The History of Cashmere Sweaters

The History of Cashmere SweatersCashmere sweaters and other fashion items made of cashmere have long been worn as high fashion and designer items. Cashmere material comes from the fibers of goats down during their molting period. Cashmere is lightweight and feels like silk against the skin. Due to its rarity, cashmere has long been associated with royalty and glamour. Even Napoleon is said to have given 17 cashmere shawls and wraps to his second wife, Empress Eugenie.

Prior to the 1920s, sweaters were worn by athletes or someone wanting to keep warm, not as fashion items. However, thanks to Palou, Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Pringle of Scotland, the cashmere sweater became a fashion statement during the 1920s and the 1930s. In 1937, actress Lana Turner made the cashmere sweater a popular star in the movie “They Won’t Forget”. Little did Turner or the rest of society know that she had begun a lasting trend.

So inspired by Turner’s fashion statement, Claire Potter, an American designer, began adding decorated cashmere evening sweaters to her fashion collection in 1940. Following the trend, Mainbocher then used British cashmere cardigan sweaters as evening wear by adding decorations to them, such as beads, sequins, fabric trim and metal studs. The decorated sweater trend then continued on through the 1960s.

Cashmere sweaters rose in popularity in the 1950s with the twin set. The twin set consisted of a short sleeved or sleeveless pullover sweater and matching cashmere cardigan. Many included jewel necklines and coordinating trim. This became an important staple of the college wardrobe for American women during that decade and part of the next. The twin set and other styles of the designer cashmere sweater came in solid colors as well as prints like flowers, butterflies and Argyles. Three-quarter length sleeves were also very popular during this time.

Since the invention of cashmere sweaters, many different manufacturers have dabbled in this fashion forward and long-standing trend. Many picky consumers look for cashmere sweaters that are made in Scotland in mills like Pringle, Ballentyne, Braemar, and Lyle Scott. It has been said that the water in Scotland makes the cashmere fibers softer. Hong Kong has also been a top producer of cashmere, especially during the late 1950s and 1960s. Popular American labels include Dalton and Hadley.

Halston was a coveted designer of these sweaters during the 1970s, as was Schiaparelli in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the most sought after and currently collected cashmere sweaters were designed and decorated by Helen Bond Carruthers, Pat Baldwin, and Edith Salzmann.

To choose a cashmere sweater, there are several tips to follow. A quality sweater should feel hefty, even if it is designed to be lightweight. Always be sure there is a smooth surface against your sweater. Piling can happen when your sweater is rubbed against rough clothing, metal accessories, bags, seat belts and other belts. Cover any surfaces that will be next to your cashmere garment with silk or a scarf of synthetic fibers. The more the garment is washed, the quicker it wears down. Many falsely believe that these sweaters must be dry cleaned, this is only the case if there is a set in stain.

This article was contributed by Rawanda Sheppard.

Editorial Team
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