and coarser, thicker guard hairs. The more of those downy fine undercoat hairs your garment has, the softer it will be — and, the youngest animals of any breed will yield the most supple textiles by comparison.
If you love a piece and want to make it softer, you can treat it according to our own stain-fighting tips, then follow up with a wool-safe conditioner. This strips away any potential build-up that could be causing the itchiness, then coats the fibres of the textile with a softening agent. Always check your garment tag for tips, and test products on a patch of unseen material for colorfastness.
Despite its many contenders, cashmere isn’t losing its top spot as one of the most luxurious natural textiles on the market any time soon. Take care of your natural wool garments and they’ll all reward you with long years of warm, fuzzy wear.
Check out more tips on caring for your cashmere.
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