Ask Allie: Merino and Cashmere Cardigans

You have a lot of lovely cardigans in the capsule wardrobes – do you have any particulars suggestions on where to purchase some similar ones? I have read that you prefer Merino Wool over cashmere, do you mix and match?

Best place to buy merino wool and cashmere cardigan sweaters for womenI regularly recommend merino wool because it’s more budget-friendly, it’s easier to launder (can throw on the gentle cycle and line or flat dry), has a bit of stretch, and it a nice tight weave that isn’t prone to pilling and shedding. Merino wool holds dye well, providing a rich color that will last through multiple wears and washings. Merino wool is naturally water- and odor-resistant making it easier to wear multiple times between washings (and easier to wipe away a spill of coffee!). Merino cardigans can often be found at discount retailers like TJ Maxx and Nordstrom Rack and be of the same quality as high-end department stores.

My favorite retailers for merino wool cardigans are Lands’ End, J. Crew (choose their merino, not lightweight wool), Eileen Fisher, LL Bean, and Everlane.

Shop My Picks for Merino Cardigans:

However, I do love cashmere. It’s soft, it’s luxe, and it’s always in style. If you can afford high quality cashmere (cheaper cashmere is usually that price for a reason – it’s often very thin or sheer and prone to pilling), I recommend it. It gives a different effect from merino – it can dress up nicely (love a cashmere cardigan with crystal or pavé buttons in place of a shawl or shrug for formal occasions), and adds texture and interest to a simple ensemble.

My favorite retailers for cashmere cardigans are J. Crew, Nordstrom Collection, Pure Collection, Boden, and Garnet Hill.

Shop My Picks for Cashmere Cardigans:

For both merino and cashmere I don’t recommend blends. When these fabrics are mixed with silk, cotton, or linen it can reduce the price but often reduces the quality especially over time. Some find success with blends, but if you’re considering them to save money, you’ll do better purchasing fewer pieces and of 100% merino or cashmere.

I’ve found over the years, the majority of Wardrobe Oxygen readers are more in the merino cardigan budget category, than quality cashmere cardigan category. I believe in quality over quantity, and purchasing the best quality possible within your budget; in my opinion for work and weekends a nice merino cardigan is a better quality purchase than a cheap thin cashmere cardigan on sale for the same price. But if you can score quality cashmere at a comfortable price, go for it. There’s nothing wrong… in fact I recommend mixing and matching when it comes to fabrics for your cardigans or most anything else in your wardrobe. Variety is the spice of life, and the way to get out of a closet rut!

For those who prefer to not wear wool, you’re not out of cardigan luck. There are many brands who make high quality cotton cardigans that are as stylish and versatile as merino and cashmere. My absolute favorite brand of cotton cardigans is Lands’ End; their supima cardigans are superb. I have one that is 15 years old, has been thrown in the washer and dryer, stuffed in many a carryon bag for a flight, been tied around my waist and the strap of my tote, and even been tied into a dress on Emerson and it still looks like new. I don’t always like the choice of buttons for these, but considering the durability, fit, and quality of these sweaters I don’t mind heading to the fabric store and buying a package of buttons the same size and switching them out during an episode of Project Runway or Empire!

7 Comments

  1. Patricia
    October 26, 2016 / 8:09 am

    I’m with Jennifer; wool makes me itch. I’m also a button switcher. I’ve done it on coats, sweaters, jackets, whatever! If I like the style, color and fabric, I’m willing to do a little work to make it just right for me. Sometimes the existing buttons cheapen the look.

  2. Emily
    October 19, 2015 / 3:24 pm

    I’m not sure if you have Uniqlo in the US but they do really GREAT merino cardigans and jumpers (sweaters?) in v neck, polo neck and crew neck cuts and in about 20 different colours! I have had some for a few years now (washing on a gentle cycle and drying on a wood hanger so they don’t lose their shape) and they are still going strong with little pilling. (http://www.uniqlo.com/us/women/sweaters/extra-fine-merino.html)
    Just steer clear of the lambswool ones as they shrink terribly even on a very gentle wash!

  3. Kathryn Braun Fenner
    October 19, 2015 / 2:00 pm

    You don’t like Lands’ End Cashmere?

    I agree with you on merino–it doesn’t pill nearly as much as cashmere, if at all, and is more flattering for the plumper of us….

    • October 19, 2015 / 2:03 pm

      I do usually but at the time of writing this post I didn’t see any simple cashmere cardigans available at the retailer. Also the last cashmere from them I purchased (clearance) it was not the quality I had known and returned it. So I left them out for now. 🙂

      • Kathryn Braun Fenner
        October 19, 2015 / 2:06 pm

        I have heard that the new stuff isn’t as good. I have an older one that is incredible. I guess haunting eBay is the way to score good ones, huh?

  4. Jennifer
    October 19, 2015 / 8:30 am

    So glad you mentioned a cotton option, wool makes me itch like crazy. I’m down to 2 sweaters at the moment because I haven’t been able to find quality non-wool sweaters at my price point. I love the looks Talbot has this year, but they’re all wool or wool blends. I’m willing to spend $50+ for a nice cotton sweater, I just can’t find any that are cute and quality. (Admittedly, it may just be that I don’t like the styles/designs offered in cotton at the moment.)

    • Kathryn Braun Fenner
      October 19, 2015 / 1:59 pm

      High quality merino can be super silky–try Eileen Fisher resale on eBay–but make it a cardigan you can layer something beneath. I am fine with merino as long as it doesn’t touch my sensitive neck!

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